Role of Trade Unions in Non-Unionised Organisations

Nóra Cashe

September 06 2023

First published: June 2nd, 2017
Last updated: September 6th, 2023

The Irish Constitution protects the right of all employees to access trade union membership.

However, while that may be the case, Irish employment law stipulates that an employer is not obliged to recognise a trade union.

Employees commonly rely on their trade union to negotiate on their behalf to secure better terms and conditions, or for support during a disciplinary process.

So what happens if an employee wants to avail of trade union representation during a disciplinary procedure in a non-unionised business?

This is one of the most common queries that we receive on the advice line from employers who do not recognise trade unions….

Duty to comply with the principles of natural justice

Even though Irish employers aren’t required to recognise a trade union, it’s worth noting that you must recognise the employee’s right to benefit from the principles of natural justice.

Declining an employee request to be accompanied by a trade union representative for a disciplinary hearing could lead to allegations that the process does not comply with fair procedures and the principles of natural justice.

Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)’s Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures clearly states that employees are entitled to avail of trade union representation.

In disciplinary situations, even employers who don’t recognise trade unions should still allow the trade union representative to accompany the employee. This approach minimises the risk of breaching the employee’s right to receive a fair procedure.

The union’s representative role in the disciplinary process

You should conduct your disciplinary procedures in line with the policies set out in your employee handbook. For meetings that the union representative attends, ensure to allow the union representative to answer on behalf of the employee. If you deem it necessary, you can redirect the same questions to the employee concerned.

Trade union representation in the WRC and Labour Court

Trade union representatives can also attend WRC and Labour Court hearings. During these hearings, the employee has a right to converse with their union representative to receive advice on any issue they may be unsure of.

Like the internal disciplinary process, the employer can explain to the union representative that they understand that they are there to represent, but they would like the employee to answer certain specific questions put to them.

Expert HR assistance with disciplinary queries

If you need advice with how to manage a trade union representative during a disciplinary matter or advice on any aspect of Irish employment law, call a Peninsula HR expert today on 1800 719 216

Suggested Resources