Trade unions

Showing the five main roles and responsibilities of trade unions

Trade unions are organisations 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.

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. At other times the ballot may be to elect a new representative within the union such as a shop steward
  • standing as a candidate in an election to become a shop steward
  • taking part in a form of industrial action such as a work-to-rule or strike

Some employers do not recognise trade unions as they feel they are bad for business and may therefore discourage staff from joining a trade union.

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 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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