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Can a Trade Union Help You in the Workplace?

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 25 May 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Trade Union Union Workplace Employer

Trade unions could consider that they've had a hard time over the past few decades – vilified in the media in the 1970s and then emasculated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s before being largely parked as anachronisms in the 1990s. But many commentators would argue that the main reason for the existence of unions, that of protecting workers' rights, has never been more in need than in today's workplace.

Can You Join a Union?

Two or three decades ago there were some jobs that you could not do unless you were a union member. This was known as the 'closed shop', but it was made illegal in the 1980s and now trade union membership is optional. Some unions manage to get recognition by employers, which means that the union will bargain on behalf of the staff on pay matters and other changes in terms and conditions of employment – the things that pertain to Workers' Rights.

If there is no recognised union at a workplace, it is still likely that you will be able to join as an individual. Even if there is union recognition in the workplace, you are not obliged to join if you don't want to.

Your employer is not allowed to Discriminate Against You because of your union membership, although, in practice, this is difficult to prove and difficult to police. Equally, union members and representatives are not allowed to pressurise you to join a trade union either.

Wider Benefits of Joining a Trade Union

Being a member of a trade union does have benefits. Many unions use the size of their membership to negotiate favourable deals with all sorts of companies and services, such as insurance, travel firms and the like. They will also use their members' funds to support politicians and political parties, who they feel may advance their case, and lobby for changes in government policy and the law that will benefit their members, both at national and European level.

Grievance Procedures and Union Members

One benefit that really helps, however, for many union members, is the support that can be given to employees when things go wrong in the workplace. Different unions have different levels of support, but many will help at the earliest signs of difficulty with an employer, arranging counselling or other support services, perhaps even before management are aware there is a problem.

If an employee has a problem with the company, or another staff member, that they believe is serious enough to Initiate Grievance Procedures, a union member will be able to take a trained representative with them. A non-union member can be accompanied as well, but only by another member of staff who is unlikely to be trained and may know no more about workplace disputes than anyone else, so the union can certainly help on that level with workers' rights.

How the Trade Union Helps at Disciplinary Proceedings

The same is true with a trade union if the boot is on the other foot, where an employer is going through workplace disciplinary procedures because they perceive that there is something wrong with an employee or their behaviour. The union member will have access to advice and support on their workers' rights to help them make the right decision at each stage, whereas a non-union member will have to look elsewhere for that advice, possibly having to pay for it.

In the case of an unfair dismissal, where the sacked worker decides to take the case against an employer to an employment tribunal, the trade union will provide legal advice and a solicitor to represent you in the tribunal, as long as, having investigated the case, they believe them to be in the right.

Finding a Union

If you decide that joining a trade union could be something that you can benefit from, ask around at your workplace to see if there's a union already active. If there doesn't seem to be, then you can find out which union suits your trade or job the best through the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the umbrella organisation for trade unions in the United Kingdom.

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I was recently accused of alleged sexual harassment but after everyone present including myself had been interviewed it was quite clear her allegations were fabricated which i knew anyway, her story has changed 3 times during the investigations and i have now been sacked (Gross Misconduct) for apparently making comments about her to other fellow workers which in a way i did but in banter and never to her face, i have made my appeal and questioned how she still has her job even after making a false allegation but now find myself needing a union rep asap and i dont know which way to turn....any advice would be appreciated.
skinzy - 25-May-18 @ 9:05 PM
Was suspended yesterday for alleged inappropriate comments or behaviour. I don't know what I said that's so bad. I am in a union. The stress and anxiety is unbearable. I am waiting on a letter to state what the allegations are about.
BigC - 8-Mar-18 @ 10:56 PM
@BILL - if you're not a paid-up member, then the trade union can't help you. You can ring ACAS though, their advice is free.
MarkN - 23-Feb-18 @ 12:51 PM
I'm currently suspended from work during an ongoing investigation. If I join a Trade Union at this stage will they represent me now with regards to this matter?
BILL - 22-Feb-18 @ 8:55 AM
When i join a union how soon after i have paid will i be able to receive representation, thanks.
nibiru watcher - 19-Jan-17 @ 3:00 PM
Ticha - Your Question:
When return work from maternity leave, I request a part time shift, which the company gave me for the past 2 years, the shift has been renewed every 3 months and the last one was November 2016. From 13 of January my shift was changed to full-time even tough I let them know that I cannot do full time job anymore as I dont have anyone to look after my child. The company intention is making me resign the contract, and I dont think its fair, as I've been working with them since 2013. Do I have any chance to win this dispute?

Our Response:
Not if it is a rolling contract that has to be renewed every three months. It is likely to mean your employer has no obligation. However, you might wish to read the terms of your contract in order to make sure.
WorkingRights - 16-Jan-17 @ 12:22 PM
When returnwork frommaternity leave, I request a part time shift, which the company gave me for the past 2 years, the shift has been renewed every 3 months and the last one was November 2016.From 13 of January my shift was changed to full-time even tough I let them know that I cannot do full time job anymore as I dont have anyone to look after my child. The company intention is making me resign the contract, and I dont think its fair, as I've been working with them since 2013. Do I have any chance to win this dispute?
Ticha - 15-Jan-17 @ 4:33 PM
I have been given a disciplinary that only gave me a hour to get my union in, which I couldn't. They can't do this can they???
Mia - 24-Oct-16 @ 5:02 PM
there was videos found onon my you-tube account about on the job harassment and gangs stalking i was relieved of dutysent home with pay until father investigation.that been 3 month ago .in that time i had the homeland security come to my house .had to go take a physical it was twoparts. they try ed to secretly seen me to a psychiatric ward . now i get acertified letter saying they have not receivedmedical clearance for me to go back to work so i went to my doctorand gotmedical clearance to go back to work i was told by my superintendent that the letter was not meant for me.it was sent out as a mistack? the union no really saying much . i am a metro bus operator A UNION MEMBER
FFOSCAR13 - 20-Jul-15 @ 7:37 PM
I've been bullied at work by 2 colleagues when serving customers. I told management straight away . The following day I saw one of the on the shop floor as I didnt no her name and asked her if she wanted to discuss the matter I was angry but didn't swear but I pointed in her face in front of a manager.i have been suspended. The management are unaware I was harassed by the same person and I have witnesses to this.what can i do and can they sack me.
ala - 15-Jul-15 @ 2:28 PM
@dave - I'm afraid we don't have the wider knowledge of union mergers and the logistics/legality behind them. It may go to a second vote, in order to find out you would have to get this information directly from your union.
WorkingRights - 26-May-15 @ 10:16 AM
in our place of work we run a union, the company has closed a local dep't where another union was set up , the company does not want that union in and is happy with union 1 , my question can they do that, can this other union force recognition by getting 51% of workers
dave - 23-May-15 @ 7:03 AM
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