25 Oct, 2011

DLA Piper is further strengthening the focus of its employment practice with the creation of a specialist industrial relations unit.  Led by David Bradley, the team will be made up of partners and solicitors from across the UK and Europe who have considerable experience of operating in this area of the law. 


The creation of the unit coincides with the arrival of new partner, Tom Kerr Williams, who joins DLA Piper from Baker McKenzie. Tom also has extensive expertise in this area and has acted on a number of high profile industrial disputes.


Industrial relations is one of the most sensitive and complex issues facing employers. In the current economic climate it is in the interest of all to create and maintain good relations between employees and employers.  The “voice” of the employee has been increasingly recognised as important in the day to day issues that affect an organisation whether heard through a traditional trade union relationship or via an alternative collective structure. At critical times such as a reduction in work force or outsourcing of services, employee involvement is not only a legal imperative, but can be crucial to the successful completion of the project. Whilst trade unions initially resisted the concept of alternative collective structures such as works councils, they are now more prepared to embrace them, recognising the extent to which the union can use them to gain influence in the workplace. The proliferation of processes through which relationships between worker and worker, worker and employer, worker and union and union and employer are expressed gives rise to new challenges for employers. The DLA Piper Industrial Relations Unit aims to work with clients to address the difficulties in ensuring that the flow of communication between employers and employee, plus employers and trade union, runs smoothly.


David Bradley partner at DLA Piper (pictured) said: “We are operating in an environment where public sector unrest is again drawing attention to the legal issues that arise in the arena of industrial relations. We have seen legislation in this area develop into a complex set of laws and regulation drawing on principles based in contract, tort and the criminal law. Practical experience is required when choosing to apply the law or when pursuing the correct employee relations strategy against a backdrop that the principal relationship in the workplace must be between employer and employee.”


“An established legal framework now exists for an all-inclusive, collective employee relations strategy.  Trade union relationships rarely deliver the level of inclusion required and employers are often confused when faced with a works council and a trade union relationship acting in parallel. Part of our role is to help guide employers through what can be a difficult process.”


Employers operate in a broad spectrum, from those where relationships with trade unions are well established, to those for who engagement with trade unions is to be avoided wherever possible. Irrespective of the point on the spectrum, there are obligations and liabilities for employer, employee and trade union to be aware of; from recognition requests through to the seeking of injunctions to prevent unlawful industrial action.


This area of practice is becoming increasingly internationalised with unions building relationships across borders to mirror the globalisation of business. Additionally, unions increasingly seek to influence behaviours outside of their home jurisdiction to seek leverage with a corporate employer. This is a relationship that cannot and should not go ignored.


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