Regardless of whether all your work colleagues are members or not, you have the right not to join as well as join a trade union. The choice is yours and it is unlawful for an employer or employment agency to treat you any differently whatever you decide.
The Right to Join a Trade Union
If you already belong to a trade union or choose to join one, your employer cannot treat you unfairly, e.g. they cannot refuse you training or promotion opportunities or try to stop you becoming a member by offering you better conditions of employment if you were to give up membership. You cannot be dismissed or made Redundant for the reasons of being a trade union member or refusing to leave your union.
If you are a trade union member, you have the right to take part in legitimate trade union activities and use trade union services, for example, getting legal advice on employment issues at an appropriate time. By ‘appropriate time’ this means time during working hours when your employer has agreed union members can do these things and during your own personal time when you’re not at work. If you choose to exercise either of these rights, your employer cannot dismiss you, make you redundant or treat you unfairly as a result of doing these things.
The Right NOT to Belong to a Trade Union
You have the right not to join a trade union or to leave one if you are already a member and your employer can not treat you unfairly for taking that stance. They are prevented from trying to force you into joining one (e.g. by offering you money) and they cannot force you to make payments to a union.
What is a ‘Closed Shop’?
A closed shop – where everyone has to belong to a particular trade union is not allowed by law. Membership of a trade union cannot be a condition of employment and employment agencies cannot refuse to consider you for a position because you are not a union member.
Can a Union Expel or Exclude You?
Yes – for certain reasons.
For example, if membership is limited to a particular profession, trade or industry. They can also exclude you if you don’t possess the necessary experience or qualifications or if you live outside a particular area. If the union is a staff association or you do not work for that employer you can also be excluded and they can terminate your membership if they believe that your conduct is (within limits) unacceptable.
Once you have joined a union, you have the right to be a member indefinitely. Most unions have Complaints Procedures. If you feel that your union has unfairly treated you, you should use their complaints procedures which your union office should be able to provide you with. If your complaint is that you have been wrongly expelled or excluded from a trade union, you should take that up with an Employment Tribunal. And, if the union has broken its own rules, you can go to the civil courts but you should seek advice on that first.
Remember, if you are being denied your rights, speak to your employer first of all but if you still cannot reach a satisfactory solution, go to your trade union representative (if you are a member) and if you aren’t – you can take matters up with an Employment Tribunal.