Trade union subscriptions
The amount of your subscription is set by your trade union. It may be a fixed amount, or based on how much you are paid. It is used to pay for the administration of the trade union.
What can subscriptions be used for?
Trade union subscriptions could be used for:
- maintaining the trade union’s offices and facilities
- communicating with members
- publicity material for campaigns
- paying trade union staff
Your subscription may also include a contribution to the trade union’s political fund. You can choose whether you wish to pay this contribution.
Paying your subscription
Your trade union will tell you how you can pay your subscription when you join. Most trade union members pay by having their trade union subscriptions deducted from their pay by their employer, a method called the ‘check-off’. There are several other common methods, including direct debit, cash and cheque.
Paying your subscription by the ‘check-off’
If your employer deducts your trade union subscription from your pay, they will pay this money directly to your trade union on your behalf. There is no legal requirement for your employer to do this.
Your employer can choose to stop deducting trade union subscriptions from their employees’ pay and sending it to the trade union at any time, unless doing so would breach the terms of your employment contract.
By law, your employer cannot deduct trade union subscriptions from your pay without your written permission. Many trade unions will get your consent to pay by check-off when you join, and forward it to your employer – so you may not need to do anything. Alternatively, your employer may ask you to sign an authorisation.
You can also ask your employer to stop taking money from your pay for check-off deductions at any time. If you wish to do this you must write to your employer asking them to stop making deductions for your trade union subscription. They must then stop making deductions from your pay as soon as it is reasonably possible.
Your employer is responsible for making sure that any check-off deductions they make are lawful. If money for a trade union subscription is being taken from your pay without your consent in writing, or after you have withdrawn your consent in writing, the responsibility rests with your employer and not your trade union.
Check-off and political funds
Some trade unions operate political funds. Members of these trade unions are asked to make a contribution to the trade union’s political fund, as part of their regular subscriptions. This is sometimes called the ‘political levy’.
Unlike the position for trade union members in Great Britain, in Northern Ireland union members are automatically ‘contracted out’ from having to contribute to the political fund of their union. You are not obliged to ‘contract in’. If you do choose to contract in you must give written notice to the union of your willingness to contribute to that fund. You can withdraw that notice by giving written notice of withdrawal to the union.
What to do if you have a problem
If you have a problem with your check-off deductions, try to resolve the matter with your employer and your trade union first.
If your trade union subscriptions are deducted from your pay without your consent, you could make a complaint to an industrial tribunal against your employer. If your complaint is successful the industrial tribunal can order your employer to pay you the value of the unauthorised deductions.