What are the Benefits of Being a Trade Union Member?

Joy Drummond
Partner, Employment Law Solicitor

If you are a trade union member, you benefit in the following ways:

      • Being part of a unionised workforce means you’re more likely to be better paid and have better conditions than others in similar work who don’t have the support of a union.
      • Having your union involved with health and safety issues at every level makes your workplace safer.
      • Your union will make sure you and your colleagues are treated with respect and push your employer to make your workplace more inclusive for women, black and minority ethnic workers, LGBT workers and disabled workers and fairer for both older and young workers.
      • Many contracts of employment include terms agreed by the union which give legal rights to the employee. If yours does and you’re a member of the union you can influence what is agreed.
      • The support of your union can deliver results where your legal rights aren’t enough by themselves to remedy the unfairness you may be subjected to at work.
      • If you have a problem at work, your union representative can give you expert advice, support and representation from start to finish, including at disciplinary and grievance hearings. Your union representative will probably be someone who has experience of dealing with your employer and industry, so is well placed to resolve the issue amicably where possible and advise you on your next steps and tactics if not.
      • If you’re in a redundancy and/or restructuring situation or face a transfer of your work to another business, or wholesale changes to your terms and conditions, your union can advise you on how to secure your rights. In certain circumstances, a recognised union has rights to be consulted on behalf of you and your colleagues similarly affected and the right to claim an award for each affected employee if the employer fails to consult.
      • You can access free legal advice and representation for employment law and personal injury claims from specialist lawyers trusted by your union.
      • You can make use of training opportunities offered to you by your union.
      • You have a right to paid time off to take part in union activities.
      • You have a vote in ballots for industrial action or consultative ballots on, for example, pay offers.
      • You can participate in campaigns on work-related issues of particular importance to you.
      • Most of all, being in a union goes some way towards redressing the often unequal bargaining position between you and your employer. It gives you a voice that your employer is more likely to listen to because you aren’t standing alone as one individual but as part of a larger united group with the same aims.
      • You can benefit from union membership whether or not your employer recognises a union. The more union members there are in the workforce, the greater the leverage the union can use on your behalf and the more likely it is that the union is able to gain recognition, which gives the union more legal rights to information, to be consulted and to negotiate terms and conditions on behalf of the workforce.

What is a Trade Union?

A trade union is an organisation of workers, or mostly workers, whose main purpose is to protect and improve the interests of its members in relation to their employment. Most trade unions are independent of the employer and many are recognised by the employer as the body the employer negotiates the employees’ terms and conditions with.

What Does a Trade Union Do?

Trade unions carry out a wide range of activities by, for, through, and with their members, both collectively and individually including:

        • Negotiating with employers on pay and conditions
        • Discussing major changes in the workplace such as redundancy and restructuring, changes to working practices and business transfers
        • Raising members’ concerns with employers
        • Representing workers in consultations with the employer and with Health and Safety Executive inspectors on health and safety issues
        • Investigating potential hazards and accidents at work
        • Accompanying members at disciplinary and grievance meetings
        • Providing members with legal advice and representation in employment and personal injury claims
        • Running and funding test cases benefiting large numbers of members and workers generally
        • Campaigning on issues of relevance to members and lobbying for workers’ rights on issues such as challenging low pay and zero hours contracts
        • Providing financial advice
        • Providing education and training facilities
        • Providing consumer benefits, often at discounted rates.

Can I be penalised for being a member of a trade union or taking part in union activities?

 You have the right to join (or not to join) a trade union, whether or not the union is recognised. You’re protected from being disadvantaged for being a union member or for taking part in union activities.

It is unlawful for an employer to:

          • Refuse to employ you
          • Blacklist you
          • Dismiss you
          • Select you for redundancy

Because of your union membership:

You have the right not to be victimised due to your trade union membership or trade union activities.

It Sounds Like a No Brainer – How Do I Join?

If you know of the union representative in your workplace, you could approach them for more information. They will give you a membership form to fill in on paper or online. If there aren’t any union representatives at your work, or if you are unsure, you can use the list of trade unions registered with the Certification Officer, the independent organisation responsible for the legal regulation of unions, which has each union’s contact details and links to their websites, here.

If you aren’t sure which union is the right one for your workplace and the type of work you do, you can use the interactive tool on the Trades Union Congress website.

What will happen about paying the subscriptions and will my employer have to find out?

Your union will charge a subscription to fund the union’s work and activities. This varies and can either be a flat rate for all members or different rates for different categories of member.

You’ll be able to pay your subscriptions in one of the following ways:

            • Having the amount taken by your employer from your pay and sent to the union (known as check-off), in which case your employer will know about your union membership and will have some control over the process
            • Direct debit
            • Cash
            • Cheque

Simpson Millar has a long history of advising and assisting trade unions and their representatives, officials and members in all different kinds of industries, workplaces and kinds of work. We work closely with union officials to achieve the best overall outcomes we can for members.

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