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Duties of Trade Unions – Elections

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A Trade Union is a membership-based organisation mainly made up of workers with special rules about election to leadership positions. One of its main objectives must include the regulation of relations between workers and employers or employers’ associations. An employers’ association is a body of employers, generally from the same sector of the economy, whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between employers in that sector and workers or trade unions. Trade unions have duties and obligations under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TURLCA 1992) and case law.


Leadership Positions

A trade union must ensure proper elections take place to elect officials to the following positions;

  • Members of the executive
  • Any position that makes a person a member of the executive
  • The president
  • The general secretary  [S46 (2) TULRCA 1992 ]



The Executive

Members of the executive include any person who is allowed to attend and speak at some or all of the meetings of the executive.It does not include a person who only attends and speaks at executive meetings to provide factual information,  technical or professional advice.

The leadership election obligations do not apply to the president or general secretary if the office holder;

  • is not an employee of the union
  • is not a voting member of the executive
  • has held the position for up to 13 months [S46 (3) TULRCA 1992]

The President

The election requirements do not apply to the office of president where;

  • the person was elected or appointed in accordance with the union’s rules
  • at the time of election or appointment, the person already had an executive position, or was the general secretary, following an election the person continues to hold the leadership position
  • the person has held the position for no more than five years[S46 (4) TULRCA 1992]

General Membership

  • No union member may be unreasonably excluded from standing as a candidate for election to one of the specified leadership positions.
  • The union cannot make it a requirement that candidates should be members of any political party.
  • The union can define classes of members who are not allowed to be candidates in its rules. [S46(4A) TULRCA 1992 ]


  • The union must give every candidate a chance to prepare an election address in his own words.
  • The union must circulate copies free of charge to every person entitled to vote in the election.
  • The union has no control over the content of an election address.
  • The union can only invite a candidate to moderate the content, but has to distribute an election address to members in the candidate’s own words, however libellous or otherwise unlawful they may be.
  • The union cannot be held liable for any problems arising from the content of any candidate’s election address. [S48 TULRCA 1992 ]

Independent Scrutineer

The independent scrutineer must provide a report on the election to the union. [S52 TULRCA 1992]


The election requirements and the general entitlement to vote only apply to elections to appoint members of the executive, any position that makes a person a member of the executive, the president, or the general secretary.The requirements only apply once candidates have been nominated for election; they do not apply to the processes before nomination even if those earlier processes involve a vote [S46-S61 TULRCA 1992 and Scargill v National Union Of Mineworkers[2009]]

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]