Trade union membership rights

Rights of workers relating to trade union activities and services

Guide

You must not treat employees and other workers unfairly on the grounds that they have taken part in the activities of the trade union which they belong to or have made use of their union's services at an appropriate time.

Unfair treatment includes dismissal and subjecting a worker to a detriment.

What is meant by the term 'trade union'?

The term 'trade union' includes:

  • any trade union
  • a particular trade union
  • one of a number of particular trade unions
  • a particular branch or section of a trade union
  • one of a number of particular branches or sections of a trade union

What is meant by the term 'detriment'?

Detriment can be either an act or a deliberate decision not to act by an employer. Whether an employee or other worker has suffered a detriment is for a tribunal to decide.

Examples of a detriment would be withholding a pay increase, discrimination in promotion, transfer or training opportunities, or threats of dismissal. For a worker who is not an employee, detriment could also take the form of their dismissal.

In addition, a detriment could be the failure to confer a benefit on a person who failed to accept an unlawful inducement which would have been conferred on them had they accepted the offer.

For example, if an employer offered £1,000 to workers not to take advice from their union, any worker who did not accept that offer and were therefore not paid the £1,000 would have been subjected to a detriment of £1,000.

Right to take part in trade union activities

All employees have the following rights relating to their trade union activities:

  • Not to be dismissed or selected for redundancy, for taking part - or proposing to take part - in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time.
  • Not to be dismissed or selected for redundancy because they failed to accept an offer made by their employer. The sole or main purpose of the offer must be to induce them not to take part in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time.

In addition, all employees and other workers have the right:

  • not to be subjected to a detriment by their employer to prevent or deter them from taking part in trade union activities at an appropriate time, or to penalise them for doing so
  • not to be made an offer by their employer, the sole or main purpose of which is to induce them not to take part in an independent trade union's activities at an appropriate time
  • not to be subjected to a detriment for failing to accept such an offer

The kinds of union activity a worker may take part in are not set out in law. However, union activities involving a worker acting on behalf of the union would be covered, eg a shop steward representing a union that is recognised for collective bargaining purposes or activities connected with the election or appointment of union officials.

Right to make use of trade union services

All employees have the following rights relating to the use they make of their union's services:

  • not to be dismissed, or selected for redundancy, for making use, or proposing to make use, of the services of an independent trade union at an appropriate time
  • not to be dismissed, or selected for redundancy, because they failed to accept an offer made by their employer, the sole or main purpose of which was to induce them not to use the services of an independent trade union at an appropriate time

In addition, all employees and other workers have the right:

  • not to be subjected to a detriment by their employer to prevent or deter them from using their union's services at an appropriate time or to penalise them for doing so
  • not to be made an offer by their employer, the sole or main purpose of which is to induce them not to make use of an independent trade union's services at an appropriate time
  • not to be subjected to a detriment by their employer for failing to accept such an offer

'Trade union services' are services made available to an employee or other worker by virtue of their membership of an independent trade union. They include the union agreeing to raise a matter on behalf of the employee or other worker by, for example, writing to the employer about a grievance.

However, such services do not include having a member's terms and conditions determined by collective agreement.

The 'appropriate time' for the union member to take part in union activities or to make use of their union's services is time either:

  • outside the member's working hours - this could cover activities which take place or services which are used when the person is on the employer's premises but not actually required to be working, eg during lunch breaks
  • within the member's working hours where the employer has agreed that the worker may take part in trade union activities or use the trade union's services

Rights to reasonable time off for trade union duties and activities also exist where an employer recognises a union for collective bargaining. For more information on collective bargaining, see meaning and types of trade union recognition.

Right of complaint to an Industrial Tribunal

Individuals who think that any of their rights as set out above have been infringed can complain to an industrial tribunal. See tribunal claims: discrimination regarding trade union activities and services.

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