Trade unions


A trade union is an organisation formed to protect the rights and interests of the members it represents (employees in a particular industry). A trade union can:

  • Be an important source of information for employees
  • Provide employees with protection on employment matters
  • Negotiate with the employer for better pay and conditions.

A trade union must have a negotiating licence in order to negotiate on employee wages and other conditions of employment.

Employees have a right set down in the Constitution to join a trade union. You have the right to join the union of your choice and the right to leave a union. You cannot be dismissed from your job because you are a member of a union.

There is no legal obligation on an employer to negotiate with a union on behalf of an employee member, unless previously agreed. This does not prevent a dispute about trade union recognition from being a lawful dispute.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the single umbrella organisation for trade unions, representing a range of interests of ICTU members, both in Ireland and in Northern Ireland. ICTU also run the website to facilitate people to join a union.


Employers are responsible for ensuring that all their employees receive certain basic statutory employment rights. These rights are governed by detailed employment legislation. The general guide to employment law (pdf) is available on These statutory employment rights are the minimum entitlements, workplaces may agree to conditions above these basic rights. Trade unions work to protect these rights and may negotiate improved conditions of employment. They may use collective bargaining to do this.

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 defines collective bargaining as:

voluntary engagements or negotiations between any employer or employers' organisations on the one hand and a trade union of workers or excepted body to which this Act applies from the other, with the object to reaching agreement regarding working conditions or terms of employment, or non-employment, of workers”.

In practice many terms and conditions of employment are negotiated between employers and trade unions on a collective basis. But there is legislation that governs trade unions and trade union disputes including:

  • 1937 Constitution (Bunreacht na hEireann)
  • Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1990
  • Industrial Relations Act 1990 – 2015
  • Unfair Dismissals Acts 1997 to 2007

Unfair dismissal for trade union membership or activity

If you have been dismissed from your employment for trade union activity or membership, this is automatically unfair under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2015. You do not require any particular length of service as an employee, to bring a case.

You can bring your case to the Workplace Relations Commission(WRC) using the online complaint form available on

Dispute resolution

There is an Industrial Relations dispute resolution mechanism operated by the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

Registration and negotiation licences

A trade union is required to register under the Trade Unions Acts. The union must also receive a negotiating licence from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. See for more information on registration.


The rate of subscription paid to your trade union will be determined by the trade union but is usually at the rate of 0.5% to 1% of your gross salary per year.

How to apply

If you want to join a union, you should check if there is already a union representative in your workplace. They will be able to help you join and act as a first point of contact for union related matters. They may be more than one union in your workplace.

If you do not know which union you would like to join, you can complete an application form on and they will help you select the most appropriate union to represent you.

Where to apply

If you need information about your employment rights you can contact the WRC.

Workplace Relations Commission - Information and Customer Service

O'Brien Road
R93 E920

Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 1890 80 80 90

Page edited: 7 June 2019