Trade Unions

Trade Unions

Trade unions are a membership-based organisation and one of their main goals is to protect and advance the interests of its members in the workplace. Most trade unions are independent of any employer.

Its main goal is to protect and advance the interests of its members. A union often negotiates agreements with employers on pay and conditions. It may also provide legal and financial advice, sickness benefits and education facilities to its members.

Employers which recognise a union will negotiate with it over members’ pay and conditions.

Many recognition agreements are reached voluntarily, sometimes with the help of Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). If agreement can’t be reached and the organisation employs more than 20 people, a union may apply for statutory recognition. To do so, it must first request recognition from the employer in writing.

If this is unsuccessful, the union can apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for a decision. In considering the union’s application, the CAC must assess many factors including the level of union membership and the presence of any other unions. Often, the CAC will organise a ballot among the affected workforce to decide whether recognition should be awarded.

Throughout the process, the emphasis is on reaching voluntary agreement.

Trade Unions and their Members

They have quasi-corporate status. They are not a corporate body – so not a legal person – but they are capable of making contracts, suing and being sued in own name. Criminal proceedings can also be brought against a union in its own name.

Why are corporate characteristics are given to trades unions?

Unions are important social and economic institutions with considerable influence. It is public policy therefore that they should be accountable for their actions. Taff Vale Railway Company v Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (1901) made them liable in tort. This liability was subsequently restricted by the Trades Disputes Act 1906 with its ‘golden formula’ (now found in TULR(C)A 1992).

Trade Unions …..

  1. cannot register as a company: s10 (3).
  2. Are an unincorporated association (of individuals).
  3. Have no legal personality, but some corporate characteristics.

The legal basis of the member-union relationship

  • Implied and express terms
  • Contract of membership
  • Role of the courts: interpret rules and enforce principles of natural justice
  • Exclusion and expulsion

    An individual has a statutory right not to be excluded or expelled from a trades union (s174).

    Exclusion or expulsion permitted only in accordance with s174.

    Employment Relations Act 2004 s33 amended s174 so that unions can exclude or expel persons whose conduct in the form of activities as a member of a political party is incompatible with union rules and objectives: s174(4B). However, a person must not be excluded or expelled from a union because they are or are not a member of a political party: s174 (4A), although from 6 April 2009 this is subject to an exception.

    ASLEF v UK: [2007] IRLR 361 (European Court of Human Rights) TULR(C)A s174 involves a breach of art 11 of the European Convention because it doesn’t allow unions freedom to decide who they should admit or not admit into membership.

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    For more information on:

    • Unjustifiable discipline
    • Posts for which ballots must be held
    • Why has Parliament been so interested in the internal workings of trades unions as to enact this legislation?
    • The Rights of Trade Union Members
    • The Political Activities of Trade Unions
    • Adopting and financing political objectives
    • Meaning of political
    • Why has Parliament been so interested in trades unions’ political activities?
    • Summary