trade union member pays a subscription. The amount varies from union to union
and is normally 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
pay their subscription fees in different ways. It may be collected by direct
debit from your bank account, deducted directly from your wages or paid in
cash or by cheque to your union representative or full time official.
exchange members receive the benefits of representation, negotiation,
protection and other services from their union.
How Has Membership Changed Over The Last Few Years?
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 overall figures but union membership varies enormously by
industry and by the types of jobs that people do.
union membership has declined over the last two decades. In 1979 13.3 million
people were members of trade unions and the proportion of employees who were
union members stood at 55%.
are several reasons for this fall in membership, including:
- a dramatic fall in the number of jobs in
manufacturing industries where union membership was traditionally high
- larger numbers of unemployed people
- a fall in traditional full time employment and an
increase in part time and temporary workers who are less likely to join
- an increase in the proportion of the workforce
employed by small companies where it is often difficult for unions to
- hostile legislation - the Conservative government
has introduced laws which make it more difficult for unions to operate and
keep their members. These laws are explored in more detail under “How
have changes in the law over the last few years affected unions”.
trade union membership is still quite high and many people are employed in
workplaces where unions are recognised by management for negotiating pay and
conditions of employment. In 1995 an estimated 47% or 10.2 million of all
employees reported that they worked in these workplaces.
is also evidence that the decline in union membership is beginning to slow
up. The TUC has launched a major recruitment drive called New Unionism -
Organising for Growth and many unions are stepping up their efforts to
recruit in new industries and jobs. More and more people are turning to trade
unions because they want the protection they can provide.
main service a union provides for its members is negotiation and
representation. There are other benefits people get from being members of
- Information and advice
- Member services
What Is The Role
Of Trade Unions In Industrial Disputes?
"collective bargaining" takes place quietly and agreements are
quickly reached by the union and the employer. Occasionally disagreements do
occur and the two sides cannot agree. In these cases the union may decide to
take industrial action.
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
strike is only called as a last resort. Strikes are often in the news but are
rare. Both sides have a lot to lose. Employers lose income because of
interruptions to production or services. Employees lose their salaries and
may find that their jobs are at risk.
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is often used to help
find a solution to a dispute which is acceptable to both sides.
How Have Changes In The Law Over The Last Few Years
Since 1979 the Conservative Government has introduced
many changes to the laws on employment rights and on trade union affairs.
other European countries are currently improving their employment rights and
increasing employee consultation. Recent legislation in Britain goes against
this trend. It removes many employment rights for many people at work and
curbs trade union activities. The TUC believes that the laws were introduced
due to the Government's hostility to trade unions and because the Government
believes that employment rights are a burden on business.
main items of legislation are:-
- Trade Union Act 1984
- Wages Act 1986
- Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993
acts create a complex legal framework on employment matters which overall
have had the following main impacts upon employees.
- Individual employment rights
- Trade union membership and representation
- Industrial action
What Are The Main Challenges Facing Trade Unions?
the last two decades trade unions have faced major economic and political
change. The kind 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, has shrunk dramatically and new
sectors - like the finance and voluntary sectors - are becoming more
important to the British economy.
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 a growing problem for people at work. Many
people are unemployed or work under the constant threat of redundancy.
the same time people have less protection and fewer rights at work than they
had two decades ago. New laws have weakened employment rights in areas like
pay and unfair dismissal. Legislation has also curbed trade union activities.
these changes throw up significant challenges to the trade union movement.
The types of industries where union membership was traditionally high have
suffered heavy job losses. People are less likely to be members of unions in
new industries, small organisations and when they are employed on temporary
contracts. New laws on trade union organisation make it more difficult for
unions to represent their members and to negotiate improvements to their
the current economic climate makes trade unions more important than ever.
People whose jobs are insecure need advice and support. They need help on
contract terms, pensions and employment rights. They also need help with
getting training so that they have skills which make them more
"employable" if their jobs are restructured or disappear.
How Have Unions Responded To These Challenges?
challenge for unions is to adapt to these changes and ensure that they are
relevant to all working people. Unions are responding by:
- launching major recruitment drives and trying to
attract new members in jobs and industries which in the past have not had
high union membership.
