Britain’s General Union, Join us

Union rights


Can My Employer Stop Me Joining A Trade Union?

No. Every worker has the fundamental civil right to join a trade union, and to take part in its activities.

If your employer penalises you for joining a trade union – whether by dismissing you or through lesser discipline or other detrimental treatment – you can complain to an Employment Tribunal. Compensation levels for union victimisation dismissals are higher than normal.

You do not need to have one year’s continuous employment before bringing a claim for unfair dismissal if you are dismissed because of your union membership or because you joined in your union’s activities.

Nor can an employer offer better terms and conditions to non-members than to members. The Tory law that allowed this discrimination has now been repealed.

Your employer cannot offer you inducements to prevent you joining a union, taking part in its activities or making use of its service. Since 1 October 2004, your employer cannot offer you any inducements to opt out of collective bargaining.

There is also protection against victimisation and dismissal for workers who support their union’s campaign for recognition.


Do Shop Stewards And Safety Representatives Get Time Off For Training?

Yes, you should get time off with pay, but there are conditions:

Since the training must be relevant to your union duties, you may face difficulties if the course is on a subject your employer refuses to discuss with the Union. All GMB courses are carefully designed to increase the chance of paid time off, so always consult your Regional Education Officer.

What is “reasonable” time off will depend on the particular circumstances. Guidance on training of Safety Reps comes in the 1977 Code of Practice issued by the Health and Safety Commission; and on training of staff reps and shop stewards in the 2010 Code of Practice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The amount of pay should be your normal pay or where your earnings vary your average pay. However where the course falls on days you would normally not work, there is no statutory right to time off in lieu – another good reason to negotiate time off agreements.

Where you work part-time, and the course lasts longer than your normal working hours, you should be paid for those extra hours.

There is no need for a minimum period of continuous service – if all other conditions are met, you are entitled to time off from your first day of employment. [Although the HSC Code recommends two years’ experience for safety reps.]

If you are refused paid time off for training, contact your GMB Regional Organiser.

Union Learning Representatives advise union members about their training needs e.g. technical and vocational courses. ULRs will get reasonable paid time off for their duties and for their own learning needs.

GMB prefers to negotiate a time off agreement with employers, so that the statutory rules can be adapted to what best suits our reps in each workplace. See the gmb workplace organisers’ toolkit for further advice.


Can My Union Represent Me In A Grievance Or Disciplinary Hearing?

Workers have the right to be accompanied at grievance and disciplinary hearings and appeals, even if their employer does not recognise their Union (see also 31. Can I Be Represented In A Disciplinary Hearing?).

This right is available to all workers (including agency and home workers) regardless of the number working for their employer.

The companion can be:

The right applies to any disciplinary hearing which could result in a formal warning, or in the employer taking some other action e.g. dismissal, suspension.

The grievance must concern the performance of a duty owed by an employer to the worker i.e. any common law, contractual or statutory duty. So a grievance over unlawful pay discrimination would be covered, but usually not a request for a pay rise.

The right also applies to appeal hearings for disciplinary and grievance matters.

The request to be accompanied must be “reasonable”, so do not leave it until the last minute. It is best, though not obligatory, to put it in writing.

Your companion can represent you by:

Your companion cannot however:

If your companion is not available, you can ask for the hearing to be postponed. The alternative slot must fall within five working days (excluding Saturday, Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday and bank holidays). So a hearing set for Monday can be postponed up to, but not beyond the following Monday.

The companion is allowed reasonable paid time off, including conferring with you before and after the hearing.

If an employer refuses to allow you to be accompanied, or to postpone a hearing, you can complain to an Employment Tribunal, which can award up to two weeks’ pay. A dismissal in these circumstances may well be unfair.

Workers and their representatives are protected from dismissal or action short of dismissal for exercising or trying to exercise the right to be accompanied.


Stopping Work

The law requires unions to hold fully postal ballots of members before calling a strike or other industrial action. In addition, the union has to give the employer at least 7 days written notice before the ballot opens; and again after the ballot but before the industrial action begins.

The first day of action must fall within 4 weeks of the close of the ballot, unless the employer and the union agree a longer period of up to a further 4 weeks e.g. to allow negotiations.

If all these steps are not followed closely, the industrial action will be unlawful and would put workers’ jobs at risk.

If a union or its officials organise a walkout without following the legal procedures, the employer can get an injunction against the union and the organisers of the action. If we the union disobey the injunction, the union and its officials could be in contempt of court. Worse, the employer could dismiss all those taking part in the unlawful and unprotected industrial action. Court orders disrupt the collective defence of workers’ interests.

On the other hand a proper ballot will protect workers from dismissal during the first 12 weeks of the industrial action. Any dismissal will be automatically unfair, regardless of how long a worker has been employed. A dismissal after the first 12 weeks may still be unfair if the employer has not taken reasonable procedural steps to resolve the dispute e.g. has not followed the agreed procedure, or has unreasonably refused a union offer of mediation or conciliation. This protection will not apply if the union fails to observe the ballot law.

By following the legal procedures, unions try to protect their members and ensure that the employer is kept under pressure. Not complying with the law simply plays into the employer’s hands.

Of course, even before these laws came in, GMB policy has always been for members to vote in favour before the union calls for any industrial action.