Honda workers vote for union recognition

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The Japanese car group Honda was yesterday forced to recognise one of Britain's biggest unions after 4,000 workers at its plant in Swindon voted in favour of collective bargaining.

The deal forms the biggest and most high-profile recognition agreement since the introduction of the "Fairness at Work" legislation in 1999 which granted negotiating rights to unions where a majority of workers want it.

Honda had rejected a voluntary representation deal offered by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) which then took the company to the Central Arbitration Committee, a form of industrial court.

The committee ordered Honda to co-operate with a legally binding ballot in which 72.8 per cent of the votes cast were in favour of recognition in a 77.1 per cent turnout. Some 56.2 per cent of those eligible to vote opted for collective bargaining. The law awards negotiating rights when more than 40 per cent of a "bargaining unit" are in favour.

Under the law, recognition is automatic when more than 50 per cent of workers are members of the relevant union. At Swindon the AEEU had recruited just under half of the employees.

A spokesman for the union said that while Honda insisted it was not "anti-union", it only acceded to collective bargaining rights at its plants in various part of the world when it was forced to do so.

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the union, said the agreement would have been impossible without the law. But he added: "We look forward to working in partnership with Honda and its employees to keep this company stable, secure and successful."

Mike McEnaney, manager of the Swindon plant said the company already had "very good relations and communications channels" with employees which had been a major contributor to Honda's success at Swindon.

"We can develop a positive and constructive working relationship with the AEEU to help us improve further our business," he said.

Mr McEnaney said the company was keen to follow the statutory process closely so that balanced factual information could be presented to their employees.

Under the law, the union has the right to negotiate over pay, hours and holidays, but not over issues such as training.

In the year to November, the CAC ordered 17 employers to recognise unions. Another 50 organisations decided to award negotiating rights "semi-voluntarily" before the committee made an order. There were about 300 voluntary deals. Altogether about 5,000 extra workers were covered by recognition deals last year.