Lawlink – What can I do about a union strike at my job?

Stock photo: Lucie Morel/Unsplash.

Q: I’m writing to you to get some advice on how to approach a potential upcoming strike at my place of employment. I am not in the union and there has been no formal contact or notification given to me by my employer. There are a lot of us who are not in the union and the word going around is that if we support our union colleagues by not crossing the picket line to go to work, our employer can issue me with notice of termination. I am also worried about my financial position, as I will not have any money coming in, and the ill feeling that will present amongst us at work.

Dear Reader,

Unusually in Ireland there is no formal legal right to engage in industrial action, such as a strike. However, there are certain protections for those that do engage in such action. A person on strike cannot be charged with conspiracy, for example. Union members are immune for prosecution for picketing and for threats to break employment contracts.

There is no legal right to refuse not to pass a picket. If you are not present for work your employer is entitled not to pay you, even if presenting yourself for work means that you would have to cross a picket line.

While you are not in work you are not entitled to jobseekers benefit or similar. Union members would usually get some element of strike pay from their union. Naturally, you would not be paid in this manner. If the positions are ‘laid off’ – that is, if your employer decides to shut for a period of time on a short term basis – then you may well be entitled to jobseekers allowance.

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If you decide to not present for work, you should ensure that you do not take part in the strike itself. There are certain immunities that protect striking union workers engaging strike activity (such as picketing). You would not be immune.

Your employer is entitled to start the process of dismissal. However, the Unfair Dismissals Act confirms that a dismissal would be deemed unfair where “one or more employees … who took part in the strike or other industrial action were not dismissed”. Essentially, your employer would have to dismiss everyone who took part in the strike and not reemploy them.

Your employer is also not entitled to treat employees who go on strike less favourably than those who did not.

These rights regarding dismissal and victimisation are not effected by your membership of the union or otherwise.