Trade Unions and Industrial Action

Revision Notes:

The law on trade unions is mainly contained in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA). The Act sets out the aims and purposes of trade unions and is, therefore, the constitution of trade unions.



  • s.137 TULRCA 1992 – the employer must not discriminate against a worker who is part of a trade union.


  • s.11(1) TULRCA 1992 – provides a fundamental right for workers to join a trade union. This section states that it is ‘not a crime to join a trade union’.


  • s.152 TULRCA 1992 – it is unfair if a worker has started their employment and decided to join or form a trade union, and then the employer dismisses the employee.


  • s.146 TULRCA 1992 – it is unlawful if the employee is subject to any detriment by any act or failure to act by the employer if the act or failure to act takes place for the sole or main reason of preventing or seeking to prevent the employee from becoming a member of an independent trade union. 



  • s.12 TULRCA states that all property belonging to a trade union shall be vested in trustees in trust for the trade union.


  • s.117 TULRCA 1992 – Some trade union organisations are on a special register. These trade unions are involved in ‘collective bargaining’.


Statutory Right To Recognition


  • A trade union will need to apply for statutory recognition under s.70A and Schedule A1 of the Trade Union and Labour (Relations) Act 1992.
  • Trade unions request for recognition as this will enable them to collectively bargain for a ‘bargaining unit”.
  • An employer ‘recognises’ a trade union when he accepts that the trade union has acquired a certain status within his organisation.
  • A union is recognised if it is recognised ‘by an employer, or two or more associated employers, to any extent, for collective bargaining’: s.178(3) TULRCA 1992.


Industrial Action


  • Industrial action is where the members of a trade union take action. This action imposes restrictions on employers when collective relations between the employer and workforce break down.
  • Industrial action may be lawful or unlawful. Most industrial action in the UK is lawful.
  • Strike Action: This is complete, but temporary action. An example is removing the employee from the employer’s company.
  • Work to Rule: This is where the workforce observes a letter of the employer’s rulebook or procedures and disrupt the employer’s workplace.
  • Go Slow Action: This type of action involves the workforce carrying out duties with a lack of taste. This results in delays and disruptions. An example is the refusal to perform specific tasks.


Relevant case law:


British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in Physical Education (BAALPE) v National Union of Teachers (1986) IRLR 497


Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen v United Kingdom (2007) ECHR 184


National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers v Charles Ingram & Co Ltd [1978] 1 All ER 1271


National Union of Gold, Silver and Allied Trades v Albury Bros Ltd [1978] IRLR 504


Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers v Sketchley Ltd [1981] IRLR 291, [1981] ICR 644.


International Transport Worker’s Federation and the Finnish Seamen’s Union v Viking Line(2008) IRLR 143