Frequently Asked Questions

General

  1. Can I complain that my trade union has failed to represent my interests properly?

    The Certification Officer for Northern Ireland is not a regulator of every Trade Union function or activity. The powers of the Certification Officer are strictly prescribed by statute and relate to mainly to financial matters and administrative processes within the Union. The Certification Officer can only deal with complaints concerning alleged breaches of statute or of certain union rules. Unless you can identify a union rule, which has been breached and falls within one of the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland's jurisdictions she will not be able to help you. In general it is unlikely that allegations regarding failure to provide proper representation will be a matter for the Certification Officer but there may be other legal remedies available to you for such complaints. You should seek independent advice if you are in doubt about how to challenge your Union.

  2. Can I inspect the rule book of a trade union or employers' association?

    The rule books of trade unions and employers' associations form part of that organisation's annual return to the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland and as such are available for inspection at the Office. The annual return, which contains the trade union's or employers' association's annual accounts, is also available for public inspection.

  3. Can the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland help me make a complaint against my union?

    No. When a complaint is accepted, the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland has to adjudicate upon it. It would be inappropriate for the Certification Officer, or her office, to comment on the merits of a complaint or to give advice about it. The Certification Officer for Northern Ireland is completely impartial. For further information on the complaints process click on the Complaints section of this website.

  4. Can the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland investigate the affairs of a trade union?

    The Certification Officer for Northern Ireland has no powers to investigate the general affairs of a trade union. Her powers are limited to adjudicating on specific complaints of alleged breaches of statute or of certain union rules that have been made by union members. The Certification Officer for Northern Ireland has special powers to investigate the financial affairs of a trade union but only in restricted circumstances and if there is evidence to suggest financial irregularities. For further information click on Documents and see the booklet Financial Irregularities in Trade Unions and Employers' Associations.

  5. Does a trade union or employers' association have to be registered or listed with the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland?

    No. There is no requirement for trade unions or employers' associations to be listed. However, if an organisation satisfies the statutory definition of a trade union or employers' association, it is required to comply with various statutory provisions whether or not it is listed. These requirements are set out in the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 as amended. Any such organisations can voluntarily apply for entry on the list of trade unions and employers' associations maintained by the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland. Chapter 1 of the latest Annual Report deals with the listing of trade unions and employers' associations.

  6. How can I find out whether a body is a trade union or employers' association?

    You can check whether a body is a trade union or employers' association by checking the lists contained in the Annual Report (Appendices 1 - 4). The lists are also available for inspection, free of charge, at the Office.

  7. What are the advantages of a trade union or employers' association being listed?

    For trade unions, listing is an essential preliminary to any application for a certificate of independence under Article 6 of the 1992 Order. Listed trade unions and employers' associations enjoy certain procedural advantages in connection with the devolution of property following a change of trustees under Article 7 of the 1992 Order. There are other benefits of listing which are shared by trade unions and both incorporated and uincorporated employers' associations. Being on the list is one of the requirements for obtaining tax relief in respect of expenditure on provident benefits (section 467 of the Income and Corporations Taxes Act 1988). It is also evidence an organisation is a trade union or employers' association. Finally, the name of a trade union or employers' association is protected by the provision that no organisation shall be entered in the relevant list if its name so nearly resembles the name of an organisation already on that list as to be likely to deceive the public.

  8. What are the time limits for making a complaint against a trade union to the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland?

    Most complaints alleging a breach or threatened breach of trade union rules have to be made to the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland within six months of the day of the alleged breach or threatened breach.

    However, a different time limit may apply if, within six months of the breach or threatened breach, an internal complaints procedure of the union has been invoked by the member with a view to resolving the claim. In such a case a complaint must have been made to the Certification Office either;

    • Within six months of the date the internal complaints was concluded, or
    • If the internal procedure has not been concluded within a period of 12 months after being invoked, the six months to make a complaint to the Certification Officer will begin to run at the end of that 12 month period.

