Collective agreements are reached between an employer and a representative acting on behalf of a group of employees. The agreements will relate to the terms and conditions of those employees.
The process of reaching collective agreements is known as collective bargaining, which simply means that a negotiation is taking place on behalf of several employees collectively. The bargaining will normally take place between a negotiator, acting for a trade union, and management staff on behalf of the business.
Collective agreements may relate to additions, deletions or amendments to any aspect of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment. This can include items such as pay, duties, holiday entitlement, hours of work, sick pay, maternity or paternity pay, entitlement to breaks, employee benefits or disciplinary procedures.
Collective agreements are not, in themselves, legally binding in the UK. However, once an agreement is reached, any changes to the terms and conditions agreed between the two sides will then be implemented as part of each affected employee’s own contract of employment. In this way, the changes become legally enforceable on a individual, contractual basis.
Unions gain their bargaining power from the potential to ballot their members on taking industrial action in the event that an agreement cannot be reached. This could include work to rule or a strike. In most cases, however, the unions will be negotiating on behalf of all employees within a particular grade, unit or division. This means that an employee doesn’t necessarily have to be a member of the union to benefit from collective agreements.