Most people have heard of trade unions, especially when they appear in the news in connection with teachers’ strikes and such matters, but quite often people do not fully understand the purpose of a trade union, who they represent, and the possible benefits of belonging to a trade union. Do you have to join a trade union? Will you be penalised by your employer if you do? How can a trade union help you? This article seeks to address some of these questions and takes a brief look into the overall role of trade unions.
A trade union is a membership organisation that seeks to help and protect its members in the working environment. Although trade union representatives try to establish and maintain good working relationships with employers – and indeed between their members and those members’ employers – most trade unions are independent of any specific employer.
A trade union will seek to help its members in a whole manner of situations. They may negotiate favourable pay and working conditions for their members and discuss and advice on any big changes taking place in the working environment (such as mass redundancy). They will also talk over with their members any concerns they may have about their working environment and help them to find a solution, accompany them in disciplinary matters and at employment tribunals and provide them with legal and financial advice where needed.
Trade unions may also provide protection and representation for their members outside of the workplace. For example, they may try and place pressure on the government or public bodies to make changes which will benefit their members or may seek to promote their members’ rights and objectives in other ways.
By law, an employer cannot penalise an employee for deciding to join a trade union, deciding not to join a trade union, or deciding to leave a union of which they were previously a member. The decision is entirely up to the employee and they must not be made to feel any pressure about their decision by their employer.
In conclusion, many workers join a trade union because they believe they will be able to negotiate better pay and terms and conditions, they will have access to training for new skills, they feel confident that they will have somebody to turn to – who has their best interests in mind – who will be able to help them with any problems at work. They are also attracted by the prospect of lifelong legal and financial advice that will be made available to them. If you are interested in a joining a trade union you should look for information in your work handbook or contact the TUC for details of your local union.
Copyright (c) 2011 Robert Gray