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Duties of Trade Unions – Leadership Positions

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A Trade Union is a membership-based organisation mainly made up of workers. 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.

Changes Brought by the Trade Union Act 2016

The Trade Union Bill  received Royal Assent on 4th May 2016  to become the Trade Union Act 2016.  It does not have a commencement date and will be brought into force later by a statutory instrument.

The Act amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act) Act 1992 (TULRCA 1992)as follows:

  • Sections 2 and set out the requirements for minimum ballot thresholds – a 50% turnout in all industrial action ballots, and a 40% support requirement in favour of industrial action for specified important public services in six sectors.
  • Section 4 requires an independent review on the delivery of secure methods of electronic balloting in relation to industrial action ballots and for the Secretary of State to publish a response to the review. It also provides for a piloting scheme. Section 4 does not amend legislation but introduces a provision which requires the Secretary of State to commission an independent review into industrial action ballots.
  • Sections 5and 7 set out information requirements relating to industrial action: the information that must be included in the ballot paper; and information to be given to union members and to the Certification Officer following a ballot.
  • Sections 8 and 9 specify the arrangements for the timing and duration of industrial action. Section 8 requires two weeks’ notice of any action to be given to an employer unless the union and the employer mutually agree to 7 days’ notice. Section 9 provides that a ballot mandate for industrial action expires after six months or after nine months where there is a mutual agreement between the employer and the union.
  • Section 10 sets out requirements on unions for the supervision of picketing.
  • Sections 11 and 12 concern political funds. Section 11 provides that persons who join a trade union after commencement shall be required to make an active choice before contributing to a union’s political fund. Section 12 places requirements on unions to include details of expenditure from political funds in the union’s annual return to the Certification Officer;
  • Sections 13 and 14 create regulation-making powers in respect of paid time off for trade union duties and activities in the public sector;
  • Section 15 restricts the deduction of union subscriptions (“check off”) from wages by relevant public sector employers where:-
  • workers do not have the option to pay subscriptions through other means and;
  • arrangements have not been made for a union to make reasonable payments to the employer for the making of those deductions.
  • there is a regulation making power to specify who is a relevant public sector employer;



S46 (2) TULRCA 1992 

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 (3) TULRCA 1992 

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 (4) TULRCA 1992

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(4A) TULRCA 1992 

  • 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.

S48 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.

S52 TULRCA 1992

The independent scrutineer must provide a report on the election to the union.

S46-S61 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 – Scargill v National Union Of Mineworkers[2009] 



Best of the Web

BIS: Trade Union Executive Elections; A guide for trade unions, their members and others

ACAS: Trade Union Representation in the Workplace

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]