Why Join a Trade Union ?
Unions work on the simple principle that while an employer might be able to ignore the views of a single worker, if all workers speak with one voice the employer has to take notice. Unions encourage their members to take part in collective decisions on workplace issues and these views are then put to the employer.
Almost every improvement in workplace conditions – for example, equal pay laws, stronger health and safety legislation, statutory redundancy pay, the National Minimum Wage and better rights for agency workers – came about following pressure from trade unions.
Accident rates are higher for non-union members, who are twice as likely to be seriously injured as those who work in places where there are union safety representatives. The average union member earns more than the average non-member. The average union member gets seven days more paid holiday than the average non-member.
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How Unions Work
Union members in the same workplace will get together from time to time to talk about common problems. The issues most likely to come up are pay and pensions, safety, unfair treatment of a group or individual, or simply the way work is organised.
The union members will usually elect someone to speak on their behalf – a shop steward or ‘representative’. This representative – or ‘rep’ – will then discuss their concerns with management. Where the union has a recognition agreement with management they will have regular formal discussions. In order to negotiate a recognition agreement with your employer we need staff to support the trade union and want the trade union to represent them in the workplace.
UNISON is Britain and Europe’s biggest public sector union with more than 1.3 million members. Our members are people working in the public services, for private contractors providing public services and in the essential utilities. They include frontline staff and managers working full or part time in local authorities, the NHS, the police service, colleges and schools, the electricity, gas and water industries, transport and the voluntary sector. The majority of our members are women.
UNISON campaigns and lobbies on key issues affecting our members and the public at large. We’re working to protect and improve the public services, win equal pay and employment rights for everyone, improve safety in the workplace and end discrimination and harassment at work. We also support external campaigns on issues such as fuel poverty and fair trade.
We believe in:
· Equality – we are all different, but we all deserve to be treated with respect and fairness. All of our voices should be heard.
· Solidarity – we work to support each other at work and in society.
· Democracy – our members have a right to make the decisions that shape their union.
· Participation – we aim to share our skills, commitment and creativity to build a stronger union.
Bristol UNISON Branch. Represents workers in local government, higher and further education, probation, housing, schools, residential and nursing homes as well as many others in the independent and voluntary sectors. Consistent with UNISON’s national agenda, organising is a priority. A successful organising approach is one that:
· involves members in identifying issues, finding solutions and dealing with problems
· recruits, trains, and supports more active and confident representatives from among every work group and workplace
· takes a “what can we do about it” approach, rather than “leave it with me to sort out”
· resolves most problems locally and speedily because they are identified sooner
· builds confidence among members about what they can do with our support and guidance
· reaches out to and inspires non-members to join UNISON
· leaves members feeling good about the union and ready to recruit others
· means trades unionism that has a political consciousness and is grounded in collective action, not individual and/or legal action
· ensures a legacy of organised workplaces.
Your branch brings you together with other employees who face common issues in the workplace. Branches enable you to get support from the union, work with your colleagues and make your views felt in UNISON.
Local branches are made up of ordinary members elected by the workforce. They take on different roles in order to make your life easier at work.
Each branch is run by a committee which consists of members elected to take on different roles. It’s people like you who build the union and work to win everyone a better deal.
Be active in UNISON and you’ll get a lot more out of your union. Getting involved means:
• Helping make a difference
• Getting together with work friends and colleagues and meeting new people
• Doing things you usually couldn’t or wouldn’t do alone
• New opportunities for education, training and personal development
• Helping yourself and improving your life at work, home and the wider world
• Having fun and doing something you enjoy
UNISON activity should be founded on the principle that those taking positions of responsibility should be in touch with and be able to rely on the support of the membership. For example stewards should be known to all staff and be able to count on the input and support of workplace contacts, who in turn should be able to rely on the active interest of the membership where they work.
Workplace activists are key.
Stewards are the backbone of UNISON. Without stewards there would be no one there to act as the link between members and the union and to organise and support people in the workplace.
What does a UNISON steward do? As a steward you will:
· Talk to, recruit and organise members around workplace issues
· Talk to members about workplace problems, advise them and keep them informed of latest developments
· Represent members in your workplace
· Be involved in how your branch and union is run.
What do workplace contacts do?
UNISON workplace contacts play different support roles in the workplace, including:
· Making sure members receive union and other important information
· Helping groups of members to organise effectively
· Maintaining contact between members and the union where there is an elected steward
· Supporting other activists such as stewards and health and safety reps
Workplace contacts have a more informal role than stewards or safety representatives. They can also operate as part of a network supporting an elected steward.
Health and safety in our workplaces is a vital issue for everyone. Your employer has a legal duty to provide you with a safe working environment and safe working practices. To be effective in our battle for safe conditions we need people in every workplace to act as health and safety representatives.
In workplaces where UNISON is recognised by the employer stewards and health and safety representatives have rights to time off for training and to carry out their work. This includes:
· Meetings with members and management
· Preparation and research
· Keeping members informed
The required introductory training and further courses covering a wide range of workplace issues are organised in partnership with our regional education and equalities unit and we review activists training and development needs every year. On a day to day basis, colleagues, workplace contacts and more experienced stewards, health and safety reps and branch officers will all help you.
Other recognised workplace roles are those of the equality, environmental, and learning representatives. In addition different groups of members meet together under the UNISON umbrella. These groups ensure the union reflects particular experiences and enable members with common interests to come together on an equal basis to work on key issues affecting them. They include those for women members, black members, disabled members, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, young members and retired members.
There is more information on getting involved on the South West Regional, and the National UNISON websites
The South West Regional website info on ‘getting involved’ : http://www.unisonsouthwest.org.uk/get-involved.ashx
National website : https://www.unison.org.uk/get-involved/