Unions who want collective bargaining rights have to first get recognition from the employer.  If the employer declines the request for voluntary recognition the union can apply to an independent Tribunal, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), to impose recognition. However the CAC will do so only if satisfied that the request for recognition has been made in respect of what is an appropriate bargaining unit and that the majority of employees in the unit are in favour of collective bargaining.

In the recent case of Lidl Ltd v (1) Central Arbitration Committee (2) GMB the issue was whether a request should be accepted where the appropriate bargaining unit represented only a small fraction of the employer’s national workforce.

Following Lidl’s rejection of GMB’s recognition request, the union had applied to the CAC for compulsory recognition in respect of a group of warehouse operatives based at Lidl’s Bridgend distribution centre. Lidl disputed that this was an appropriate bargaining unit on the grounds of fragmentation. It argued that taking into account it employed 18,203 staff to operate the 637 UK stores, granting collective bargaining rights in respect of a group of just 223 employees, or 1.2% of the total workforce, was entirely inappropriate, as it would lead to unacceptable differences between this group and all the other employees.

The Court of Appeal has held that the CAC was right to reject this argument. It recognised that fragmentation in collective bargaining arrangements should be avoided but pointed out that it was a problem that would only arise where there were multiple applications for recognition from different unions. In this case, the objections were made on the basis that the bargaining unit was too small compared to Lidl’s overall workforce.  This was a different issue. The key point was that the CAC had decided that the bargaining unit put forward was still compatible with effective management despite its small size.


This decision highlights the limitations of the argument of fragmentation and reinforces the principle that a union’s chosen ‘bargaining unit’ does not have to be the most suitable in order to be appropriate. Even if inconvenient for the employer, it may still be concluded that it’s compatible with effective management. It follows that in any business then, a separate bargaining process could exist for a relatively small group of employees if they are easily identifiable and there’s evidence that the employer could accommodate allowances within its structures and payroll systems.

This blog post was written by Christopher Davies. For further information, please contact:

Christopher Davies, professional support lawyer, Employment

T: 0161 836 7936

E: Christopher.Davies@gateleyplc.com

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.