    Unlike an Employment Tribunal the Certification Officer has no discretion to vary the provisions relating to time limits on the grounds that to do so would be reasonable or just and equitable.

    Although Certification Office staff are happy to explain the provisions, the responsibility for submitting a claim within the relevant time limits remains with the applicant.

  9. What is a trade union or employers' association?

    The definition of a trade union given in Article 3 of the 1992 Order is as follows:

    3.-(1)   In this Order ‘trade union’ means an organisation (whether permanent or temporary) which either –

    (a)  consists wholly or mainly of workers of one or more descriptions and is an organisation whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between workers of that description or those descriptions and employers or employers’ associations; or

    (b)  consists wholly or mainly of –

    (i)  constituent or affiliated organisations which fulfil the conditions specified in sub-paragraph (a) (or themselves consist wholly or mainly of constituent or affiliated organisations which fulfil those conditions); or   

    (ii)  representatives of such constituent or affiliated organisations; and in either case is an organisation whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between workers and employers or between workers and employers’ associations, or include the regulation of relations between its constituent or affiliated organisations.

    The definition of an employers’ association given in Article 4 of the 1992 Order is as follows:

    4.-(1) Subject to paragraph (2), in this Order “employers’ association” means an organisation (whether permanent or temporary) which either -

    (a) consists wholly or mainly of employers or individual proprietors of one or more descriptions and is an organisation whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between employers of that description or those descriptions and workers or trade unions; or

    (b)   consists wholly or mainly of -

    (i)  constituent or affiliated organisations which fulfil the conditions specified in sub-paragraph (a) (or themselves consist wholly or mainly of constituent or affiliated organisations which fulfil those conditions); or

    (ii) representatives of such constituent or affiliated organisations; and in either case is an organisation whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between employers and workers or between employers and trade unions, or include the regulation of relations between its constituent or affiliated organisations.

    -(2)  References in this Order to an employers’ association include references to a combination of employers and employers’ associations.

  10. What other bodies are concerned with trade unions and employers' associations?
  11. What type of complaint can be made to the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland?

    A complaint can only be made to the Certification Officer in very limited circumstances as prescribed by the legislation. Not all complaints about the activity or behaviour of a trade union can be referred to the Certification Officer. The only complaints that can be accepted by the Certification Officer are those which are grounded upon the relevant provision in the applicable legislation. An applicant can complain that a trade union has;

    1. failed to compile and maintain an accurate register of members or to secure the confidentiality of the register during certain ballots;
    2. failed to ensure that its senior officers or members of its executive have not been previously convicted of an offence;
    3. failed to ensure that the election of its senior officers or members of its executive satisfies the requirements of the Order (Articles 12-21 of the 1995 Order);
    4. breached rules approved by the Certification Officer governing the holding of a political fund ballot or the administration of its political fund;
    5. held a political fund ballot where there are no rules approved for that purpose by the Certification Officer ;
    6. failed to meet a request from a member for access to its accounting records;
    7. failed to ensure that a ballot on a resolution to merge has been conducted in accordance with the requirements of the 1995 Order or failed to comply with any rule of its own relating to the passing of the resolution to merge;
    8. spent money on political objects without a political fund resolution in force or without approved political fund rules;
    9. itself, or one of its sections or branches, breached or threatened to breach the union’s rules in relation to certain matters (Article 90A of the 1995 Order). The matters are:
    • the appointment or election of a person to, or the removal of a person from, any office;
    • disciplinary proceedings by the union (including expulsion);
    • the balloting of members on any issue other than industrial action;
    • the constitution or proceedings of any executive committee or of any decision-making meetings.
  12. Who can make a complaint to the Certification Officer for Northern Ireland?

    The right to make a complaint to the Certification Officer is in most cases limited to a person who is a member of the trade union concerned at the time of the issue giving rise to the complaint. Sometimes a person who is not a member may make a complaint, e.g. a person who was a candidate in a national level election (such as an election for General Secretary) and has a complaint relating to that election. Persons who are not members should explain why they think they are entitled to make a complaint.