- What is a trade union?
- How will joining Unite benefit me?
- What experience does Unite have in representing workers in my industry?
- Will Unite tell my employer when I join?
- Will my employer be angry if I join a trade union?
- What is Unite’s policy on Equality and Diversity at work?
- What is trade union recognition and how will this benefit me?
- What is consultation and how does being a Unite member help me if my employer is proposing changes, redundancies or a TUPE transfer?
- I’ve seen stories about Unite in the press, don’t they just pick fault with employers and organise strikes?
- Hasn’t the world of work changed dramatically, so much so that unions are no longer relevant?
- Does joining Unite mean supporting the Labour Party?
- I like the idea of joining but I’m still not sure. What should I do?
What is a trade union?
A trade union is a group of employees who join together to defend and improve their rights at work and conditions of employment. Unite is a general trade union that represents members working across all sectors of the economy. However, we also recognise that workers in different industries have specific needs and priorities that need to be addressed through their union. Members who are technology, communications and digital workers belong to the GPM & IT sector of Unite, which has its own regional and national committees within the wider union structures.
All Unite members also belong to a branch. Those employed in the technology, communications and digital industries within Greater London are part of the Unite London Digital & Tech Branch, which was set up specifically for these workers.
How will joining Unite benefit me?
There are dozens of reasons to join a union, but ultimately it comes down to protecting your rights in the workplace. Unite works hard to ensure all workers have the right representation in their workplace, as well as making your voice heard in government debates and decision-making.
As an individual, being a Unite member gives you access to advice and support. For example, have you ever had a situation at work where you thought, “this doesn’t seem quite right”? Unite members have access to advice and support from workplace representatives and full-time officials who can provide potential solutions and where required arrange for representation at formal meetings with your employer.
Unite has assisted countless members of the London Digital & Tech branch to resolve workplace issues and achieve better outcomes when faced with disciplinaries, grievances, redundancy, TUPE and discrimination at work.
However, real power comes from standing together with colleagues as an organised group (see the section on trade union recognition below). Getting organised and recruiting your colleagues into the union is how workers get a truly empowered voice at work that management will listen to.
What experience does Unite have in representing workers in my industry?
Unite is the product of a number of mergers of trade unions over the last 20-30 years. Both Unite and its legacy unions have a long history of membership and representation in the IT and communications industries, in particular in large companies like Fujitsu, DXC and IBM. We represent individual members and collectively bargain for groups of workers in a multitude of roles: system and database administrators, software developers, SREs, designers, analysts, hardware and network engineers and those working in a service delivery, project or product management capacity.
Our membership is growing in tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook but also in smaller digital start-ups, agencies and co-operatives.
Will Unite tell my employer when I join?
No, absolutely not!
It’s a personal choice who you tell that you’re a union member. Membership of a trade union is considered sensitive personal data under Data Protection legislation. Unite does not pass this information to employers.
Will my employer be angry if I join a trade union?
There’s no valid reason for your employer to be angry. Unite only wants fair, open and honest treatment at work for our members.
Employers have their own associations (TechUK, MakeUK, the CBI and the Institute of Directors for example) to represent their interests, so why shouldn’t workers and employees have a collective representation for themselves?
Joining Unite should not make your employer angry – if it does then you definitely need a union!
What is Unite’s policy on Equality and Diversity at work?
Unite is firmly committed to equality and diversity within our union. We feel the members of our union are a strong representation of the diversity within our communities. For more information please visit unitetheunion.org/what-we-do/equalities
What is trade union recognition and how will this benefit me?
A ‘recognised’ trade union bargains collectively on behalf of a group of employees, called a Bargaining Unit.
In the UK, Statutory Recognition requires an employer to:
- Collectively negotiate with the union over Pay, Working Hours and Holiday entitlements
- Consult over matters of Health and Safety
- Consult over the training policy for the bargaining group (every six months)
In the UK, the majority of concerns people have about their place of work fall into one of these categories either directly or indirectly.
Recognised trade unions also have the right to seek information necessary for collective bargaining purposes which also makes hiding from the workforce how well (or badly) an employer is performing financially much more difficult.
