Organisations and unions
A UNISON case study

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Page 2: Rights in the workplace

Employees have two kinds of legal rights in their employment. Many rights come from Acts of Parliament. These are known as statutory rights, for example, Working Time Regulations provide the right to 4 weeks paid holiday. Other rights are laid down in the contract of employment issued by the employer. In UNISON, many employees work in organisations such as local authorities, National Health Service Trusts, schools and voluntary organisations where there are nationally or locally agreed terms and conditions, which become incorporated into individual contracts.

A contract states the working arrangements agreed between employer and employee. These will relate to pay, holiday entitlement, hours and place of work and the duties expected. The contract provides both the employer and the employee with safeguards. Employees should find out as much as possible about their contract so that they can be sure of their rights if there is a dispute or a disagreement.

To be legally binding, a contract of employment does not have to be in writing. However, there are some particulars that an employer must by law give in writing to the employee not later than two months after you start your job. The terms which must be included are:

  • the names of the employer and employee
  • the date employment began
  • pay, hours, overtime, holiday and sick pay entitlements
  • pension terms
  • workplace and mobility clauses (circumstances in which workers may be required to change their location and/or do different work)
  • job title and description of duties
  • notice entitlement for both parties
  • disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • reference to any incorporated collective agreements.

An employee is entitled to be paid the UK National Minimum Wage. In October 2003 this was £4.50 for adults (those workers aged 22 and over) and £3.80 for young people aged 18 to 21. From 1st October 2004 the adult rate will go up to £4.85 per hour and the rate for workers aged 18-21 will go up to £4.10 per hour. In addition to this the government has announced that from October 2004 a new rate for 16 and 17 year olds of £3.00 per hour will be introduced.

The Working Time Directive regulates the number of hours and rest periods to which an employee is entitled. For instance, night workers should not average more than eight hours work in each 24-hour period. If an adult works more than six hours, a minimum of a 20-minute rest break away from a work station must be given.

There are some rights which apply specifically to young workers:

  • if you are under 18, you are entitled to a daily rest period of 12 consecutive hours in every 24 hour period
  • an uninterrupted weekly rest period of at least 48 hours in each 7 day period
  • daily rest breaks of at least 30 minutes if the working day is 4.5 hours or more.

There are many circumstances in which a trade union may become involved in sorting out a dispute between employee and employer. These include:

  • seeking redress where the employer has not followed the correct disciplinary and/or grievance procedure
  • helping an employee who feels s/he has been unfairly dismissed
  • monitoring procedures when an employee is made redundant
  • helping to investigate employees' claims of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and age
  • supporting employees who believe they have been bullied or harassed.

UNISON | Organisations and unions