Trade unions as legal persons

Does a registered trade union have legal personality? Can a registered trade union sue and be sued in its own name?

While an unregistered trade union is not a legal entity, in that it cannot sue or be sued in its own name, it can however, within the period of registration, collect dues and raise money for the purpose of registration.

On the other hand, a registered trade union has legal personality and it can sue and be sued in its name. A registered trade union is conferred with a legal status or capacity and by necessary implication; it can sue and be sued in its registered name. In Taff Vale Railway Co. V. Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants91901) AC, 426, the court was of the view that Parliament must have intended to treat a registered trade union like a legal entity, subject to nearly all the same duties and liabilities as an individual or corporation.

From the statutory point of view, although there is no express provision in the Trade Unions Act which states that a trade union is a legal entity, it would appear that by necessary implication the statute confers legal personality on a registered trade union. This submission is against the backdrop of the provisions of sections 21(1), 23, 37, 38 and 39 of the Trade Unions Act. Also in Bonsor V. Musicians Union (1956) AC, 110, Lord Keith declared two major attributes of a corporate personality which a trade union has thus:

“A registered trade union differs from an unincorporated association in that it is unnecessary to consider who the members were at any particular time. For instance, it is immaterial who the members were at the time that any cause of action arose, or what members have joined the union since the cause of action arose. The registered trade union may be said to assume a collective responsibility for all members past, present and future, in respect of any cause of action for which it may be liable irrespective of the date of action. On the other hand, the judgment creditor can look to the funds of such a trade union to satisfy his debt and to the extent t which these may be augmented from time to time by contributions of members, whether new or old, they will still be available for the unsatisfied judgment creditor”.

We may conclude that from both judicial authorities and the provisions of statutes, there is sufficient ground to assert that a registered trade union is a juristic person or a legal entity.