- putting education and training high up the
bargaining agenda so that their members have the skills and qualifications
to improve their employment prospects
- forging a new deal at the workplace by working in
partnership with employers on common issues
- mounting campaigns to defend the rights of
What Is The Impact Of Trade Unions On Business?
unions recognise that organisations must be competitive in the global markets
if they are to be successful and provide secure employment for employees. The
agenda for trade unions in the 1990s is working in partnership with employers
to improve businesses and services.
unions have an important role in:
- improving communication between employees and
managers so that employees can understand and be committed to the
- negotiating improvements to pay and working
conditions so that people feel more satisfaction at work and stay longer
in their jobs
- encouraging companies to invest in training and
development so that employees have the skills necessary for improved
products and services
- acting as a positive force for change - by
winning employees' support to the introduction of new technologies and
most successful companies are ones where unions are recognised. 44 of the
Financial Times Top 50 companies recognise trade unions.
What Is The Relationship Between Trade Unions And
try to influence the political parties and win support for their policies.
They lobby MPs and peers of all parties, keep them up to date with research
and campaigns and encourage their support during parliamentary debates and
the scrutiny of bills.
unions find that their closest relationship is with the Labour Party because
of a shared history and common objectives. Many have good relationships with
the Liberal Democrats. Relations
with Conservatives tend to be more difficult. Many Conservatives are hostile
to trade unions but this is not always the case and unions still try to work
with Conservatives on an issue by issue basis.
the 1913 Trade Union Act trade unions have only been able to spend money on
political activity through a separate political fund. This is used for
campaigning on issues which are seen as political, for example campaigning
against government policy.
1984 Trade Union Act stated that unions must ballot their members once every
ten years on whether the union should have a political fund. Following that
act members of different unions have voted to keep their political funds and
members of unions which had not previously had a fund voted to set one up.
£16 million is spent each year by trade unions on political activity. Half
of this money is channelled through the Labour Party.
Affiliation To The Labour Party
trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party but just as many are not.
Those that affiliate pay an annual subscription based on the number of their
members who have agreed to pay a political levy. Members can opt out of this
levy if they wish.
Party affiliation gives union members a say in Labour Party policy and a
chance to vote in elections for the Labour Party leadership.
What Is The Relationship Between Trade Unions And
seek to work with the government of the day to win support for their
policies. They put their case to ministers and civil servants, and some
invite ministers to speak at union conferences.
the previous Conservative government brought in legislation hostile to trade
union and it was generally opposed to extending rights at work, it still
consulted with unions on issues which affect their members. On many issues
unions have been able to safeguard their members' interests by effective
campaigning and lobbying.
The Changing Trade Unions In A Changing Environment
the past 10-15 years there have been a number of important changes that have
affected the trade unions.
of unions has been in sharp decline since the late 1970’s.
This is after 30 years of steady increases in numbers
union density is also falling dramatically, it was 32% in the autumn of 1992,
a 2% fall from the Spring of 1989.
the overall trend was for membership numbers to fall, the number of female
union members rose by 20,000 between 1991 and 1992.
are a number of factors that have had an effect on union membership.
These include the economy, economic, technological and labour market
change, growth of smaller independent businesses, government, leadership and
has been argued by many that trade union power has in fact diminished.
One reason cited is the fall in union membership, however this is too
simplistic. Other factors have
played a central role in the demise of union power.
1979 employers were forbidden from taking civil action in court for damages
resulting from industrial action by unions.
This was a result of the 1974 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
the 1982 Employment Act made unions liable for any action taken that was not
covered by the 1974 Act. One
result from this was that courts became willing to grant injunctions
preventing unions from taking action not covered in the Act.
Injunctions are court orders instructing unions to refrain from action
while a court hearing over a dispute is taking place. Judges might grant the injunction if they feel a business
would suffer if the action continued.
the 1990 Employment Act, unions have also been liable for damage to customers
or suppliers as a result of action which is not covered by the conditions in
involves the rights of workers on strike to assemble and persuade others to
help or join them. Secondary
picketing occurs when members from one place of work picket an unrelated
place of work.
1974 Act made secondary picketing unlawful, but it was difficult to enforce.
The 1982 Employment Act made it possible for civil action to be taken
against secondary picketing.
The Closed Shop
this system employees were obliged to be a member of the union if a closed
shop agreement existed. Anyone
refusing to join had no defence against unfair dismissal for that reason.
1980 and 1982 Employment Acts meant that any union agreement coming into
existence after August 1980 had to be approved by an 80% vote in a secret
1984 Trade Union Act forced unions to take secret ballots before action took
place if the action was to be legal.
1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act led to the following
- The right for workers to have
a postal Ballot on union action and the right to have union subscriptions
deducted from pay without consent.
- The right for workers not to
be expelled or excluded from a union other than for certain reasons, such
as not belonging to a certain trade as stated in union rules.
- The right for employers to
have 7 days notice of industrial action.
