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The Role of Trade Unions In Redundancies

By: Paul Geraghty - Updated: 7 Aug 2019 | comments*Discuss
The Role Of Trade Unions In Redundancies

Trade unions have been diminishing in importance in the British economy for some time. Today, only around 28% of British employees are members of a trade union. But they do still exist on a large scale in certain sectors. Redundancy tends to be one of the situations in which the presence of a trade union will be greatly appreciated by a workforce.

Redundancy Advice

The laws surrounding the redundancy process are complex. Even many employers are not fully aware of their responsibilities under the law. It can be especially difficult for ordinary employees, therefore, to know where they stand and what their options are. External sources of advice, such as ACAS or the Citizens Advice Bureau, do exist, but it can be immensely helpful to have personalised advice on hand from experienced advisers.


Employers are often surprisingly flexible when it comes to redundancy packages. In many cases, the announcement of the redundancy will have created a stir of bad publicity and the company will be keen to limit its PR problem by being seen to do the right thing by the departing employees. However, unless they are in very senior positions, it can be extremely awkward for ordinary employees to try and negotiate special arrangements with their employer. This is where a trade union can help. Most trade unions will have battle-hardened negotiators available who will have been through similar situations before. This experience will have given them a sense of the areas where an employer is likely to be flexible and those areas where stubbornness can be expected.

In a negotiation, moreover, much of the employees’ leverage comes from their ability to create bad publicity for the company. Of course, the vast resources of a national trade union are likely to be significantly more effective in doing that than an ad hoc effort from a handful of isolated employees.


In some cases, unscrupulous employers will single out workers who are members of trade union for discriminatory treatment. This can especially be a problem for trade union representatives since their role often brings them into conflict with company management. When redundancies come around, trade union members or reps may find themselves on the list of those who are asked to leave.

Singling out trade union members for redundancy selection, however, amounts to unlawful discrimination. It would constitute a form of unfair dismissal and, because of it, legal action could be taken against the employer at an employment tribunal.

Redundancy Consultation

Redundancies involving 20 or more workers are called “collective redundancies”. During a collective redundancy, there are special obligations on the employer. These include notifying the government that the redundancy is taking place and consulting with representatives of the workforce. If there is a trade union in the workplace, these representatives will be from the trade union. Otherwise, the workforce can elect its own representatives.

Disputes Related to Redundancy

Should disputes arise during the redundancy process, trade unions can play a helpful role in explaining to you what avenues of complaint are open to you, first within the company itself, and, ultimately, if it proves necessary, in the courts or at an employment tribunal. A trade union will also often be able to represent you directly during the appeal and complaint procedures.

Fighting Redundancy

In the old days, it used to be quite common to see workforces fight tooth and nail against looming redundancies. This happens much more rarely now but you still do see it once in a while. Usually, bad publicity is the principal weapon the workforce can bring to bear against their employer. If stirring it up is your goal, a trade union should certainly help you achieve it. Some would say that the presence of a trade union, with its implicitly greater capacity to create unpleasantness, would also tend to deter an employer from carrying out redundancies in the first place; although, it has to be said, some would argue the exact opposite : that trade union restrictions at a certain site might make the site uncompetitive economically and might lead an multinational employer to think that preserving the site was more bother than it was worth.

Trade Unions and Redundancy – Conclusion

Redundancy is a difficult time, one in which trade unions can offer vital support functions to their members.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi, I am currently employed by a major UK employer and they've announced closure of the plant I work at. I am in the Unite Union, and our management have started a 45 day consultation process to negotiate our redundancy packages. However, the Union rep who is attending the meetings has rejected an offer made by management before informing any members of this offer, and given a counter off which is not as beneficial to the majority of the members. Basically, we were apparently offered a payment plus a 12.5% retention bonus, and this was a good deal and suited most members. However, those on lower salaries due to their skills/responsibilities/job profile etc... would not have benefitted as much as higher earners, and said union rep is in the former category, thus accepting a deal which is better for the minority of staff which he is in. The counter offer also has terms and restrictions attached which means there's a strong chance we won't even get the full amount. I want to know how legitimate is his ability to accept an offer which is worse for me without any consultation or communication. No members where notified of the offer or any counter offer. I feel our union have been extremely weak in the negotiations and have actually accepted an offer which is worse for the majority of the staff in the union. Can you advise on what steps I can take to ensure I get the best deal for myself? Thanks
Zillington - 7-Aug-19 @ 2:42 PM
dash - Your Question:
Hellow mis /mr please I need your help for my redundancy I have letter form my company I been made redundant I must replay in 5 working days date of letter was 12/10/2016 please I need your help perhaps I can talk to some one I will by great full for your help thank you

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear about your redundancy, but we do not have a telephone service. You can read through all our articles and you can also access gov.uk articles, via the link here which will help you if you are based in the UK.
RedundancyExpert - 17-Oct-16 @ 10:02 AM
hellowmis /mr please I need your help for my redundancyi have letter form my companyi been made redundanti mustreplay in 5 working daysdate of letter was 12/10/2016please i need your help perhaps i can talk to some onei will bygreat full for your help thank you
dash - 16-Oct-16 @ 2:00 AM
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