Industrial disputes

Lawful industrial action


When a worker takes industrial action, they will usually be in breach of their contract of employment or contract for services.

This means that if a trade union calls for, threatens to call for or otherwise organises industrial action, it is - in practice - calling for the breach, or interference with the performance, of employment contracts.

They may also be interfering with the ability of the employer of those taking the industrial action, and of other employers, to fulfil commercial contracts.

It is unlawful in civil law to induce - or threaten to induce - people to break a contract or to interfere with the performance of a contract. This means that a trade union would face legal action and claims for damages for calling for industrial action.

Therefore, to allow trade unions or others to call for, threaten to call for or otherwise organise industrial action lawfully, the law expressly gives them immunity from legal actions under civil law.

However, to obtain this immunity, they must meet certain statutory conditions when organising industrial action. These conditions are that:

  • the action is called by someone authorised to do so, as set out in the Trade Union rule book
  • there needs to be a 'trade dispute'
  • an industrial action ballot must be held
  • a notice of industrial action must be provided to the employer
  • the action is not 'secondary action'
  • the action is not to promote closed-shop practices
  • the action is not in support of an employee dismissed for taking unofficial industrial action
  • the action is not to enforce trade union membership against non-union firms
  • the action doesn't involve unlawful picketing

See statutory conditions for immunity when organising industrial action.

  • LRA Workplace Information Service
    03300 555 300
Developed with:
  • Department for the Economy
  • LRA