trade union

What is a trade union?

A trade union is an organisation that works to improve the conditions of employment. With nearly 7 million workers in the UK belonging to a trade union, it’s essential to know what a trade union is and how it can help employees from all industries. Those who belong to a union are supported within their career, and a union can be a great source of support should any disputes or concerns arise in the workplace. 

It is reported that employees who belong to a trade union often earn better pay, have better working conditions and are more legally and financially aware of the job role. You will find trade unions support employees in larger organisations or the service industry, such as teachers, healthcare staff, public transport employees and sportsmen and women. The main aim of a union is to protect the rights of its members by negotiating better terms and representing its members during workplace challenges. 

Support and protection from a trade union to an employee

There are four different types of trade unions available to employees within the industries in the UK. No matter what industry you are from or which role you work in, you are entitled to become a union member. These unions include:  

  1. General Unions. These are for skilled and unskilled workers performing different jobs in different industries (e.g. cleaners, clerical staff, transport workers).
  2. Industrial unions. These are for different workers in the same industry (e.g. the National Union of Miners (N.U.M) covers workers at all levels in the hierarchy).
  3. Craft Unions. These are relatively small unions for skilled workers performing the same or similar work in different industries (e.g. musicians).
  4. White-collar Unions. These are for ‘white-collar’ (or professional) workers who perform the same or similar tasks in different industries (e.g. teachers, scientists).

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There are many benefits an employee can expect to gain when they become a member of a union, and members are expected to pay an annual fee to the union for their support. 

  • Trade Union benefits for members
  • Negotiate agreements on fair pay, employee development and working conditions
  • Discussing significant changes to the workplace, including redundancy
  • Discussing with the employer and supporting any grievances 
  • Accompanying members to disciplinary and grievance meetings
  • Providing members with legal support and financial advice
  • Providing education facilities

Depending on your place of work, you may have been offered a membership to a union as part of your employee package. These unions will work continuously on your behalf on the benefits above and will often have a strong relationship with your employer. If your company does not have a trade union, you will be able to search for an independent union that will support you in the same way but will not have an established relationship with your company. No matter where your union has come from, you should not be discriminated against for being a member. 

What does a trade union mean for employers?

Ultimately, whether an employee belongs to a union or not shouldn’t make a difference to an employer. An employer should not discriminate against an employee for being part of a trade union, and yet there seems to be an unspoken concern from employers when they become aware of a trade union’s involvement with an employee. This could be because any disputes generally take a little longer to sort due to an extra party being involved, or it could be the employer is concerned as a union offers improved protection for its members. 

Most trade unions are independent of an employer. However, certain unions will try to develop a strong working relationship with a company to support and negotiate working conditions, fair pay and training and development. Employers should be aware that an employee who is a trade union member cannot be discriminated against for participating in union activities. If an employer is seen to be treating the employee differently, such as refusing to hire them, selecting them first for redundancy or dismissing them, this could be seen as unlawful treatment

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Herries Smith offers jargon-free employment law advice 

At Catherine Herries-Smith, we support both employers and employees with employment law advice. With over 25 years of experience in employment law, our aim is to help you settle concerns and disputes quickly and effectively. Our expert advice comes with a jargon-free guarantee, so you will always understand every step of the process and how we can help you. We don’t believe in passing you from person to person, so once you are assigned an employment solicitor, they will stay and support you throughout the duration of your concern and help you resolve it. 

If you feel you have been treated unfairly at work because you belong to a union, or you are an employer looking to receive some advice on an employee who belongs to a union, get in contact with us today and see how we can help you in the workplace.