The Law Relating to Industrial Action in Ireland

Author:Ms Jennifer Clarke
Profession:LK Shields

Originally published March 2010

Given the recent, well publicised escalation of industrial action by public sector unions, we thought it timely to examine the law governing industrial action in Ireland.

The Industrial Relations Act 1990 made new provisions in relation to trade disputes and established an institutional framework for the conduct of industrial relations.

Immunity from prosecution is afforded to a person or persons who are involved in the organisation of industrial action provided such action is in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute and that certain procedures have been followed. A "trade dispute" is defined as any dispute or difference between employers and workers or between workers and workers connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of the employment or with the conditions of employment of any person.

Industrial action may include a work to rule, an overtime ban, a strike, a picket or a sit-in.


Picketing is lawful if it is carried out:

in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute; for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information; or for the purpose of peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from working. Primary Picketing

Section 11(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990 deals with primary picketing and provides that:

It shall be lawful for one or more persons, acting on their own behalf or on behalf of the trade union in contemplation of a trade dispute to attend at, or where that is not practicable at the approaches to a place where their employer works or carries on business.

Only those employees who are members of an authorised trade union are entitled to picket their employer and avail of immunity from prosecution. Non-union members are not entitled to the immunity laid down in Section 11.

Employees are confined to picketing at their place of work (unless they fall within the secondary picketing exemption which is referred to below). If picketers enter the property of the place where they picket they are no longer protected by Section 11 and may be held liable for trespass or nuisance. It should also be noted that civil immunity is confined to peaceful picketing. Accordingly, excessive numbers of persons picketing may be deemed to be intimidating and may make a picket non-peaceful therefore taking it outside the protection afforded by Section 11.

The object of the picket may only be to communicate information or persuade persons not...

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