Union busting? | Staff claim they were sacked after forming 'unrecognised' union

Staff claim they were sacked after forming 'unrecognised' union

A Glasgow-based bar and café has been criticised by protestors for reportedly sacking three staff members mid-way through their shift.

Campaigners claim that the Saramago bar workers were fired because they organised protests to increase the number of staff members at the bar, dismissals they say are unfair and “union busting”.

Over £3000 has been raised in a hardship fund started by the union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to support the workers and cover lost wages. The IWW are calling for the three workers to be rehired and for the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), where the bar is located, to reconsider its relationship with the organisation.

A number of Glasgow-based businesses have withdrawn their relationship with the bar and café, including Aye-Aye books and Glasgow Short Film Festival. The film festival shared its perspective on social media: “"These unfair dismissals and poor treatment of workers are not acceptable, and we will withdraw our custom from Saramago until the situation is resolved.

"As we will host several of our festival events in CCA's over the next week, we ask our audiences to respect this position and also withdraw any custom from Saramago."

Despite this, Saramago claim they knew workers were a part of a union only after they performed a walk-out during one of their shifts and have questioned the legitimacy of IWW as an official trade union.

"The IWW is not an organisation that the majority of our staff are affiliated with and is not a recognised union in the UK or affiliated with the TUC,” said a spokesperson from Saramago on Twitter. “No TUC affiliated union would endorse the action that took place as it breaks union strike guidelines.”

“The disruption to the activity of the business by the work stoppage on a busy weekend of trade unfortunately created a situation for both our staff and our customers which could not be ignored. Consequently, for the first time in the history of the business, we were forced to serious disciplinary action.”

“This was not, as has been falsely reported, an attempt to union bust, or stifle legitimate concerns about working practices, but for breach of contract by stopping work, damaging the commercial trading of the business, and bringing the business into disrepute.”

On Twitter users responded to their post, one said: “The IWW is a respected union with more than a century of organising in Glasgow. Businesses that have a good relationship with their staff don't experience wildcat strikes.”

What makes a union legitimate?

This event brings into question whether any group of workers can be deemed a trade union, and whether the supposed legitimacy of a union makes their objectives more valuable.

According to the Government website, any group of people can constitute themselves as a trade union, and an organisation which meets this requirement can be put on the Certification Officer’s public list of trade unions.

Despite this, unions must still seek ‘recognition’ from an employer to engage in negotiation and bargaining. Recognition agreements are usually reached voluntarily, but if not, it can be reached with the help of the Labour Relations Agency.

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In the case of an agreement not being met, a union may apply for statutory recognition through requesting recognition from an employer through writing, if this doesn’t work then a union is required to go to the Industrial Court for a decision. Legally, employers don’t have to recognise a trade union because they can opt for negotiating with employees individually.

Tim Tyndall, an employment partner from Keystone Law, highlights the differences between being recognised and registered as a trade union. He says:

“This dispute illustrates some of the common misconceptions about trade unions, industrial action and recognition.

“Industrial Workers of the World is a legitimate trade union and registered by a formal regulator (Certification Officer).This means that it has satisfied the requirements of registration. It’s just not part of the Trade Union Congress but it doesn’t have to be. It’s therefore recognisable as a trade union.

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“That said, it’s not ‘recognised’ by the owners of the bar for the entirely separate concept of recognition for collective bargaining purposes which would require agreement or less likely, given the very small numbers of employees involved, enforced recognition after formal application.

“It would not appear that such recognition was what the employees concerned were after but rather a change in their workload. Their actions were not legitimised by an appropriate ballot and it’s not even clear if they were members of this union.

“Accordingly, whilst the employees may have legitimate concerns and requests, the expression of them by walking out/refusing to work leaves them open to dismissal without any protection as would be the case for any other employee participating in unlawful industrial action.”

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