Trade unions

What is a trade union?

A trade union is an organisation that protects the rights and interests its members. Members are employees in a particular sector or job, for example, teaching or nursing.

A trade union can:

  • Be an important source of information for employees
  • Provide employees with protection on employment issues
  • 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.

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.

Deciding whether to join a trade union

Employees have a right under the Constitution to join a trade union. You can choose whether or not to become a member of a trade union.

You have the right to join the union of your choice and the right to leave a union.

You cannot be discriminated against or dismissed from your job because you are a member of a union.

How to join a trade union

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

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

Cost to join a trade union

There is a regular subscription cost for union membership, which is decided by the trade union.

It is usually 0.5% to 1% of your gross salary a year. Your gross salary is your total pay before tax and other deductions.

Trade union-related rights

You cannot be discriminated against because you are in a union or because of your union activity.

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 can bring your case to the Workplace Relations Commission(WRC) using the online complaint form available on You do not require any particular length of service as an employee, to bring a case.

Attending trade union activities

Trade union activity is activity carried out with the employer’s agreement or outside working hours.

Check with your employer or union if you can take part in trade union activities during your usual work hours and whether your employer will still pay you for these hours.

The laws on trade unions in Ireland

Trade unions work to protect your basic statutory employment rights, as set out by employment legislation.

Trade unions can also negotiate improved conditions of employment, using collective bargaining with your employer.

There is no legal obligation on an employer to recognise or deal with a trade union for the purposes of negotiations on pay and work conditions.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is where an employer and a trade union voluntarily engage with one another, with the intent of agreeing on 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.

Other laws governing trade unions and trade union disputes

There are also laws governing trade unions and trade union disputes, including:

  • 1937 Constitution (Bunreacht na hEireann)
  • Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1990
  • Industrial Relations Act 1990 to 2015
  • Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015

Dispute resolution

If parties cannot agree, they can us the Industrial Relations dispute resolution mechanism operated by the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

Further information

You can read more about what unions do and joining a union on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) website.

If you need information about your employment rights you can contact the WRC. There is a general guide to employment law (pdf) on the Workplace Relations website.

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: 0818 80 80 90

Page edited: 10 November 2021