A collective agreement or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is a special type of commercial agreement, usually as one negotiated "collectively" between management (on behalf of the company) and trades unions (on behalf of employees). The collective agreement regulates the terms and conditions of employees in their workplace, their duties and the duties of the employer. It is usually the result of a process of collective bargaining between an employer (or a number of employers) and a trade union representing workers.
At common law, Ford v A.U.E.F. , the courts once held that collective agreements were NOT binding. Then, the Industrial Relations Act 1971, introduced by Robert Carr (Employment Minister in Edward Heath's cabinet), provided that collective agreements were binding, unless a contact clause in writing declared otherwise. After the demise of the Heath government, the law was reversed. This reflects the tradition in British industrial relations policy of legal abstentionism from workplace disputes.
The law is now contained in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 s.179, whereby In the United Kingdom, collective agreements are conclusively deemed to be not legally binding. This presumption may be rebutted when the agreement is in writing and contains an explicit provision asserting that it should be legally enforceable.
Note that although the collective agreement itself is not enforceable, many of the terms negotiated will relate to pay, conditions, holidays, pensions and so on. These terms will be incorporated into an employee's contract of employment (whether or not the employee is a union member); and the contract of employment is, of course, enforceable. If the new terms are unacceptable to any individuals, they can object to his employer; but if the majority of workers have acquiesced, the company will be able to sack the complainants, normally with impunity.
The British law reflects the historic adversarial nature of UK industrial relations. Also, there is a background fear by employees that, were their trade union sued for breach of a collective agreement, the union could become bankrupt, leaving employees without representation in collective bargaining. This unfortunate situation may be slowly changing, partly through EU influences. Japanese and Chinese firms that have UK factories (particularly in the motor industry) try to imbue their workers with the "company ethic"; and this approach has been adopted by indigenous UK firms such as Tesco.
Collective agreements in Germany are legally binding, and this is accepted by the population, and it causes no alarm. Whereas in the UK there was (and arguably still is) a "them and us" attitude in industrial relations, the situation is very different in post-war Germany and in some other Northern European countries. In Germany, there is a much greater spirit of cooperation between the two sides of industry. For over 50 years, German workers by law have had representation on company boards. Together, management and workers are considered "social partners", a term that gives rise to bemusement in the UK.
- Intention to be legally bound
- Labour economics
- Labour law
- NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, an agreement in the National Basketball Association
- NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, an agreement in the National Hockey League
- Ford v A.U.E.F.  2 QB 303)