Trade unions are organisations of workers that seek through collective bargaining with employers to:
Individual trade unions have historically been associated with specific industries, trades and professions. Examples of trade unions which are still active include:
|Association of Flight Attendants (AFA)|
Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)
Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)
Communication Workers Union (CWU)
Fire Brigades Union (FBU)
National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Prison Officers Association (POA)
Professional Footballers Association (PFA)
Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G)
The two main functions of a trade union are to represent their members and to negotiate with employers. The basic concept behind a trade union is that of increased bargaining and negotiation power which comes from acting together.
Not surprisingly, trade unions often refer to a traditional rallying call – “unity is strength”.
The traditional view of the employer/trade union relationship has been one of confrontation. However, in most cases employers and union representatives have a constructive relationship. Indeed, it is possible to identify several advantages of unionisation from the employers’ point of view:
In the UK there has been a long term decline in union membership. In 2008, only 28% of people in a job in the UK were members of a trade union. That percentage is much lower in the private sector where less than one in six employees is in a union. Unionisation is much higher in the public sector – at over 50%.
The overall level of trade union membership in the UK is shown in this chart produced by the Office of National Statistics:
From the chart, you can see that total trade union membership in the UK has almost halved from its peak of over 13 million in the late 1970’s.
The extent of trade union representation also varies enormously by sector. For example, nearly 60% of people working in education are members of a trade union but only 6% of people in hotels and restaurants and only 11% of people working in wholesale, retail and motor trades
The main reasons for the decline in union membership are:
Partly as a result of their declining membership, unions now have significantly less power and influence to determine pay and conditions than twenty years ago although in some industries (including postal workers, railway worker, fire fighters and prison officers) unions are still prepared to exert their “industrial muscle”.
Under UK law employers must recognise a trade union in pay and employment discussions when a majority of the workforce want to be represented and has voted for it. But there is little evidence that union members secure any significant wage “mark-up” or greater job protection than people in non-union jobs.