Right to join a trade union

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Everyone working in the UK has a right to join (or not join) a trade union. Your employer cannot treat you unfavourably because of your trade union membership or activities or because you used or wanted to use union services provided for members.

What is a trade union?

Trade unions seek to protect the interests of their members in the workplace by:

  • ensuring members get their rights at work
  • negotiating agreements with employers for better pay and conditions
  • promoting equality at work
  • representing their members in disciplinary and grievance meetings
  • providing their members with legal advice
  • providing learning opportunities
  • offering other benefits and services

Where your union is recognised, it must be consulted by the employer over major changes to the workplace such as redundancies affecting more than 20 employees and outsourcing.

Being refused employment because of trade union membership

It is unlawful for an employer to refuse to offer you employment because you are (or are not) a member of a trade union.

It is also unlawful for an employer to advertise a job stating that it is requirement that applicants (or are not) a member of a trade union.

It is also unlawful for an employment agency to refuse to provide you with job finding services or other services because you are (or are not) a trade union member.

Protections for trade union members who are treated unfavourably at work

If you are a worker or an employee it is unlawful for your employer to treat you unfavourably because of your trade union membership or your union activities (or because are not a trade union member). Treating you unfavourably includes:

  • dismissing you or selecting you for redundancy
  • offering or providing you with worse terms and conditions
  • refusing you a pay rise, a promotion or training opportunities
  • offering you an incentive to persuade you not to join a union or to opt out of trade union membership or collective bargaining

It is also unlawful for your employer to do any of the above because you used or wanted to use union services provided for members.

You will only be protected from being treated unfavourably for your trade union activities carried:

  • outside of your working hours, or
  • during your working hours, but only if the employer has agreed

The same limits apply to protections for using union services.

What can you do if you are being treated unfavourably because of your union membership or activities?

If you think you are being treated unfavourably because of your union membership or activities you should speak to your union rep.

They will advise you if you may be able to make a claim to an Employment Tribunal.

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