What is consultation and how does being a Unite member help me if my employer is proposing changes, redundancies or a TUPE transfer?
Consultation (when carried out correctly) is dialogue between an employer and employee(s) or their representatives, where an exchange of views takes place over a proposal. This mostly takes place when either an employer is planning to make redundancies of one or more employees or they are subject to a TUPE transfer to a new employer. The key requirement is that this dialogue takes place before a final decision is made by management in the case of redundancy, or when measures (changes) are proposed by a new employer in the case of a TUPE transfer.
Employers will often do nothing more than create a paper trail showing meetings have taken place in an attempt to show legal compliance. When a trade union is involved, the quality of the consultation is nearly always improved.
When an employer proposes to make 20 or more redundancies or a TUPE transfer is proposed involving multiple individuals (even if less than 20), and where a trade union is not already recognised, employee representatives must be elected from the affected employee group.
Regardless of the numbers affected, Unite members can get advice and support through a redundancy process or TUPE, including asking the right questions during a consultation and how to challenge improper selection, pooling or unlawful measures that are being proposed.
If employee reps are to be elected for a consultation, Unite members can and should put themselves forward for the role. As a member you have access to support and training resources so you stand the best chance of making the consultation effective, which benefits everyone (including yourself).
I’ve seen stories about Unite in the press, don’t they just pick fault with employers and organise strikes?
This is what some politicians, employers and newspapers who are hostile to trade unions would like you to believe, but the truth is not all relationships Unite has with employers are hostile all the time.
Unite has secured beneficial changes in many workplaces in our industries on issues like shift patterns, working hours, family friendly policies, overtime pay and pay banding systems. We’ve also helped countless individual members with issues in the workplace up to and including legal claims. It’s rarely possible to publicise this work however as individual resolutions often result in a settlement agreement which prohibits onward disclosure.
Industrial action is always a last resort, but Unite is a fighting back trade union that never shies away from standing up for members and supporting those who take industrial action.
More information can be found at unitetheunion.org/why-join/trade-unions-know-your-facts-from-the-fiction.
Hasn’t the world of work changed dramatically, so much so that unions are no longer relevant?
This is a common argument made by employers and some politicians. But the reality is that trade unions are more relevant than ever before.
Income inequality (the difference in income between the lowest and the top 1 per cent in society) has been linked to the decline in trade union membership and bargaining agreements between 1979 and 2018.
Despite claims by employers in our industries that they are progressive and treat their staff well, we experience the same difficulties and challenges at work as other sectors of the economy.
Excessive hours (‘crunch’), unpaid overtime, discrimination, problems getting flexible working and a lack of a transparent pay and grading system that allows you to plan your career and progress are all subjects trade unions can and do assist them members with. This can be done either through individual support or by getting trade union recognition and bargaining with an employer collectively.
It’s often said that history repeats itself. In the nineteenth century workers felt like they had no influence over pay and conditions at work and the bosses kept demanding more for less (sound familiar?) This resulted in the creation of the trade union movement we have today.
Does joining Unite mean supporting the Labour Party?
Only if you opt-in as an affiliated Labour Supporter or become a full member of the Labour Party (which all members are welcome to do).
But not all Unite members are Labour Party members, supporters or vote Labour. Most trade unions, whether they are affiliated to the Labour Party or not, have a political fund which is used for campaigning to advance the interests of their members. This is used, for example, to campaign and lobby on issues like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, defending the NHS, etc.
Unite funds used for the Labour Party are separate from our general political fund. All Unite members have the right to opt out of the general political fund.
Its important to remember that many employers also donate to political parties and campaigns, but with less oversight and rules governing donations than applies to trade unions. For example unions are required to maintain a separate political fund.
I like the idea of joining but I’m still not sure. What should I do?
No problem, it’s understandable that people sometimes want to have one-on-one discussions before they make this type of decision. We would be happy to answer any questions you have. Please get in contact at unitetheunion.org/contact-us – select the region where you live using the drop-down.