What is involved when taking industrial action?
Find out about your rights when it comes to strikes, pickets and more
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Taking industrial action is any action taken by a group of workers to try and convince their employers to do something, for example to raise pay rates or reverse a management decision. Industrial action is usually only taken after other options, such as talking with management, have failed.
What are the types of industrial action?
Going on strike
This is the most well-known form of industrial action. It’s when workers withdraw their labour, either for a set amount of time or until they receive a better deal. Examples of workers going on strike include the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) going on strike from the beginning of 2019.
This is an organised demonstration outside a workplace, usually done by striking workers to raise awareness of their demands.
An overtime ban
This is where employees agree amongst themselves to work only the set hours in their contracts, turning down any overtime work. The goal is to inconvenience workplaces that rely on extra hours without going on a full strike.
A work to rule
This is where employees agree amongst themselves to do nothing but the tasks explicitly set out in their contracts. The goal is to inconvenience workplaces that rely on employees doing extra tasks without going on a full strike.
What is the role of Trade Unions?
Employees taking part in effective industrial action will usually be members of a trade union. Trade unions act as advisers and representatives to workers in industrial disputes, and allow employees to be represented on a more equal level with management. You have more legal protections while taking industrial action if you’re in a trade union than if you aren’t. You have a constitutional right to join a trade union if you wish and can’t be penalised or fired for engaging in union activity. If your union advises industrial action, it will only go ahead if the majority of members in your workplace vote for it through a secret ballot.
Examples of Trade Unions in Ireland
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the single umbrella organisation for Trade Unions both in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The groups in the ICTU are organised under these headings:
- Distribution Retail and Transport Unions
- Electrical Engineering and Construction Unions
- General Unions
- Other Industry Unions
- Other Public Service Unions
- Other Unions
- Postal and Telecommunications Unions
- Professional and White Collar Unions
- Teachers Unions
- Trades Councils
What are my rights?
You don’t have a legal right to take industrial action but there are legal protections for some workers who do so. These protections are stronger for workers who are members of trade unions.
The main protections are:
- You can’t be charged for conspiracy to commit a particular act as part of an industrial action, so long as the action wouldn’t be considered a crime if only one person had been doing it.
- You are protected from unfair dismissal. This means you can’t be let go or be punished for industrial action unless all other employees involved in the action receive the exact same treatment.
- Trade Union members only: you can’t be charged for peaceful picketing.
- Trade Union members only: you can’t be charged for threatening to break a contract of employment.
Risks of going on strike
There are risks to taking industrial action, especially striking, that you should be aware of:
- You won’t be paid for time spent on strike
- Your time on strike will not count towards “in-work” time used to calculate redundancy payments
- You can’t collect jobseeker’s payments from social welfare when you’re striking, though your family might get Supplementary Welfare Allowance or an Exceptional Needs Payment in certain circumstances
- Although you’re protected from being singled out for punishment or sacking, your employer may take action against all workers involved in the industrial action.
For this reason, you generally shouldn’t strike without the support of a trade union and the majority of employees in your workforce. You can find more information on the laws surrounding industrial action in Ireland at Citizens Information.
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