Trade unions are organisations that represent people at work. Their purpose is to protect andimprove peoples pay and conditions of employment. They also campaign for laws and policieswhich will benefit working people.Trade unions exist because an individual worker has very little power to influence decisions thatare made about his or her job. By joining together with other workers, there is more chance ofhaving a voice and influence.Why Do People Join Trade Unions?The main reason people join trade unions is so that they can have better pay and workingconditions and union protection if there is a problem at work.The table below shows the result of a survey which looked at the reasons why people join tradeunions and why they remain union members.REASON New members % Members %Support if I have a problem at work 81.5 65.9Improved pay and conditions 42.0 39.6Most people at work are members 15.4 32.5I believe in trade unions 18.2 37.5Industrial benefits/services 7.4 9.1Financial services 3.5 2.5Other 6.8 5.3
Functions Of Trade UnionsIt has already been stated that trade unions aim to further its members interests, this could bedone by some of the followingObtaining satisfactory rates of pay. Research hasshown that workers belonging to unions havebetter levels of wagesProtecting workers jobs, as it has been shown thatunion members are less likely to be dismissed.Securing adequate work facilitiesEnsuring satisfactory work conditions, this caninclude areas such as health and safety and equalopportunities.Negotiating bonuses for achieving targetsNegotiating employment conditions and jobdescriptionsUnion DensityThe ability of a union to carry out these functions may depend on the union membership and theunion density. A small union with few members is unlikely to have as much influence as a verylarge union with many members. Union density is expressed as
actual union membership x 100potential union membershipTypes Of UnionThere are a number of ways that unions can be classified, the most common way is to place themin one of the three following categoriesCraft Unions are the oldest type of union.Workers with common skills often joined togetherto form unions. Examples are the Musicians Unionor the National Union of Journalists.Industrial Unions are formed by unions of aparticular industry, such as coalminers, railwayworkers or gas workers Examples are NationalUnion of Mineworkers or the Banking, Insuranceand Finance Union (BIFU)General Unions are made up of workers with awide range of skills. Examples are the Allied TradeUnion or the Transport and General Workers Union(TGWU).
Although this seems fairly straight forwards there can be a number of problems with thisclassification, includingIt forces unions into one category, whereas manyunions have features common to more than oneclass.There have been many mergers in recent yearsthat have blurred the distinctions.How Do Trade Unions Recruit Their Members?Different unions cover different jobs and industries. People are able to join the most appropriateunion for their job or sector.People are recruited to unions in different ways. Most people find out about the union by talkingto colleagues at the workplace and then make direct contact with the union. Others are contactedby the union representative who gives them information about the union and tells them how tojoin. Some employers and personnel officers tell employees about the union when they startworking for the organisation.Unions are stepping up their efforts to attract new members. Some are using adverts innewspapers and magazines, television commercials and leaflets as part of high profilerecruitment campaigns. The target for these efforts is often people who work part time, in
temporary jobs or in small organisations where in the past union membership has not been veryhigh.
What Is The Structure Of Trade Unions?Trade unions are democratic organisations which are accountable to their members for theirpolicies and actions. Unions are normally modelled on the following structure:members - people who pay a subscription tobelong to a unionshop stewards - sometimes called unionrepresentatives - who are elected by members ofthe union to represent them to managementbranches - which support union members indifferent organisations locally. There is usually abranch secretary who is elected by local membersdistrict and/or regional offices - these areusually staffed by full time union officials. Theseare people who are paid to offer advice and supportto union members locallya national office - the unions headquarters whichoffers support to union members and negotiates orcampaigns for improvements to their workingconditions. At the top of the organisation there isusually a General Secretary and a National
Executive Committee, elected by the unionsmembers.How Are Trade Unions Financed?Each trade union member pays a subscription. The amount varies from union to union and isnormally set at different levels according to the amount people earn. It is usually between £5 and£8 a month. Some unions reduce the fees for unemployed members.People pay their subscription fees in different ways. It may be collected by direct debit from yourbank account, deducted directly from your wages or paid in cash or by cheque to your unionrepresentative or full time official.
