Trade Unions
"A trade union is an independant self-regulating organization of workers
created to protect and advance the interests of its members through collective
action." Over recent years, it has become fashionable in many quarters to
write off Britain’s trade unions, to label them as obsolete institutions out
of touch with new realities and incapable of change. In today’s world of
individual employment contracts, performance-related pay schemes, Human Resource
and Total Quality Management and all the other ingredients of the so-called
‘new’ workplace, trade unions are often regarded as anachronistic obstacles
preventing success of the market economy. As collective voluntary organizations
that represent employees in the workplace, it is argued, trade unions no longer
serve a useful purpose. The main priority of this essay is to represent the
arguments for and against the relevance of trade unions in todays working
society. Furthermore, I shall comment on the future of the trade union movement,
based upon the facts and findings that helped construct this text. Trade unions
exist because an individual worker has very little power to influence decisions
that are made about his or her job. The greatest advantage in joining a trade
union is because, by doing so, individuals possess more chance of having a voice
and influence in their place of work. By joining forces with other workers, an
individual’s opinions and beliefs regarding their job will also be voiced by
other union members, thus creating a stronger stance against management, if
needed. Therefore, the main purpose of a trade union is to protect and improve
people\'s pay and conditions of employment. This objective is usually achieved
through negotiation and representation. Negotiation is where union
representatives discuss with management, issues which affect people working in
an organization. The union finds out the members’ views and relays these views
to management. Pay, working hours, holidays and changes to working practices are
the sort of issues that are negotiated. However, not all views will be taken on
board by management; there may be a difference of opinion between them and union
members. Negotiation, therefore, is about finding a solution to these
differences. This process is also known as collective bargaining. "In many
workplaces there is a formal agreement between the union and the company, which
states that the union has the right to negotiate with the employer. In these
organizations, unions are said to be recognised for collective bargaining
purposes." People who work in organizations where unions are recognised are
better paid, and are less likely to be made redundant than people who work in
organizations where unions are not recognised. Most collective bargaining takes
place quietly and agreements are quickly reached by the union and the employer.

Occasionally disagreements do occur, and in these cases the union may decide to
take industrial action. "If the problem cannot be resolved amicably, the
matter may go to an industrial tribunal." The purpose of industrial tribunals
is to make sure that employees and employers conform to employment laws. They
are made up of people outside the workplace who make a judgement about the case,
based on the employee’s and employer’s point of view. Cases that go to
industrial tribunals are usually about pay, unfair dismissal, redundancy or
discrimination at work. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
(ACAS) is often used to help find a solution to a dispute, which is acceptable
to both sides. "Its duty under the Employment Protection Act is to promote the
improvement of industrial relations and in particular to encourage the extension
of collective bargaining. Also to develop (and where necessary to reform)
collective bargaining machinery. Its main functions are: advisory work,
collective conciliation, individual conciliation, arbitration, and extended
investigation into industrial relations problems." Individuals can be
represented by trade unions when they encounter problems at work. If an employee
feels that they are being unfairly treated, he or she can ask the union
representative to help sort out the difficulty with the manager or employer.

Apart from negotiation and representation, many other benefits can be gained by
joining a trade union. One of these benefits is the fact that unions can offer
their members legal representation. Usually this is to help people to get
financial compensation for work-related injuries, or to assist people in taking
their employer to court. Members can also take full advantage of the wealth of
information which can be obtained from unions, of which can prove invaluable.

The kind of information available covers a range of issues i.e. the length of
holiday that an employee is entitled to each year, the amount of pay an employee
would be entitled to if they took maternity leave, and how