Your Trade Union Rights

Site updated on February 17, 2020

You have the right to decide whether you want to join a trade union or not. Employers are not entitled to know whether you are in a union. You should certainly not be asked questions at an interview about your union membership, views or activity. Since 2004, Employers have not been allowed to offer incentives to you to leave a union, for example a higher pay rise to non union employees.

If you think you have been turned down for a job, dismissed or overlooked for promotion, because of your union membership or activity you should take further advice as this is a form of discrimination which is unlawful. The same applies if you think that you have been dismissed due to your union membership or union activity on your part.

A special level of compensation is available for this and no service is required to claim to tribunal.

You can join any union of your choice, but obviously it is sensible to join a union which represents workers in jobs like yours. Some unions operate in specific sectors, such as Local Government, and it is advisable to join an appropriate union to represent you.

Employers only have to deal with a union if that union is formally “recognised” by the Employer. This is a legal process which the union has to go through to get certain rights and protection. Your views are more likely to be considered by your Employer when the union is “recognised” by your Employer.

Where the union is “recognised”, your Employer is legally obliged to discuss certain matters with the union, such as pay and terms of employment. Redundancy is another area that Employers must consult the union on.

In certain circumstances you are entitled to time off work for union meetings – but your Employer does not have to pay you when attending a union meeting. Some Employers do give some paid time off to attend a union meeting, particularly when those meetings are important – pay offers or redundancy terms for example.


All workers now have the right to have a companion with them during formal disciplinary or grievance meetings. This can be a union rep but does not have to be. You have the right to have a union rep with you even if your Employer does not recognise any union. This is your right and if you are refused a representative of your choice you should seek further advice.

You are allowed reasonable time off with pay to prepare for and attend the meeting and any appeal.

You can also request a delay of up to 5 working days for any formal discipline or grievance meeting where your companion cannot make the original date.

You also have the right to a companion if you request flexible working.

Trade Union Officials

If you are an elected representative of a trade union you become entitled to certain rights and protection. You can take reasonable paid time off to attend training courses and carry out your union duties for example. If you have any problems in connection with your role as a union rep. you should talk to a Full Time Officer of your union.

Strike action

You enjoy some protection against dismissal if you go on official strike action called by your trade union. This protected period was increased to 12 weeks from October 2004, and it can be longer in certain situations – where your Employer has made no attempt to negotiate, or you have been “locked out” by your Employer are examples.

You should note that you are not protected against dismissal if you take unofficial strike action – this means either that there is no recognised union or the union has not complied with the law in calling the strike.


You could be dismissed for taking part in industrial action if:

  • the union hasn’t held a recent and properly organised ballot
  • the union hasn’t given the employer the correct notice for balloting members or taking action
  • the union hasn’t called its members to take action because they think the dispute is settled or action is called by someone who doesn’t have the authority to do so
  • it’s in support of workers taking action against another employer (otherwise known as ‘sympathy’ or ‘secondary’ action)
  • it’s in support of only employing union members (otherwise known as a ‘closed shop’)
  • it breaks any other parts of industrial action law

© Your Job Rights 2016

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