Under the statutory trade union recognition procedure, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) will not accept a recognition application unless the application is for recognition by the employer of the relevant workers. In R (on the application of The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain) v Central Arbitration Committee the IWGB unsuccessfully argued that this was a breach of employees' right to freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The IWGB represented a number of workers employed by Cordant to provide services to the University of London. It applied to the CAC for recognition by the University in respect of those workers, arguing that the University was the "de facto" employer that controlled the workers' terms and conditions of employment. The CAC rejected the application because the University was not the workers' employer as required by the statutory procedure. The IWGB applied for judicial review of the decision, arguing that the legislative requirement breached the workers' rights to freedom of association.
The challenge failed. Article 11 does not provide a universal or unqualified right to compulsory recognition and does not require there to be a right to collective bargaining with someone who is not the employer and with whom workers have no contractual relationship. In any event, the restriction was designed to protect the rights and freedoms of employers, workers and trade unions to enter into orderly collective bargaining arrangements and the economic freedom of organisations to arrange operations in the most efficient and beneficial manner. As such, the framework for trade union recognition was fully compatible with Article 11.
The IWGB had also applied for recognition by Cordant, but that application failed because Cordant already recognised an independent trade union in relation to the relevant staff.