Unite is Britain's biggest trade union with 1.5 million members in every type of workplace
What is a trade union?
A trade union is an group of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates with employers. This may include the negotiation of pay and conditions, workplace safety and policies.
It may also provide legal and financial advice, sickness benefits and education facilities to its members.
Why join a trade union?
Some workers join a trade union because they believe that a union can:
- negotiate better pay
- negotiate better working conditions, such as more holidays or improved health and safety
- provide training for new skills
- give general advice and support
Union members have the right to be accompanied to a discipline or grievance hearing by a trade union representative (although trade unions are not compelled to provide this). All employees, regardless of whether they are union members or not, are entitled to be accompanied by a work colleague.
Recognised unions also have rights to consultation where redundancies or a transfer of business are proposed.
There is a regular subscription cost for union membership. Different rates may apply to trainees and part-timers. Unions will not normally help with problems which pre-date membership.
Trade union-related rights
The law gives you the right to join a trade union wherever you work. This right applies whether a union has been recognised or not.
You're protected from being disadvantaged for being a union member. Specifically trade union membership is an unlawful reason for:
- refusing you employment
- dismissing you
- selecting you for redundancy
Trade union activities
When a union is recognised by an employer, members have the right to time off at an appropriate time to take part in trade union activities. These may include:
- voting in ballots on industrial action
- voting in union elections
- meeting to discuss urgent matters
- attending the annual conference
You don’t have the right to be paid for any time spent taking industrial action.
Updated: 13 May, 2011