In exchange members receive the benefits of representation, negotiation, protection and otherservices from their union.How Has Membership Changed Over The Last FewYears?In 1995, union membership in Britain, estimated from the Labour Force Survey, was 7.3 million.The proportion of all employees who were union members was 32%. These are the overallfigures but union membership varies enormously by industry and by the types of jobs that peopledo.Trade union membership has declined over the last two decades. In 1979 13.3 million peoplewere members of trade unions and the proportion of employees who were union members stoodat 55%.There are several reasons for this fall in membership, including:a dramatic fall in the number of jobs inmanufacturing industries where union membershipwas traditionally highlarger numbers of unemployed people
a fall in traditional full time employment and anincrease in part time and temporary workers whoare less likely to join unionsan increase in the proportion of the workforceemployed by small companies where it is oftendifficult for unions to organisehostile legislation - the Conservative governmenthas introduced laws which make it more difficult forunions to operate and keep their members. Theselaws are explored in more detail under “How havechanges in the law over the last few years affectedunions”.However, trade union membership is still quite high and many people are employed inworkplaces where unions are recognised by management for negotiating pay and conditions ofemployment. In 1995 an estimated 47% or 10.2 million of all employees reported that theyworked in these workplaces.There is also evidence that the decline in union membership is beginning to slow up. The TUChas launched a major recruitment drive called New Unionism - Organising for Growth and manyunions are stepping up their efforts to recruit in new industries and jobs. More and more peopleare turning to trade unions because they want the protection they can provide.
What Do Unions Do?The main service a union provides for its members is negotiation and representation. There areother benefits people get from being members of trade unions.· NegotiationRepresentationInformation and adviceMember servicesWhat Is The Role Of Trade Unions In IndustrialDisputes?Most "collective bargaining" takes place quietly and agreements are quickly reached by theunion and the employer. Occasionally disagreements do occur and the two sides cannot agree. Inthese cases the union may decide to take industrial action.Industrial action takes different forms. It could mean an over time ban, a work-to-rule or a strike.There are strict laws which unions have to follow when they take industrial action.A strike is only called as a last resort. Strikes are often in the news but are rare. Both sides have alot to lose. Employers lose income because of interruptions to production or services. Employeeslose their salaries and may find that their jobs are at risk.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is often used to help find a solutionto a dispute which is acceptable to both sides.How Have Changes In The Law Over The Last FewYears Affected Unions?Since 1979 the Conservative Government hasintroduced many changes to the laws on employmentrights and on trade union affairs.Many other European countries are currently improving their employment rights and increasingemployee consultation. Recent legislation in Britain goes against this trend. It removes manyemployment rights for many people at work and curbs trade union activities. The TUC believesthat the laws were introduced due to the Governments hostility to trade unions and because theGovernment believes that employment rights are a burden on business.The main items of legislation are:-Employment Act 1980Employment Act 1982Trade Union Act 1984
Wages Act 1986Employment Act 1988Employment Act 1989Employment Act 1990Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act1993The acts create a complex legal framework on employment matters which overall have had thefollowing main impacts upon employees.Individual employment rightsTrade union membership and representationIndustrial actionWhat Are The Main Challenges Facing Trade Unions?Over the last two decades trade unions have faced major economic and political change. Thekind of jobs that people do and the type of industries they work in have changed dramatically.The manufacturing sector, which used to be one of the most important industries in Britain, hasshrunk dramatically and new sectors - like the finance and voluntary sectors - are becoming moreimportant to the British economy.
There have also been changes to the way we work. Traditional working patterns have declined.Many people now work part-time or freelance or on short term contracts. Job insecurity is agrowing problem for people at work. Many people are unemployed or work under the constantthreat of redundancy.At the same time people have less protection and fewer rights at work than they had two decadesago. New laws have weakened employment rights in areas like pay and unfair dismissal.Legislation has also curbed trade union activities.All these changes throw up significant challenges to the trade union movement. The types ofindustries where union membership was traditionally high have suffered heavy job losses. Peopleare less likely to be members of unions in new industries, small organisations and when they areemployed on temporary contracts. New laws on trade union organisation make it more difficultfor unions to represent their members and to negotiate improvements to their working conditions.But the current economic climate makes trade unions more important than ever. People whosejobs are insecure need advice and support. They need help on contract terms, pensions andemployment rights. They also need help with getting training so that they have skills which makethem more "employable" if their jobs are restructured or disappear.How Have Unions Responded To These Challenges?The challenge for unions is to adapt to these changes and ensure that they are relevant to allworking people. Unions are responding by:
launching major recruitment drives and trying toattract new members in jobs and industries whichin the past have not had high union membership.putting education and training high up thebargaining agenda so that their members have theskills and qualifications to improve theiremployment prospectsforging a new deal at the workplace by working inpartnership with employers on common issuesmounting campaigns to defend the rights ofworking peopleWhat Is The Impact Of Trade Unions On Business?Trade unions recognise that organisations must be competitive in the global markets if they areto be successful and provide secure employment for employees. The agenda for trade unions inthe 1990s is working in partnership with employers to improve businesses and services.Trade unions have an important role in:
improving communication between employees andmanagers so that employees can understand andbe committed to the organisations objectivesnegotiating improvements to pay and workingconditions so that people feel more satisfaction atwork and stay longer in their jobsencouraging companies to invest in training anddevelopment so that employees have the skillsnecessary for improved products and servicesacting as a positive force for change - by winningemployees support to the introduction of newtechnologies and work organisationBritains most successful companies are ones where unions are recognised. 44 of the FinancialTimes Top 50 companies recognise trade unions.What Is The Relationship Between Trade Unions AndPolitical Parties?Unions try to influence the political parties and win support for their policies. They lobby MPsand peers of all parties, keep them up to date with research and campaigns and encourage theirsupport during parliamentary debates and the scrutiny of bills.
