Trade Unions

Freedom to Join and Form a Union

An employee has the right to join a trade union, and should not be refused a job, dismissed, harassed or selected for redundancy because they are a member of or wish to join a trade union. A member of a trade union has the right to take part in trade union activities, for example, recruiting members, collecting subscriptions and attending meetings. Trade union activities must take place either outside the employee’s normal working hours or at a time agreed with the employer. An employee has no right to be paid for this time off work unless their contract allows for this.

Source: §47 of the Employment Rights Act 1996

Freedom of Collective Bargaining

Trade unions have a variety of rights, including the disclosure of information for collective bargaining, conduct collective bargaining on behalf of a bargaining unit. A method for the conduct of collective bargaining is specified by the Central Arbitration Committee.

Source: §70A-70C and 178 of Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act after amendment

Right to Strike

Industrial action happens when trade union members are in a dispute with their employers that cannot be solved through negotiations. Industrial action is protected by law as long as:

-the dispute relates to a trade dispute between workers and their employer;

-a secret postal ballot has been held and the majority of members voting have supported the action; and

-Detailed notice about the action has been given to the employer at least seven days before it commences.


A trade union calls industrial action by telling members and the employer when and how this action will be taken. This should be done by a trade union official or committee that has the legal right to do so.

Unions must give notice to the employer of the intention to hold a ballot, of the results of the ballot, and of the intention to strike. An employer can seek an injunction against a union before a strike has begun if any of the above steps are not observed. If striking workers are dismissed within 12 weeks of taking part in a legal strike, they can claim unfair dismissal.

Source: §229, 237 & 238 of Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act after amendment

Regulations on Trade Unions

  • Employment Rights Act (ERA), 1996 last amended in 2012
  • Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, 1992