A guide for trade unions and employers’ associations seeking to establish a political fund
This guide explains the procedure by which trade unions and unincorporated employers’ associations establish a political fund. The provisions relating to political funds are found in Chapter VI of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (as amended) (“the Act”).
The provisions on political funds apply to unincorporated employers’ associations as well as trade unions. However, for the sake of simplicity this guide refers to trade unions only.
This guide should not be regarded as a complete or authoritative statement of the law. The Certification Officer and her staff will be happy to discuss this guidance with unions or their representatives.
The 1992 Act does not apply to any trade union which has both its main office in Northern Ireland and its membership restricted to Northern Ireland. A trade union which has its head or main office in Great Britain and has members in Northern Ireland should seek guidance from the Certification Office at an early stage and may also need to contact the Northern Ireland Certification Officer, 10-16 Gordon Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland B1 2LG (Tel: 028 9023 7773 Fax: 028 9023 22771 email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
A trade union may not apply any part of its funds in the furtherance of the political objects set out at section 72 of the Act unless it has established a political fund.
To establish a fund the trade union must pass a resolution approving the furtherance of the political objects (see Appendix A) as an object of the union, by holding a ballot of its members.
The Act also requires that the union must adopt rules providing that all expenditure on the political objects is to be made out of a separately constituted political fund.
2. Overseas Members
The rules may exclude overseas members from the ballot (section 94). It is for the trade union to decide whether or not to exclude overseas members, but if they are excluded the ballot rules must expressly state that they are not entitled to vote.
3. The Political Objectives
If the political objects in the union’s political fund rules differ from the model ballot rules steps must be taken for the revised political objects to be adopted. The political objects will, of course, only apply if the political resolution is passed.
4. Members’ Contributions To The Political Fund
Section 84 of the Act (as inserted by the Trade Union Act 2016 or the “the 2016 Act)”, provides that members cannot be required to contribute to a political fund unless they have opted in. Having opted in, a member may give notice at any time to withdraw their contribution in accordance with Section 84(3) and (4).
Section 84A requires a trade union to send information to members about contributing to the political fund as follows:
- notify all the members of the union of their right to give a withdrawal notice under section 84(2).
- give the notification by sending individual copies of it to members; or by any other means (whether by including the notification in a publication of the union or otherwise) which it is the practice of the union to use when information of general interest to all its members needs to be provided to them.
The above provisions, along with other provisions about members’ contributions to the political fund, are reflected in the model political fund rules prepared by the Certification Officer in Appendix B.
5. Outline Of Procedure For Establishing A Political Fund
There are several stages in the procedure for establishing a political fund.
The union sends to the Certification Officer two copies each of:
- the proposed ballot rules; and
- the proposed political fund rules.
The Certification Officer gives preliminary approval to both sets of rules if she is satisfied that the proposed rules comply with all the requirements of the Act.
The union passes a resolution adopting the ballot rules which have been given preliminary approval by the Certification Officer (See appendix A for model resolution). It is convenient if the political fund rules are conditionally adopted by the union at the same time. This is normally achieved by passing a “combined resolution” which has three purposes:-
- to resolve that a ballot should be taken on the question whether the furtherance of the political objects specified in the Act shall become an object of the union;
- to adopt the proposed ballot rules; and
- to resolve that, if a majority of the members voting in that ballot vote in favour, the proposed political fund rules be adopted.
Note: Once adopted, the rules are not to come into force until they have been approved by the Certification Officer. This is because formal approval under the Act must come after the proposed rules have been adopted by the union.
The union may pass the combined resolution in one of three ways:
- in the manner provided by the union’s own rules for alteration of rules; or
- by a majority of the members of the union voting for the purpose; or
- by a majority of delegates of the union voting at a meeting called for the purpose.
Adoption can be effected in either of the ways described in (2) and (3) by virtue of section 92 of the Act.
The Certification Officer has accepted that 3 above is satisfied by a majority vote on a union’s Executive Committee which was called to approve rules made for the purposes of the legislation relating to political funds.
In both cases the Certification Officer has to certify that the political fund rules have been properly approved
For formal approval the union must send two copies of the ballot rules, each signed by three members of the executive committee or other governing body of the union. This should be sent to the Certification Officer by the General Secretary for formal approval, along with the application form PF4.
If the proposed rules have already been approved informally, and assuming no changes have been made to them since, it should be possible for the Certification Officer to give formal approval quickly.
If the ballot rules are approved by the Certification Officer, a certificate of approval affixed to one copy of the rules will be returned to the union.
The ballot to approve the political fund rules is held in accordance with the approved ballot rules.
The Act is silent on what can be included with the ballot paper. To assist members voting, this office has produced an explanatory statement (See Appendix E). This can be printed on the voting paper (See Appendix D) or attached to it.
The union sends the Scrutineer’s report to the Certification Officer if the members have voted in favour of establishing a political fund.
Two copies of the political fund rules given preliminary approval should be submitted to the Certification Officer at the same time with the completed form PF4. Both copies of the political fund rules should carry the original signatures of the three union officials who authenticate the rules.
The Certification Officer gives formal approval. One copy of the approved rules is returned to the union with the Certification Officer’s certificate of approval affixed to it.
The union informs its members that the political resolution has been passed.
6. Preparation By The Trade Union Of Draft Ballots Rules
The Certification Officer must be satisfied that the ballot rules meet the requirements of
section 75 (appointment of independent scrutineer)
section 76 (entitlement to vote)
section 77 (voting)
section 77A (counting of votes etc. by independent person) and
section 78 (scrutineer’s report).
The Certification Officer has prepared model ballot rules which can be found at Appendix C (where the scrutineer also acts as independent person) and Appendix F (were a separate independent person is appointed). These are intended to provide a template for trade unions to use. Trade unions may decide to adopt the model rules, adapt them to suit their specific circumstances or draft their own rules. If the model rules are not adopted wholesale, trade unions should ensure that the rules under which they propose to conduct the review ballot cover all the areas prescribed by the Act.