Trade Unions & Emp. Reps.

Trade Unions

The Employment Relations Act (1999) introduced legislation that gave employees the legal right to have their trade unions recognised, and to be represented by them.

The Act introduced the following key changes:

  • It made it unlawful to penalise employees because of their membership of a trade union;
  • It made it unlawful to withhold benefits that are available to non-union member employees from employees who are union members; 
  • It made it unlawful for employers to dismiss employees who refuse to enter into personalised contracts;
  • It protected employees from dismissal for taking part in official, lawfully organised industrial action;
  • It established new procedures for the recognition and de-recognition of trade unions for collective bargaining, when employers and unions are unable to reach an agreement;
  • It introduced new legislation that prevents employers 'discriminating by omission' and blacklisting of employees on grounds of their trade union membership;
  • Employers must allow employees to be represented by a trade union: 
    • In disciplinary and grievance matters;
    • For the bargaining of terms and conditions;
    • For making work-force agreements;
    • On joint working groups.

Employee representatives

An employer is already obliged to consult with 'Employee Representatives' in the event of a business transfer or where it is proposed to make collective redundancies (of 20 or more employees) at a single establishment. In the event that an employer recognises a trade union, that trade union must be used as the employees' representative in any business transfer or collective redundancy situation. If the employer does not recognise a trade union, it must arrange for employee representatives to be elected (or use any Employee Representatives already elected).  

The following are general guidelines as to how such representatives should be elected:

  • Take all steps that are reasonably practicable to ensure elections are fair;
  • Ensure a sufficient number of representatives are elected given the size of the organisation/workforce;
  • Decide whether employees affected by the proposed redundancies or transfer are to be represented generally or by reference to their particular department;
  • Decide upon the length of term for the Employee Representatives to serve - this period must be sufficient to meet consultation obligations;
  • Ensure that candidates for election are employees who are affected by the proposed redundancies or business transfer at the date of the election. No affected employee should be unreasonably excluded from standing for election;
  • All employees affected by the transfer or proposed collective redundancies on the date of the election should be entitled to vote;
  • Allow employees to vote for as many candidates as there are Employee Representatives to be elected to represent them;
  • So far as is practicable, ensure that votes are made in secret and are counted accurately.

If an Elected Representative should cease to be a representative before the end of his or her 'term' a new representative should be elected to represent any employees who may be un-represented as a result.

Although the requirement for Elected Representatives is limited to business transfers and collective redundancies they may prove useful to have for other circumstances - such as being potentially suitable individuals to accompany employees at disciplinary or grievance hearings.