Collective Bargaining Agreements. What are they and what do they contain? An Employer’s guide

If you employ staff who are members of a trade union, you’ve likely come across the term “collective bargaining”. Today’s blog looks at their purpose in the field of employment.

What is collective bargaining and what does a Collective Bargaining Agreement include?

The term “collective bargaining” was first used in 1891 by Beatrice Webb, a founder of the field of industrial relations in Britain. Collective Bargaining is the process of negotiating with a trade union in relation to an employee’s wages and other terms of employment. A Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is the name of any agreement that comes out of the negotiations with the union. The purpose of a CBA is to establish specific terms for your employees. This could be in relation to anything in your employees’ contracts. It normally includes (but is not limited to):

  • Pay rates.
  • Holiday entitlement.
  • Health & safety.

As an employer you can choose not to recognise the union to avoid negotiation, but employees can apply for statutory recognition through the Central Arbitration Committee.

If an employer does reach a CBA with a union, they need to bear in mind that in certain circumstances one of these agreements can affect individuals not represented by a union.

There is no legal requirement for an employer to negotiate with a union unless it has been “recognised”. If it is then there are some rules of collective bargaining:

  • The union side must consist of full-time officials, workplace representatives, or a mix of both.
  • The employer must negotiate your side as the individual employee or your association.
  • Multiple unions can represent individuals on the union side.
  • The agreement has no specific time period—an employer can negotiate this.

Other than these, there are not too may additional many restrictions.

Are there any differences between collective bargaining and negotiation?

People often use these two terms interchangeably but in essence they are one and the same. Collective bargaining is just a negotiation between a trade union and an employer whereas negotiation can occur in other instances.

Different types of collective bargaining

Although this will not impact your decision making as an employer too much, it is important that as an employer you are aware of the different types of collective bargaining that can occur. In essence there are four main types:

  • Conjunctive – where both parties try to gain from the other’s loss, usually involving wages, bonuses, and other employee benefits.
  • Co-operative – where both parties try to resolve a problem of their common interest, usually involving work terms and technology solutions
  • Productivity – where the employer tries to increase productivity through incentives or bonuses. Increasing productivity has the knock-on effect of increasing the company’s success.
  • Composite – where the employee expresses concerns regarding things such as working conditions, policies, recruitment, with the intention to safeguard employees working at the company.

How does collective bargaining work?

Basically, collective bargaining involves a simple meeting between the employer and a trade union representative to discuss terms of employment for their workforce.

The end goal is a collective agreement where both the employer and the union is happy with a change to your employees’ terms and conditions. However, this doesn’t always happen.

Failing to reach an agreement can result in strikes, sit-ins and resignations, which can cause significant damage to an employer’s business.

So, finding compromise is often in an employer’s interest.

How we can help

Negotiating with a union can be a daunting task. Having representation from a lawyer who is up to date in all of the latest employment law legislation and has experience of dealing with CBA’s is of a huge advantage. Alexander JLO’s employment lawyers are experts in the field and will happily assist you in your negotiations.


If you have any questions in relation to Collective Bargaining Agreements, why not contact Alexander JLO for a free, no obligation consultation and see what we can do for you?

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