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What are Trade Unions?

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Trade Unions

The employment relationship is about an exchange of value. You provide intellectual and physical value to your employers business, in exchange for this you get paid. The employment contract is an agreement that says how this exchange of value should work, it describes how much money an employee will receive, how that value will be delivered, how much work should be done for that value, and the conditions under which you will deliver that value. This forms the terms of your contract. Ideally the agreement should be beneficial to both you and your employer, so that everyone is getting what they want out of the relationship. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. There are some employers who want to squeeze as much as they can out of the employment relationship, and give very little back. There are some who change their minds after agreement, and others who make you think that you have something, and then deny you your rights under the contract or law when you want to claim it. The simple fact is that when you are negotiating as a single employee, you are at a huge disadvantage because the employer has more power and resources than you do.

This is where trade unions come in. Most of the rights that we take for granted in our employment contracts were originally negotiated by trade unions. This is what trade unions do so well. They negotiate your terms and conditions of employment into a collective agreement which applies to all their members. Then they make sure that your employer sticks to it.

Trade unions are set up by a group of people who are giving value to an employer or a group of employers in exchange for money. They have a group of managers called the executive, who employ people to take care of their members needs at work. The subscriptions that union members pay, goes towards supplying those services. No matter what you hear or read in the media, this is basically what unions do.

Unions work on the basis of more power in numbers. The more members that a union has, the more powerful it is. The greatest power of trade unions is their ability to withdraw labour by going on strike. Withdrawing labour hurts an employer where it counts the most – in the pocket. Unions also have their own unions that they belong to. The biggest Trade Union collective is the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

Trade unions offer a lot more than collective bargaining. They represent individuals when they have problems at work, and use the collective bargaining power of their members in getting deals on things like insurance and other financial products. They lobby and campaign on green issues and the rights of poor and marginalised members of society. It is up to you whether you join a union or not and there is lots of information on this website, and all over the internet to help you make up your mind. Your best bet is to talk to someone who is a union member, and there are many Facebook groups that you can join to learn more about being a member of a trade union.

Trade Union Membership Benefits

Trade unions can provide many benefits for their members. Some workers join a trade union because they believe that a trade union can:

  • negotiate better pay
  • negotiate better working conditions, such as more holidays or improved health and safety
  • provide training for new skills
  • promote lifelong learning provide legal and financial advice
  • provide various consumer benefits (eg discount offers or vouchers for shops and services)
  • provide help and advice with problems at work

Trade unions may also represent their members’ interests outside the workplace. For example, trade unions may actively lobby the government, public bodies, the European Union (EU) or others for policies which promote their objectives.

To find out what your trade union provides, you can check your trade union’s website or members’ handbook, or speak to a trade union representative in your workplace.

How to Join a Trade Union

Where a trade union is well-established at a workplace, some employees may act as local trade union representatives. If you are employed in such a workplace and want to join a trade union, you could approach a trade union representative, such as a shop steward or a trade union learning representative, for more information.

You do not have to be a member of a trade union which your employer recognises for negotiating pay and conditions. However, if you join a trade union other than the one your employer recognises, your trade union may have less say in issues that affect you in the workplace.

Your employer cannot insist that you join a particular trade union, and must not discipline or dismiss you for joining a trade union of your choice or for choosing not to be a trade union member.

How to Find a Trade Union

There are several different ways you can find trade unions.

At work

You maybe able to find out which trade union is recognised in your workplace by looking for trade union notices on staff notice boards oryour workplace intranet, or by asking your employer.

Some groups which may represent employees in your workplace, such as the Police Federation, will not appear on the Certification Officer or TUC lists because they are not legally considered to be trade unions.

Through the Trades Union Congress (TUC)

The TUC is the largest umbrella organisation representing UK trade unions. It has a list of the trade unions that are its members.

You can also use the TUC’s workSMART website, which has an interactive tool to help you find a trade union in your workplace, or one which covers your type of employment.

Through the Certification Officer

The Certification Officer is public body that holds a list with the details of most trade unions. If you know the name of the trade union you would like to join, you can find its details through the Certification Officer’s website.

Information on joining a trade union sources from DirectGov

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]