What is a Trade Union and what impact can they have on your workplace?

Guest blogging today is Ben Brown – our own E-Learning Officer! Ben is also the co-Young Members Officer for the King’s College London UNISON branch – here to tell you everything you never knew about trade unions and workplace rights. 

Statistically, most young people won’t have anything to do with a trade union in their working life with just 1 in 10 under 24’s being members of a trade union[1]. But why does this matter and what are the benefits of being in a trade union at work?

Well, to start with we need to answer this question: What is a union?

The short answer is that a union is a group of people who work together and organise to have a say on how their organisation is run, this could include negotiating working conditions, pay, hours, anything that will affect employees working conditions. Unions also represent individual workers by accompanying staff to meetings such as disciplinaries and probation meetings, to ensure the organisation is not breaking any of its own policies and ensuring the member gets a fair hearing. Unions also have a role in affecting policy change across the whole country by acting as campaigners to affect government policy to help workers get a better deal, including campaigning for the introduction of the national minimum wage, working hours, sick pay and more.

It’s worth remembering a lot of organisations however don’t have a ‘recognised union’, this means while you have a legal right to join a trade union and take their advice, the organisation doesn’t have to negotiate with your union since the union is not officially ‘recognised’. If however you and your colleagues are interested in having a say and there is no recognised union, you’ll either need the organisation to voluntarily enter into discussions, or you need to be able to prove 10% of your organisation are members of a union[2]. For more information on if your employer already has a union and information on forming one if they don’t, check out  https://www.tuc.org.uk/join-union.

So why does this matter to me?

Well to start with, you never know what’s around the corner at work. It might be you are wrongly accused of a mistake and want some help defending yourself, or maybe your organisation decides to carry out a restructure which is going to negatively affect you and you colleagues! Of course, instances like this are few and far between, but do happen and isn’t it better you are able to defend yourself with professional advice. Unions also offer their own training on a variety of topics including things like pensions, campaigning & legal rights, so there is the potential for professional development just through getting involved. Finally, while the benefits for workers are clear, unions also have a beneficial role for employers, by ensuring workers are listened to and feel secure, studies have shown that unionised workplaces are statistically more productive[3] and have higher retention of staff[4], saving considerable amounts on rehiring.

For more information on trade unions and workplace right check out the TUC website https://www.tuc.org.uk/.

The King’s Careers’ Take: entering the world of work can feel complex – you might discover new situations and challenges and find that you’re not fully knowledgeable on your rights yet. Trade unions are a great resource for clarity and support and definitely something that everyone can benefit from looking into, wherever you are on your career journey.


Footnotes for further reading

[1] Source: https://www.tuc.org.uk/blogs/trade-union-membership-rises-100000-single-year-challenges-remain

[2] More information: https://www.gov.uk/trade-union-recognition-employers/statutory-recognition

[3] Source: http://ftp.iza.org/dp11111.pdf

[4] Source: https://www.ethicaltrade.org/sites/default/files/shared_resources/benefits_of_working_with_trade_unions.pdf


Written by Ben Brown