Most unions find that their closest relationship is with the Labour Party because of a sharedhistory and common objectives. Many have good relationships with the Liberal Democrats.Relations with Conservatives tend to be more difficult. Many Conservatives are hostile to tradeunions but this is not always the case and unions still try to work with Conservatives on an issueby issue basis.Political FundsSince the 1913 Trade Union Act trade unions have only been able to spend money on politicalactivity through a separate political fund. This is used for campaigning on issues which are seenas political, for example campaigning against government policy.The 1984 Trade Union Act stated that unions must ballot their members once every ten years onwhether the union should have a political fund. Following that act members of different unionshave voted to keep their political funds and members of unions which had not previously had afund voted to set one up.Approximately £16 million is spent each year by trade unions on political activity. Half of thismoney is channelled through the Labour Party.
Affiliation To The Labour PartySome trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party but just as many are not. Those that affiliatepay an annual subscription based on the number of their members who have agreed to pay apolitical levy. Members can opt out of this levy if they wish.Labour Party affiliation gives union members a say in Labour Party policy and a chance to votein elections for the Labour Party leadership.What Is The Relationship Between Trade Unions AndGovernment?Unions seek to work with the government of the day to win support for their policies. They puttheir case to ministers and civil servants, and some invite ministers to speak at unionconferences.While the previous Conservative government brought in legislation hostile to trade union and itwas generally opposed to extending rights at work, it still consulted with unions on issues whichaffect their members. On many issues unions have been able to safeguard their membersinterests by effective campaigning and lobbying.The Changing Trade Unions In A Changing Environment
Over the past 10-15 years there have been a number of important changes that have affected thetrade unions.Membership of unions has been in sharp decline since the late 1970’s. This is after 30 years ofsteady increases in numbersTrade union density is also falling dramatically, it was 32% in the autumn of 1992, a 2% fallfrom the Spring of 1989.Although the overall trend was for membership numbers to fall, the number of female unionmembers rose by 20,000 between 1991 and 1992.There are a number of factors that have had an effect on union membership. These include theeconomy, economic, technological and labour market change, growth of smaller independentbusinesses, government, leadership and demographic trends.Trade Union PowerIt has been argued by many that trade union power has in fact diminished. One reason cited isthe fall in union membership, however this is too simplistic. Other factors have played a centralrole in the demise of union power.
GOVERNMENT LEGISLATIONLegal ImmunityBefore 1979 employers were forbidden from taking civil action in court for damages resultingfrom industrial action by unions. This was a result of the 1974 Trade Union and LabourRelations Act.However the 1982 Employment Act made unions liable for any action taken that was notcovered by the 1974 Act. One result from this was that courts became willing to grantinjunctions preventing unions from taking action not covered in the Act. Injunctions are courtorders instructing unions to refrain from action while a court hearing over a dispute is takingplace. Judges might grant the injunction if they feel a business would suffer if the actioncontinued.Since the 1990 Employment Act, unions have also been liable for damage to customers orsuppliers as a result of action which is not covered by the conditions in the Acts.PicketingThis involves the rights of workers on strike to assemble and persuade others to help or jointhem. Secondary picketing occurs when members from one place of work picket an unrelatedplace of work.The 1974 Act made secondary picketing unlawful, but it was difficult to enforce. The 1982Employment Act made it possible for civil action to be taken against secondary picketing.
The Closed ShopUnder this system employees were obliged to be a member of the union if a closed shopagreement existed. Anyone refusing to join had no defence against unfair dismissal for thatreason.The 1980 and 1982 Employment Acts meant that any union agreement coming into existenceafter August 1980 had to be approved by an 80% vote in a secret ballot.Other LegislationThe 1984 Trade Union Act forced unions to take secret ballots before action took place if theaction was to be legal.The 1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act led to the following measures:The right for workers to have a postal Ballot onunion action and the right to have unionsubscriptions deducted from pay without consent.The right for workers not to be expelled orexcluded from a union other than for certainreasons, such as not belonging to a certain tradeas stated in union rules.
The right for employers to have 7 days notice ofindustrial action.The right for people deprived of goods or servicesby industrial action to take action to prevent it.In addition to these changes in legislation the government removed the Trades Union Congress(TUC) from the consultation process by the Conservatives in 1979.PUBLIC OPINIONUnion action is likely to be more effective if there is support from the public. In recent yearsunions have been portrayed by the media as being disruptive to UK business and unwilling tochange in the face of competition, and have lost support as a result.MANAGERS AND EMPLOYEES VIEWSIt has been suggested that mangers (especially) and employees have developed an aggressiveattitude towards unions as a result of government legislation and uncertainty.Employees’ industrial actionIt is possible to distinguish between unorganised and organised action.
