Can I Distribute Union Materials in the Workplace Without my Employer’s Permission?

Oct 19, 2023 ,

Some employers stipulate in their employment regulations that “employees need prior permission to hold meetings, speeches, or distribute written material or pictures on company premises. Basically many employers state that “employees may not distribute union material on company grounds”.

But is this really the case?

The distribution of union material is protected by Article 28 of the Constitution which guarantees the “rights of workers to organize, bargain, and act collectively”. Furthermore, the Trade Union Law (articles: 1.2, 7.1, and 8) protect workers from criminal and civil liability as well as freedom from disadvantageous treatment, if the activity is part of proper union actions.

But on the other hand, Article 206 of the Civil Code protects the employer’s right to manage their facilities and to restrict the actions of people and organizations to maintain order in their facility.

So who is in the right, Labour or Management?

There have been a number of Supreme Court rulings on the issue of a union’s right to organise versus the employer’s right to manage their facilities.

14 December 1979Sumitomo Chemical Industries Nagoya Works
1 November 1983Meiji Daires
20 December 1994Kurata Gakuen

The Supreme Court’s decisions in these separate cases all have one thing in common, and that is…

…even without the express permission of the employer, the distribution of union material in the workplace is an activity protected by both the Constitution and Trade Union Law and therefore the worker cannot be punished even if the activity does not follow the procedures stipulated in the employment regulations.

In light of these Supreme Court decisions, employment regulations which restrict the right to distribute union material in the workplace are clearly unreasonable.

These types of working regulations place an unreasonable restriction and infringement on the union’s right to organize and act collectively, as it would not allow a labour union to exercise its rights under the law.

So, what is the answer to the question, “Can I distribute union material without my employer’s permission?”

And the answer is: as long as it does not interfere with work, you do not require the employer’s permission to distribute union material in the workplace. But, if you are caught doing this by your employer and they tell you to stop, don’t fight it on the spot. Take a step back, call the union, and see what we can do together to protect a union’s rights in the workplace.