The Central Arbitration Committee has rejected a novel claim that outsourced workers employed to provide ancillary services at a university should be entitled to bargain collectively with the university as their “de facto” employer.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) sought statutory recognition against both Cordant Security and the University of London under Schedule A1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA) in respect of workers employed by Cordant to provide services to the University.

The IWGB’s application in respect of Cordant failed as there was an existing recognition agreement between Cordant and Unison which covered the workers in the proposed bargaining unit. The CAC also rejected the application against the university. The CAC considered that even if the union was correct that the university “substantially determined” the workers’ terms, the absence of any contract between the workers and the university was fatal to the union’s application, because the definition of “worker” in section 296 of TULRCA requires a contract.

To allow the application proceed would “transform the statutory machinery for collective bargaining” by giving two unions the right to bargain with two employers over the terms of the same group of workers. This would, the CAC considered, be “a recipe for chaotic workplace relationships” and go against the CAC’s statutory duty to promote “fair and efficient practices and arrangements in the workplace”.

The CAC did not rule on the union’s argument that Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives unions a right to bargain collectively with a de facto employer. In the CAC’s view, any decision to expand the scope of statutory recognition in this way would be a matter for Parliament, and the question of whether section 296 is incompatible with Article 11 would be a matter for the High Court.