What are trade unions and what are they for?

Are unions a relic of a bygone era or can they bring real change and improvement to your workplace? What can they provide and on what occasions must employers not neglect them? Here is a clear summary.

odbory, stávka na pracovišti
7 minutes of reading

Chapters of the article

Perhaps the word union evokes endless meetings that lead at most to providing a watch as a gift for deserving workers. But a functioning union can do much more than that – it’s up to its members. If functional, they can provide a platform for effective bargaining with the employer. In general, their main objectives are to improve working and economic conditions and to ensure areas of occupational safety. They can also help to deal with very specific situations at work, such as giving notice. Members pay a monthly contribution of 1% of their net salary to the union, which supports its independence.

Membership of the union is voluntary, as is the formation of the union itself. The Labour Code does not therefore stipulate the need for a company to have a union in certain situations and there are a large number of companies where no union is established.

Who can form a union and how?

Any employee of a company can form a trade union. All he or she needs is the consent and cooperation of two other colleagues, with whom he or she will form a preparatory committee. Together, the committee will draw up a constitution, which will be approved at the constituent meeting. The trade union must then be registered with the Ministry of the Interior and the employer notified of its formation. On the day following receipt by the Ministry of the Interior, the trade union is established.

The members of the governing body (bureau, committee, etc.) may well be persons other than employees of the company, but it is necessary to prove that at least three trade unionists are employed by the employer. It is not clear from the law what such proof should look like, but it does not necessarily mean that the trade union has to submit a list of members.

The employer may not even request information from its employees about their union membership, but it can be assumed that members of the preparatory committee will identify themselves as members.

There may be more than one trade union per employer. In this case, the employer is obliged to negotiate with all of them and inform them of everything necessary according to the law.

The employer should not penalise participation in a trade union, but unfortunately there are cases where this happens.

Example of a trade union in North Moravia

Employees at a factory in the North Moravia region were permanently dissatisfied with their working conditions. They were not being paid overtime, their wages were late, so four employees decided to form a trade union. Before they officially notified their employer of their formation, the employer gave them all notice. The employees turned to the Affordable Advocate for help. The situation was fairly clear. Not only did the employer not have a legal reason to terminate the employees at that point, but it was also clear that this was bullying and revenge related to the formation of the union. It was clear to our lawyers and ultimately to the employer itself that it could not legally remedy the situation and the terminations were invalid. The employer eventually acknowledged this and withdrew his terminations.

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Obligations to the trade union

The employer has several sets of obligations towards the trade union. First of all, it has to inform the employees through the union and it also has a duty to discuss certain matters with the union.

The duty to inform

The employer is obliged to inform the trade union that works for him about:

  • wage and salary developments,
  • the development of the average wage or salary and its individual components and the breakdown by occupational group,
  • the economic and financial situation of the employer and its development,
  • the employer’s activities and changes in the scope of its activities,
  • environmental measures,
  • the legal status and internal organisation of the employer and changes thereto,
    persons authorised to act on behalf of the employer in labour relations,
  • basic working conditions and changes thereto,
  • measures to prevent discrimination,
  • job vacancies,
  • health and safety at work.

The obligation to negotiate with a trade union applies to:

  • Negotiating information on new jobs.
  • Negotiation of dismissal and immediate termination of employment – this procedure must be discussed with the trade union in advance. If the employee is a member of a trade union body, the employer is obliged to seek the trade union’s consent to the termination or immediate termination of employment (otherwise the acts in question are null and void). Other cases of termination of employment need only be notified ex post and do not require the consent of the trade union.
  • Mass redundancies – this procedure must also be consulted with the trade union at least 30 days in advance and the reasons for the redundancy, the number of employees to be made redundant, the time when the redundancy will take place, the severance pay or other rights of the redundant employees.
  • Bulk working time adjustments – this applies not only to working hours as such, but also to overtime work, night work or the possibility of ordering work on rest days.
  • Compensation – if an employee suffers an occupational injury or illness, appropriate compensation must be negotiated in advance.
  • A holiday schedule, which the employer shall inform the trade union in advance and the trade union shall give its consent (or not).

Tip: We have covered occupational health and safety in detail in our separate article.


Joint decision-making between the employer and the trade union concerns the cultural and social fund, i.e. its allocation and use.

Collective bargaining

Trade unions must be authorised to bargain collectively by statute. In this case, they may negotiate a collective agreement.

A collective agreement is understood as a bilateral contract between a trade union and an employer, the content of which is the rights and obligations in labour relations. Consequently, it applies to all employees, i.e. not only those who are members of a trade union. If there are more than one trade union in the workplace, the organisation with the largest number of members acts for employees who are not members of any of them (unless the employee chooses otherwise).

  • Collective agreements may be within the same company:
    for the whole company, or
  • for individual management levels (territorially or professionally defined)

A collective agreement may include, for example:

  • adjustment of working hours (e.g. reduced or flexible working hours),
  • holidays – e.g. more weeks than the legal entitlement,
  • obstacles to work – entitlement to paid time off in excess of the statutory entitlement,
  • protection of employees in the event of organisational changes, determination of severance pay,
    wages – e.g. rules on bonuses or the amount of extra pay for overtime or weekend work,
  • benefits – pension or life insurance, meal vouchers, anniversary bonuses, FKSP fund, etc.,
  • OSH,
  • its validity and effectiveness – the contract can be for a fixed or indefinite period (the possibility of termination is regulated by the Labour Code – termination can be given after six months of validity at the earliest with six months’ notice).

If the collective bargaining process does not lead to a successful outcome, a strike may be the last resort in a dispute over the conclusion of a collective agreement. According to the law, it must be preceded by unsuccessful proceedings between the employer and the employees.

In what areas do unions form?

Lapidary speaking, in all of them. You will find them in small firms and companies with thousands of employees. They exist in the public and private sectors and in almost all professions. Individual trade unions are organised by profession into trade unions, which may form other groups such as associations or confederations. The largest of these, the ASO ČR together with the ČMKOS, represent trade unions in the Council for Economic and Social Agreement (tripartite).

The Association of Independent Trade Unions of the Czech Republic (ASO CR) is an association of independent trade unions in the Czech Republic. ASO is the second largest trade union headquarters in the Czech Republic.

The Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS) is the so-called trade union headquarters, i.e. an association of trade unions in the Czech Republic. It brings together, among others, the firefighters’ union, the education workers’ union, the library workers’ union, the cultural workers’ union and many others.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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