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Trade Union membership

The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states that it is unlawful to refuse to employ a person because of trade union membership.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Jet2.com Ltd v Denby, has recently considered the meaning of trade union “membership” and whether this should extend to union-related activities.

Background

The Claimant was a pilot at Jet2.com Ltd (“Jet2”) and became involved with the trade union British Airline Pilots’ Association (“BALPA”). He told Jet2’s executive chairman that there was support for pilots to be represented by BALPA. The executive chairman said that he did not want BALPA involved and was aggressive and hostile towards the Claimant during a phone call the following day.

The Claimant later left Jet2 to work for a different airline but subsequently applied to return. However, after passing all selection stages his application was ultimately rejected. He applied for a second time the following year but was again unsuccessful.

The Claimant brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal arguing that he was refused employment because of his trade union membership.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal found that although the Claimant was no longer a member of BALPA at the date his application was rejected, he had been refused employment because the executive chairman had continuous animosity towards him because of his past advocacy for BALPA, an activity that was related to his trade union membership.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed Jet2’s appeal against the decision that the Claimant’s past activities had not been incidental to his trade union membership. Seeking to be represented by a trade union is an example of trade union activity. It had been the executive chairman who had ultimately rejected the application and the tribunal was satisfied that the rejection was because of the Claimant’s earlier advocacy for BALPA.

Comment

The decision highlights that a prospective employee does not have to be an actual member of a trade union to be protected under the legislation. If a refusal to employ a person is based on activities that are incidental to trade union membership at the time of the activities (i.e. advocacy to be represented) then a business could fall foul of the law.

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