Unorganised action occurs when the worker responds to a situation of conflict in the only way heknows how. This reaction is rarely based upon any calculated strategy.Unorganised (or unofficial) actionby the employees can come in a number of forms:· High labour turnover: workers leave the company without giving the necessary notice.· Poor time keeping· High levels of absenteeism· Low levels of effort· Inefficient work· Deliberate time wasting· Unofficial strikes: these are not backed by the employers union. These are often takenwhen workers down tools in immediate reaction to an employers decision.Organised (official) actionThis is action that is backed by the union. This action can take a number of different forms:WORK TO RULEMeans that workers do not carry out duties that are not in their employment contract. They alsomay carry out managements orders to the letter. This can mean workers observing safety laws
to the letter, when they are normally disregarded. Working to rule does not mean that workersare working in breach of their contract, simply that they carry out tasks exactly as their contractsstate. This has the implication that tasks are carried out inefficiently. For example if traindrivers were to work to rule, trains would be late arriving or even cancelled. Drivers may delaytrains by refusing to trains out until rigorous safety checks have been carried out.GO SLOWEmployees deliberately attempt to slow down production, whilst still working within the terms oftheir contract.OVERTIME BANThis limits the working hours to the agreed contract of employment for normal hours. It is usedby unions to demonstrate that workers are prepared to take further collective actions if theirdemands are not met. It has the drawback for workers because it results in lost wages. It canlead to a decrease in costs for the business, but it can also result in a fall in the production. It canbe especially effective where production takes place overnight, e.g., coal mines, large productionlines.SIT-INSAre mass occupations of the work premises by the workers where production ceases to continue.The aim is to protest against management decisions, and in the case of closure it prevents themovement of machinery to other premises, this is a redundancy sit-in. A collective bargainingsit-in can be used as an alternative to other forms of employee action.
WORK-INSOccurs when the workers refuse to stop working in the hope of showing that the factory is still aviable concern. It is used when there is a threat or order of closure.Sit-ins and work-ins are both illegal occupation of the premises by the workers. These forms ofaction offer the employees a degree of control over the premises and it enables them to maintaingroup solidarity and morale.STRIKEThis is seen as the ultimate sanction that can be used by the trade unions. They are normallycalled in connection with terms and conditions of employment and wages. They can be officialor unofficial. Official strikes occur when the union officially supports its members inaccordance with union rules during a dispute. Unofficial strikes have no union backing orsupport. They have in the past usually been called by shop stewards in response to a particularincident. Such strikes tend to be short term, local, unpredictable and disruptive for business.There is no single reason that explains the trend instoppages in Britain. A study of strikes carried out byresearchers for the Department of Employment. Theydiscovered that:· strikes tend to be over major issues.
· Strikes are concentrated in a very smallproportion of plants - often in larger ones in certainindustries in certain areas of the country.· Industries and regions that have large factories,on average, tend to experience relatively highnumbers of strikes. These strikes occur fairlyoften.PICKETINGPrimary Picketing is legal. This involves members of a union on strike standing outside a firmsentrance trying to persuade other workers not to cross it.Secondary Picketing is not legal. This involves workers who are on strike from one firm tryingto dissuade workers at a firm not involved with the strike from going to work. Secondarypicketing is resorted to by workers to try and spread the impact of their action.Trends in Industrial ActionThe number of working days lost to stoppages has decreased greatly over the past decade.Problems of Industrial Action
There can be problems for both employers and employees.EMPLOYERS’ PROBLEMS· A go slow or work to rule can reduce output.Strike action could mean threat orders areunfulfilled and revenue and profits could fall.If it causes production to stop, then machinery andother resources will be lying idle. Businesses havefixed costs which have to be covered, even ifproduction is not taking place.Industrial action can lead to poor futurerelationships with customers. Grievances can carryon after settlement of action, leading to poormotivation and communication.Managers who are concerned with settling adispute will neglect planning for the future.EMPLOYEES’ PROBLEMSA work to rule, go slow or a strike can lead to aloss of wages.
Prolonged industrial action may lead to the closureof the plant. Employees would then be maderedundant.If industrial action fails then it can leave theemployees in a weaker position than before.Members may also leave a union if they feel thatthe union is unable to support them.Benefits of Industrial ActionIt clears the air. Employers and employees mayhave grievances that an industrial dispute can bringout into the open. Once the dispute is resolved theatmosphere could improve.New rules that were previously contested could bemodified leading to better feeling around thefactory.Management goals may be changed. For examplemanagers may consult unions in any future changeof working practice.
It can provide each side with a betterunderstanding of the other sides desires andobjectives.