NUJ/BAJ row goes to court

The NUJ has asked the High Court to ‘derecognise’ the British Association of Journalists from representing staff on Mirror Group Newspapers’ Sports Division titles, writes Roger Pearson.

The union claims that the substantial majority of the roughly 130 staff on the Sports Division titles, which includes the Racing Post, would support it being recognised for collective bargaining ahead of the BAJ, set up by former NUJ general secretary Steve Turner.

It is challenging the decision of the Central Arbitration Committee, which adjudicates on these matters, refusing the NUJ’s application to be recognised by MGN for collective bargaining purposes.

The CAC ruled that MGN had done nothing wrong in recognising the BAJ instead, even though the CAC found that, at most, only one staff member had ever been a member of the BAJ.

The CAC even observed in its ruling: “The employer has been able to defeat what are, in all probability, the wishes of a majority of the relevant workforce by the simple expedient of concluding a voluntary recognition agreement with a wholly unrepresentative union.”

Now the NUJ is asking Mr Justice Hodge to order the CAC to reconsider the matter, arguing that MGN’s agreement with BAJ breaches the workers’ right to freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

If the NUJ is successful, the case could have an impact on MGN’s national titles whose workers are represented by BAJ.

The NUJ claims that the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 should and can be construed to avoid the injustice identified by the CAC in this case, and that, if that is not the case, then the legislation is incompatible with the ECHR.

It is asking the judge to rule on what is required for an employer to put a collective agreement in force, and on whether a trade union can be recognised to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of workers when the union in question has no, or negligible, support among the workers concerned.

In papers before the court, the NUJ’s counsel John Hendy QC, argues: “It is the NUJ’s submission that freedom of association is a right that vests in an individual and would be breached by precluding the workers in a bargaining unit, on grounds of union membership, from participating in the collective bargaining process; by permitting an employer to select a union with which to collectively bargain which had no substantial support among – or indeed was opposed by – the workers; or by imposing upon the workers a union to collectively bargain on their behalf about which they had not been consulted.”

Mr Justice Hodge is expected to give his judgment next week.

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