Trade Unions

Freedom to Join and Form a Union

Employees in Ireland have a right set down in the Constitution to join a Trade Union (Art. 40). A trade union can provide an important source of information and protection in relation to employment matters, as well as negotiating with the employer for better pay and conditions. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is the single umbrella organisation for trade unions in Ireland, representing a range of interests of employees.

The workers can be required to join as a pre-condition for employment and remain a member of the union to keep the job. However, if a worker is already working and is required at a later stage to join a union to keep his job, this would be considered unconstitutional.

Dismissal for trade union activity or membership is automatically unfair and an employee dismissed in such circumstances can bring an unfair dismissal claim.

Freedom of Collective Bargaining

There is no legal obligation on an employer to negotiate with a union on behalf of an employee member, unless previously agreed.

Some employees are covered by other agreements regarding their employment. These agreements deal with the pay and working conditions of the employees concerned and may be included in an employee’s employment contract.
• The various agreements on pay and conditions made by Joint Labour Committees, as provided under section 44-55 of Industrial Relations Act of 1990 are known as Employment Regulation Orders (EROs).
• Agreements which result from negotiations between trade unions and employers are called Collective Agreements.
• If a Collective Agreement has been registered with the Labour Court it is known as a Registered Employment Agreement (REA).

Following a High Court decision, all Employment Regulation Orders passed by JLCs ceased to have statutory effect from 7 July 2011. Similarly, all Registered Employment Agreements, registered with Labour Court, ceased to have statutory effect from 9 May 2013 following a Supreme Court decision.

Under the Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2015, collective bargaining is accepted as workers’ right. It amends the earlier law with regard to collective bargaining and the power of Labour Court to issue legally binding (employment) orders for workplaces which do not have collective bargaining arrangements even if they are engaging in negotiations with staff groups.

Workplace Relations Commission, established under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, is the only statutory body to which all industrial relations, employment law and employment equality disputes and complaints are now referred. Appeals can be made to the Labour Court in all cases. Under this law, there are now two bodies to deal with complaints and disputes regarding individual employment rights and collective rights/industrial relations disputes. Earlier, there were four bodies namely the National Employment Rights Authority, Labour Relations Commission including Rights Commissioners, Employment Appeals Tribunal including Equality Tribunal, and Labour Court.

The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in Ireland was established in 1973 to advise the Prime Minister on strategic policy issues relating to sustainable economic, social and environmental development in the country.

The members of the Council are representatives of business and employers’ organisations, trade unions, agricultural and farming organisations, community and voluntary organisations, and environmental organisations as well as heads of Government departments and independent experts. The members are appointed by the Prime Minister for a three-year term. The Council meets on a quarterly basis.


Right to Strike

Workers in Ireland don’t have the statutory right to Industrial action (work to rule, picket, overtime ban or strike) however law does protect the workers taking industrial action. Under part 2 of the Industrial Relations Act, following immunities are provided to workers taking part in peaceful industrial action:
i. Immunity (to all) from criminal or civil proceedings for conspiracy to do a particular act if such act is done punishable as a crime;
ii. Immunity (to members and officials of authorized trade union) from prosecution when taking part in peaceful picketing; and
iii. Immunity (to members and officials of authorized trade union) from prosecution for inducement or threats to break the employment contract.

An employer may dismiss a worker engaged in strike (any industrial action) however this dismissal would be considered unfair if:
i. One or more of the other employees taking part in the action were not dismissed
ii. One or more of the other employees who were dismissed, were later reinstated or re-engaged and the employee was not.

(Section 5 of Unfair Dismissals Act 1977)

Regulations on Trade Unions

  • Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, Last amended 2007
  • Industrial Relations Act 1990