Trade Union Discrimination

06 November 2017

It is unlawful to dismiss an employee for being a member of a trade union. Less well known is that it is also unlawful to refuse to employ someone on the grounds of their union membership.

In Jet2.Com Ltd v Denby, Mr Denby had previously worked for the airline Jet2.Com as a pilot. He had been a prominent member of the Pilot’s union – BALPA – and had sought to persuade the airline’s executive chairman to recognise the union. He had met with an extremely hostile response - with the chairman referring to Mr Denby in terms too obscene to repeat here and which even the Tribunal felt obliged to reduce to a series of ***s.

Mr Denby subsequently left Jet2.Com to work elsewhere, but some years later applied to return. He made two separate applications but each was rejected. The Tribunal found that his recruitment had been blocked by the executive chairman on the basis that he had played an active role in seeking union recognition for BALPA. They therefore upheld his claim that he had been refused employment because of his membership of a trade union.

The employer appealed on the basis that the law only prohibited an employer from refusing to recruit someone because of their trade union membership. It was not Mr Denby’s membership of BALPA that the tribunal had found to be the reason for the refusal to recruit him, but the history he had of actively campaigning for union recognition. The EAT rejected this argument. It was well established that a wide view had to be taken of what was meant by union membership so as to include not merely membership but also the participation in union activities. Mr Denby’s previous activities on behalf of the union were inextricably wound up with his status as a union member and it followed that the reason for Jet2.Com’s refusal to employ him did indeed relate to his union membership. The appeal was dismissed.

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