Monday, February 4, 2008

Misconceptions About Trade Union


There are many misconceptions about trade unions. Firstly, their members are not just in manual trades; there are trade unions for everyone from airline pilots to zoologists. Secondly, there are no 'dinosaurs' - unions have a responsible and progressive approach to industrial relations. Nor are they dominated by old, white males - forty percent of members are women, and many unions now have sections dedicated to meeting the needs of young workers.

Most employers do try to follow the law and be fair and responsible, but problems are inherent in the very nature of the relationship between employer and employee. Even when there is a forward-looking, understanding management and a loyal and co-operative work force, there will be differences of opinion in the relationship between management and staff. From time to time, organizations need to respond to new situations. Staff will be asked to change their patterns of work. You may be faced with doing something that you do not want to do. You may be asked to learn difficult new skills. You may be asked to work over a weekend when you had planned something else. Redundancy now touches every level of an organization. Knowing your statutory rights or best practice in these situations is not always easy on your own. Alone, raising issues can be pretty daunting - if not impossible.
This is where trade unions can help. They can provide you with the advice and support to ensure that these differences of opinion do not turn into major conflicts. The more members a trade union has in a particular company, the more likely it is that there will be formal 'recognition'. This means that management has agreed to allow the union to represent its members. It might also mean that management and the union meet every year to discuss pay and conditions - such as hours of work. At present, forty-four out of the top fifty companies recognize unions, and the results are impressive. The average union member earns more than the average non-member. In private companies the union "mark-up" is 6p in the pound for manual workers and 4p in the pound for white collar staff. The average union member also gets more paid holiday than the average non-member. Two out of three union members get twenty-five days or more paid leave a year. Only one in three non-members enjoys this much holiday. Recognized unions, therefore, produce real results for their members and are responsible for tangible differences in the living and working conditions of many working people.
Even if a union is not recognized, members can receive free advice and support on anything connected with their employment. Membership of a union is an insurance policy. Unions win more than £300 million a year in compensation for members who suffer injuries or discrimination at work. Non-union members are twice as likely to be seriously injured at work. Not only do unions do a great deal to prevent problems in the first instance (by, for example, lobbying for proper health and safety regulations, or for a rigorous equal opportunities policy), they are also on hand to help when things go wrong (by, for example, giving legal advice and counseling, and advising members on their rights in relation to contracts, conditions, discrimination and dismissal).

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