Trade union recognition

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Rep Zone
03 November 2016
Frequently asked questions on trade union recognition and what it means.

What is trade union recognition?

Trade union recognition is a formal agreement with an employer for a particular union to undertake collective bargaining on behalf of that employer's staff.

Collective bargaining will typically cover:

  • terms and conditions of employment (pay, hours and holidays)
  • discipline and grievance matters
  • health and safety
  • allocation of work and redundancy.

It often extends to cover professional development and change management.

Does my employer recognise ATL?

ATL is recognised in the vast majority of schools and colleges where our members work and where we have reps, including:

  • all maintained schools and sixth-form colleges
  • the majority of academies and FE colleges
  • approaching 100 independent schools (eg within the Girls Day School Trust and United Church Schools Trust).

However, in maintained schools (including academies), ATL is not recognised to bargain collectively on behalf of support staff, though we are entitled to represent individually those who choose to join ATL.

If you are not sure whether ATL is recognised in your workplace please contact your branch secretary, or the ATL national officials for independent schools and post-16 colleges respectively, as appropriate. You can find their contact details at

What are the benefits of trade union recognition?

Critically, recognition provides reps with certain rights and entitlements under employment law, most specifically to paid time off for training and undertaking union duties, ie consulting, negotiating and representing members with the head, principal or governing body in your school or college.

Recognition has many advantages for both employers and staff alike:

  • improved communication
  • team working
  • improved policies and procedures
  • shared responsibility for decisions
  • improved staff morale.

Although recognition commits both parties to negotiate in good faith, it does not require agreement nor does it give the union a veto over every employer proposal. Ultimately, recognition is as strong as the membership and union organisation at your school or college, ie the numbers, involvement and collective activity of members themselves.

On the other hand, the absence of union recognition does not necessarily mean union influence is zero. Indeed many independent schools that do not recognise ATL do have meaningful consultation with staff and do grant ATL reps many of the legal rights that recognition would entitle them to.

How can I go about seeking recognition for ATL?

Recognition can be achieved either by agreement with the employer, known as voluntary recognition, or through a legal procedure, known as statutory recognition.

The voluntary route is by far the most preferable and, indeed, the most common; it establishes a consensus with your employer at the very outset about the benefits of union recognition.

However, if the voluntary recognition process does not bear fruit, then we are entitled to seek statutory recognition for a group of workers where at least 10% of the group are members of ATL. A statutory body, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), considers the application from the union alongside representations from the employer.

If ATL can demonstrate it has more than 50% of the group of workers in membership, a CAC tribunal will typically award recognition automatically. Otherwise, or where there is doubt about whether those members wish ATL to be recognised, then a CAC tribunal may order that the group of workers be balloted. In that case a majority of the group must vote in favour and that majority must constitute at least 40% of the group for recognition to be awarded.

Further information on recognition can be found at, including model recognition agreements for independent schools, academies and FE colleges.

If you would like to discuss how to seek recognition at your school or college, please email

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