If you’ve attended university, then you’ll know about the practical benefits union membership can bring. When out in the real world of work, however, why do employees still want to join trade unions?
The National Union of Students (NUS) has probably done more than any other union to offer customised benefits to its members. Students soon learn that 10% off books, 15% off clothes or even a healthy discount on an occasional pizza can make membership worthwhile.
Once we’re in the workplace, however, there have to be more compelling reasons to join a union, which, by this stage, wants to take its subs from our salaries, and when recent legislation means we are quite well protected in terms of pay, equality and other important issues. Employees are still joining trade unions, though, so why should this be?
The right to withdraw our labour has been enshrined in law since the last century, but this course of action is only the start (and, in some cases, the end) of a dispute without a strategy to carry the message further and to debate an issue beyond the initial grievance. It is very difficult for an individual, or even a group of people, to do this without being familiar with the laws and protections afforded to employees.
The Labour Party claims that workers who are members of a trade union are less likely to lose their jobs and that they are 10% more likely to earn higher salaries than non-members. This alone may make people join, but there are more pertinent reasons. Following the near-decade of austerity introduced since the financial crash, many people (particularly those in the public sector) found themselves made redundant for the first time in their lives.
At such a difficult time, they turned to their trade unions to help navigate them through that minefield. They relied on their union to make sure they were given as much notice as possible and to make sure they were fairly dealt with, even if they couldn’t save their jobs, and properly compensated. It therefore follows that family and friends of those who were affected will also have heard about the difficulties of losing a job and livelihood and will have been convinced about the value of membership.
They will by now realise that jobs can be lost as well as found, and so union membership doesn’t just matter when they have a job but might even be more valuable when they lose one.
Of course, people don’t only use trade unions when they are in danger of losing their jobs. Unions can offer free opportunities to train for new roles or promotion. They also support workers by advising them prior to meetings and appraisals and can even accompany them when they have the dreaded meeting with the boss.
Not everybody has the strength or confidence to broach important issues or to represent themselves when asking for a fair chance at progression within their organisation. Finally, if an employee has a grievance or a disciplinary issue, they can also turn to their trade union to represent them legally and to advise them on their rights during the process. Some think that this more than compensates them for membership fees.
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