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Monday 23 December 2019

Trade union activity: know your rights

By Rachel Haliday

It’s illegal for your manager or employer to victimise you for being a member of MiP or carrying out MiP activities. Here we explain the legal protection available to you.


Membership of a trade union is a human right. If your employer seeks to target or discriminate against you simply because you are a member of MiP or any other union, the law is there to protect you.

The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states it is unlawful for someone to refuse to employ a person because they are a trade union member.

While in employment, the law says:

1. Workers have the right not to be subjected to a “detriment”, if the employer’s main purpose is an “unlawful purpose”

  • A detriment means a disadvantage. Examples of a detriment include being demoted, being asked to work extra or unsociable hours or having disciplinary action taken against you.
  • Subjecting a worker to a detriment is unlawful if the employer’s main purpose is unlawful. It would be unlawful if it was to prevent, deter or punish trade union membership, taking part in union activities or making use of trade union services.

2. It is automatically unfair to dismiss someone if the principal reason for the dismissal is an “unlawful reason”

  • If the employer’s main reason for the dismissal was that the employee either took part, or even just proposed to take part, in trade union activities or made use of trade union services, the dismissal would be unlawful.

3. It is automatically unfair to dismiss someone by reason of redundancy if the principal reason for selecting them for redundancy was an “improper purpose”.

  • For the courts to find that a detriment or dismissal is unlawful the employer has to have an improper purpose. In assessing this, tribunals look not only at the effect of their actions but also at the objective they were aiming to achieve.
  • Factors which might support a claim that the employer has an ‘improper purpose’ include: evidence of anti-union bias, a failure by an employer to follow the normal procedural steps or if the employer is unable to give a credible explanation for their actions.

Trade union activities: Your rights

To be protected, trade union activities must take place at “an appropriate time.” This usually means outside the worker’s working hours, or at a time within working hours when the employer has agreed to the employee taking part in trade union activities—often called ‘facility time’.

The tribunal, using its “industrial common sense,” will decide what constitutes a ‘trade union activity’, but usually the following activities are protected:

  • Participating in bargaining, consultation, grievance handling and disputes procedures
  • Having discussions with full-time union officials
  • Representing members and having discussions with them
  • Engaging in the recruitment of new members
  • Undergoing approved training
  • Putting up union notices and distributing union literature
  • Voting in a union election
  • Attending branch meetings or national conferences.

Claims that trade unionists can bring

If you believe you have been treated unfairly at work due to your trade union membership or activity, you may be able to bring an employment tribunal claim. Normally, the deadline to start the employment tribunal claim process is three months less one day after the act you are complaining about.

If you were dismissed and a claim for dismissal is successful, tribunals have the power to award a minimum basic award and compensation for financial loss caused by the dismissal.

Rachel Haliday is an employment rights lawyer with Thompsons Solicitors. If you believe you have been victimised for your MiP membership or for carrying out union activities, contact your MiP national officer immediately for advice.

Legal Eye does not offer legal advice on individual cases. MiP members in need of personal advice should immediately contact their MiP rep.

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