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 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.
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.
There are several different ways you can find trade unions.
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.
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.
The information and content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice. Legal information or content on this website relates only to the laws of England and Wales. You should not take any actions based on information found on this website without first seeking appropriate legal advice with respect to your specific matter. No representations or warranties are made about the suitability, currentness, comprehensiveness and/or accuracy of the information and other content contained on this website. It should be noted that legal information and content can rapidly become out of date and we give no undertaking to keep this website up to date. All liability for any loss or damage of any kind which may be suffered as a result of accessing and using the information and/or content of this website is hereby excluded to the full extent permitted by law.