- The right for people deprived
of goods or services by industrial action to take action to prevent it.
addition to these changes in legislation the government removed the Trades
Union Congress (TUC) from the consultation process by the Conservatives in
action is likely to be more effective if there is support from the public.
In recent years unions have been portrayed by the media as being
disruptive to UK business and unwilling to change in the face of competition,
and have lost support as a result.
MANAGERS AND EMPLOYEES VIEWS
has been suggested that mangers (especially) and employees have developed an
aggressive attitude towards unions as a result of government legislation and
Employees’ industrial action
is possible to distinguish between unorganised and organised action.
action occurs when the worker responds to a situation of conflict in the only
way he knows how. This reaction
is rarely based upon any calculated strategy.
Unorganised (or unofficial) action
the employees can come in a number of
High labour turnover: workers leave the company without
giving the necessary notice.
Poor time keeping
High levels of absenteeism
Low levels of effort
Deliberate time wasting
Unofficial strikes: these are not backed by the employers
union. These are often taken
when workers down tools in immediate reaction to an employers decision.
Organised (official) action
is action that is backed by the union.
action can take a number of different forms:
WORK TO RULE
that workers do not carry out duties that are not in their employment
contract. They also may carry
out management's orders to the letter.
can mean workers observing safety laws to the letter, when they are normally
disregarded. Working to rule
does not mean that workers are working in breach of their contract, simply
that they carry out tasks exactly as their contracts state.
This has the implication that tasks are carried out inefficiently.
For example if train drivers were to work to rule, trains would be
late arriving or even cancelled. Drivers
may delay trains by refusing to trains out until rigorous safety checks have
been carried out.
deliberately attempt to slow down production, whilst still working within the
terms of their contract.
limits the working hours to the agreed contract of employment for normal
hours. It is used by unions to
demonstrate that workers are prepared to take further collective actions if
their demands are not met. It
has the drawback for workers because it results in lost wages.
It can lead to a decrease in costs for the business, but it can also
result in a fall in the production. It
can be especially effective where production takes place overnight, e.g.,
coal mines, large production lines.
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
the movement of machinery to other premises, this is a redundancy sit-in.
A collective bargaining sit-in can be used as an alternative to other
forms of employee action.
when the workers refuse to stop working in the hope of showing that the
factory is still a viable concern. It
is used when there is a threat or order of closure.
and work-ins are both illegal occupation of the premises by the workers.
These forms of action offer the employees a degree of control over the
premises and it enables them to maintain group solidarity and morale.
is seen as the ultimate sanction that can be used by the trade unions.
They are normally called in connection with terms and conditions of
employment and wages. They can
be official or unofficial. Official
strikes occur when the union officially supports its members in accordance
with union rules during a dispute. Unofficial
strikes have no union backing or support.
They have in the past usually been called by shop stewards in response
to a particular incident. Such strikes tend to be short term, local, unpredictable and
disruptive for business.
There is no single reason that explains the trend in
stoppages in Britain. A study of
strikes carried out by researchers for the Department of Employment.
They discovered that:
strikes tend to be over major issues.
Strikes are concentrated in a very small proportion of plants -
often in larger ones in certain industries in certain areas of the country.
Industries and regions that have large factories, on average,
tend to experience relatively high numbers of strikes.
These strikes occur fairly often.
Picketing is legal. This
involves members of a union on strike standing outside a firms entrance
trying to persuade other workers not to cross it.
Picketing is not legal. This
involves workers who are on strike from one firm trying to dissuade workers
at a firm not involved with the strike from going to work. Secondary picketing is resorted to by workers to try and
spread the impact of their action.
Trends in Industrial Action
number of working days lost to stoppages has decreased greatly over the past
of Industrial Action
There can be problems for both
employers and employees.
A go slow or work to rule can reduce output.
Strike action could mean threat orders are unfulfilled and revenue and
profits could fall.
- If it causes production
to stop, then machinery and other resources will be lying idle.
Businesses have fixed costs which have to be covered, even if
production is not taking place.
- Industrial action can
lead to poor future relationships with customers.
Grievances can carry on after settlement of action, leading to poor
motivation and communication.
- Managers who are
concerned with settling a dispute will neglect planning for the future.
- A work to rule, go slow or a strike can lead to a
loss of wages.
- Prolonged industrial action may lead to the
closure of the plant. Employees
would then be made redundant.
- If industrial action fails then it can leave the
employees in a weaker position than before. Members may also leave a union if they feel that the
union is unable to support them.
Benefits of Industrial Action