Guide

Trade union membership rights

Trade union membership rights in the workplace

You must not treat employees and other workers unfairly on the grounds of trade union membership or non-membership. 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'?

A person can be subjected to a detriment through either an act or a deliberate decision not to act by an employer. Whether a worker has suffered a detriment is for an industrial tribunal to decide.

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

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 with the sole or main purpose of inducing them to give up their trade union membership, any worker who did not accept that offer and was therefore not paid the £1,000 would have been subjected to a detriment of £1,000.

Right not to belong to a trade union

No person has to join, or remain a member of, a trade union.

All employees have the right:

  • not to be dismissed, or selected for redundancy, for not belonging to a trade union or for refusing to join one
  • not to be dismissed, or selected for redundancy, for failing to accept an offer made by their employer with the sole or main purpose of inducing them to be or become a trade union member

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

  • not to be subjected to a detriment by their employer (for not being or refusing to become a trade union member) 
  • not to be made an offer by their employer where the sole or main purpose of the employer is to induce them to be or to become a trade union member
  • not to be subjected to a detriment for failing to accept such an offer

Right not to make payments in lieu of union membership

Employees have the right not to be dismissed for refusing to make a payment, eg to a union or a charity, in lieu of union membership or for objecting to their employer deducting a sum of money from their pay to make such a payment.

Employees and other workers have the right not to have other action taken by their employer to force them to make such a payment. If their employer deducts a sum of money from their pay, this counts as action to force them to make such a payment.

Right to belong to a trade union

All employees have the right:

  • not to be dismissed, or selected for redundancy, for being a member of an independent trade union or for proposing to become a member
  • not to be dismissed, or selected for redundancy, for failing to accept an offer made by their employer with the sole or main purpose of inducing them not to be or become a trade union member

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 belonging to an independent trade union or from seeking to become a member, or to penalise them for doing so
  • not to be made an offer by their employer where the sole or main purpose of the offer is to induce them not to be (or seek to become) a member
  • not to be subjected to a detriment for failing to accept such an offer

Right of complaint to an Industrial Tribunal

Individuals who think that any of their rights as set out above have been infringed can make an industrial tribunal claim. For more information, see tribunal claims: discrimination against workers on TU membership grounds.