Trade unions

If you’ve recently started work, you may want to join a trade union. But what exactly do they do? And should you join one?

Hands all in together

Hey, whose got the sweaty palm?

What is a trade union?

Unions were originally based on the idea that a group of employees has stronger negotiating power than an individual acting alone. Trade unions negotiate pay and employment rights on behalf of workers, offer training, networking and other forms of professional support to their members, as well as give legal support. They also act as the voice of their members in political debates.

What do trade unions do?

They do loads, but are mainly known for:

  • Negotiating fair pay and working conditions for their members
  • Helping members if they come across any difficulties at work relating to pay, rotas, discrimination, working conditions and unfair dismissal
  • Accompanying members and representing them at disciplinary hearings
  • Some offer free legal advice
  • Organising strikes if they feel their members aren’t being treated fairly

Am I allowed to join a trade union?

Joining a union is entirely your choice and you shouldn’t feel pressure to go one way or another. It’s illegal for your boss to discriminate you in any way for joining a union or taking part in union activities.

You don’t have to join the usual union for your profession and you can be a member of as many unions as you like.

Benefits of joining a union:

  • Members tend to get better pay and benefits, as well as better redundancy packages, which is handy in crappy economic times like now
  • Lots of unions offer training and networking events
  • You can get reps to sit in on difficult meetings with your boss
  • If you’re into politics, unions are good places to hone your debating and campaigning skills – you could even become a rep yourself

Downside of joining a union:

  • It costs money – union membership typically takes about £10-20 a month out of your pay
  • You might delay joining one until you run into trouble at work, but unions won’t help you unless you’ve been a member for a while
  • You’ll be expected to strike when they do – even if you don’t agree. And if you strike, you won’t get paid
  • Many UK unions are affiliated with the Labour Party though you won’t be an affiliated member of the Labour Party through a union unless you opt-in.

Find the right union for you

To find out more, visit the TUC website, or call 0870 6004 882.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


work rights


Updated on 29-Sep-2015