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Your right to join (or not to join) a trade union

Employers and employment agencies must not treat you unfairly because you decide to join, decide to leave, refuse to leave or refuse to join a trade union. If they do, you may be able to make a complaint to an industrial tribunal.

Trade union membership: your right to choose

You have the right to:

  • choose to join or not join a trade union
  • decide to leave, or remain a member of, a trade union
  • belong to more than one trade union

You can exercise your right to choose at any time.

Your employer is not allowed to try to make you change your decision by offering you a benefit if you change your mind, or by threatening to penalise you if you do not. Your employer is not allowed to penalise you later for keeping to your decision.

Refusal of employment for trade union membership reasons

In order to start work, no employer or employment agency may require you to:

  • join a trade union
  • leave a trade union
  • be a member of a specific trade union
  • become a member of a different trade union

Nor are they allowed to advertise a job with a requirement that you do any of those things.

An employment agency must not refuse to provide you with its services because you:

  • are or are not a trade union member
  • are not willing to accept a requirement to do any of those things

Where an employer or employment agency requires you to join a specific trade union in order to start work, this is called a ‘closed shop’ practice, and is unlawful. This also applies to jobs where you would be employed by a trade union, and to jobs which a trade union advertises on behalf of another employer.

If you are not hired for a job or are refused the services of an employment agency for a trade union membership reason you may be entitled to complain to an industrial tribunal.

Dismissal for trade union membership reasons

Your employer must not dismiss you or select you for redundancy because you:

  • are or want to be a member of a trade union
  • are not or do not want to be a member of a trade union

If you are a trade union member, your employer must not dismiss or select you for redundancy because you:

  • took part or wanted to take part in trade union activities, at an appropriate time, as a member
  • used or wanted to use, at an appropriate time, the services provided by your trade union for its members

If you are not a trade union member you do not have to comply with any requirement by your employer that you:

  • pay a trade union subscription
  • allow your employer to make deductions from your pay instead of paying a trade union subscription
  • make any payments to another person or organisation (such as a charity, political party or trade union) instead of paying a trade union subscription

Your employer must not dismiss you or select you for redundancy because you refused these requirements.

Other unfavourable treatment for a trade union membership reason

Treating you unfavourably includes, for example, refusing you promotion or training opportunities, or withholding a pay increase.

If you are a trade union member your employer must not treat you unfairly in order to deter you from:

  • joining a trade union
  • taking part in its activities
  • making use of the services it provides to its members
  • leaving it

Your employer must not offer you a sum of money or other financial inducement to persuade you not to do these things.

If you are not a trade union member your employer must not:

  • treat you unfairly to make you join a trade union
  • make deductions from your pay instead of paying a trade union subscription
  • make deductions from your pay to pay for a trade union subscription
  • require you to pay money to another person or organisation (such as a charity, political party or trade union) instead of paying a trade union subscription

What to do if you have a problem

You can raise a grievance with your employer or agency and may be entitled to make a complaint to an industrial tribunal if you think that either:

  • your employer has treated you unfavourably for a reason connected to your trade union membership or your decision not to join a trade union
  • an employment agency has discriminated against you for this reason

If you think your employer has dismissed you or made you redundant for a reason connected to your trade union membership or your decision not to join a trade union, you may be entitled to make a complaint of unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal.

If you have a concern about your employment agency, you can contact the Labour Relations Agency for advice in making a complaint.

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