Trade unions

Trade unions are organisations of workers which attempt to improve the pay and working conditions for their members. In return for paying a subscription, members receive a wide range of benefits. These can be legal, such as financial help with access to a lawyer. Many trade unions offer a range of financial benefits to members such as cheaper deals with mortgages, discounts on holidays and car purchase. Trade unions exist in a wide range of occupations and professions.

A trade union may negotiate with the company over money matters, such as pay and pensions. Often within a workplace, a trade union representative, known as a shop steward will act as a ‘go-between’ between worker and management. He/she will try to resolve problems which may arise.

Showing the five main roles and responsibilities of trade unions

Participating in a trade union

Members can participate in trade union activities by:

  • attending union meetings in the workplace and discussing issues like pay and conditions
  • voting in ballots held by the union, sometimes they will decide whether or not the union should take action
  • voting in ballots to elect a new representative, such as a shop steward
  • taking part in a form of industrial action such as a work-to-rule or a strike

Some employers do not recognise trade unions as they feel they are bad for business and may therefore discourage staff from joining. Other employers understand that good worker/management relations are important.

Trade unions work with employees and management on a daily basis, resolving workplace issues. Trade unions have rights but they also have responsibilities which they must adhere to.

Trade union rights

  • To take industrial action to protect the rights of workers.
  • To hold a secret ballot to establish if the majority of members are in favour of taking action.
  • To try to attract new trade union members.

Trade union responsibilities

  • Not to pressure anyone into joining a trade union.
  • Trade unions can ask their members about changes in the workplace.
  • To ensure that all forms of trade union activity and industrial action are peaceful and within the law.
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