Member’s rights against their union

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Langley v GMB 

Trade Unions owe a duty of care to their members when providing advice or acting on their behalf. It is generally regarded as a duty to provide reasonable skill and care in the provision of practical industrial relations and employment advice. In Langley v GMB and others the High Court gave guidance on the extent and application of that duty of care as it would apply in practice in relation to union and legal advisers advising in relation to employment disputes.

A claim of negligence against the union and solicitors

Mr Langley was suspended from work pending disciplinary proceedings. He sought advice from his union which together with their solicitors advised him to enter into a compromise agreement.  He agreed but later considered that the advice was negligent as he would have been likely to either retain his job succeed in a whistleblowing claim should he have been dismissed. He brought claims of negligence against the union and solicitors.

Had the Trade Union breached its duty of care?

It was held that the Trade Union had not breached its duty of care. It considered that his case would have had poor prospects had it gone to Tribunal. In particular by following a policy to reach a negotiated settlement the union was not acted in breach of their duty.  The union had acted with the reasonable knowledge and experience that could be expected of it in negotiations and its experience of dealing with the employer had been of particular value.  

Key takeaway point

Generally, a union is expected to have an understanding of employment, HR, and industrial relations issues; to be reasonably well informed about employment law in general terms; to have a reasonable level of skill and expertise in persuasion and negotiation; and to be able to provide strategic and tactical advice on how to resolve a situation in the best interests of its members. It highlighted it was different from the duty by a solicitor it was not ‘quasi-legal’ even if the activities might sometimes appear the same. 

Do you require any more information regarding Trade Unions duty of care to their members?

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