What are trade unions and what do they do?
- Category: Employment
A trade union is an organisation, which is independent from your employer, and which represents it’s members in their workplace. There's different types of unions, so if you’re going to join one, it's best to join a union that knows your industry well. You usually have to pay a small membership fee and in return you can access certain benefits for being a member.
Most people join a trade union because they can usually get legal assistance if things go wrong at work. Being part of a union also gives the workforce greater leverage in negotiating improvements to working conditions. It’s important to know that if you join the trade union after the problem has occurred, they probably won't be able to help you and there will probably be a cooling off period before you can get help. This is because most of their legal insurance policies only cover ‘before the event’ and your union will want to have had some role in taking you through the earlier stages of the resolution process.
If there isn't a trade union in your workplace, you might feel worried about joining one, however it is useful to know that the law protects you from being dismissed or subject to detrimental treatment as retaliation to you carrying out certain protected trade union activities. It’s also unlawful for an employer to use a prohibited list of employees who have taken part in certain protected trade union activities. You can find out more about your rights at work and trade unions on the GOV.UK website.
Most unions are happy to talk you through any concerns you have before you decide to sign up. You can find out more about the benefits of joining a union and how to find one on the TUC website. If you’re already a member of a trade union and you have a problem at work, you should speak to the trade union representative straight away because they may be able to give you more help with writing a grievance or going to a hearing with you.
You might be unhappy with the help that your union gives you, in which case you should check the union rulebooks for guidance on how they should have helped you. If you have a cause for complaint, you can ask your representative for a copy of the complaints procedure and make a formal complaint.
If it's too late to join a union, or joining a union simply isn't for you, please get in touch and we can discuss your options further.