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Trade Unions in the UK

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Economics

As we all know, by and large, the pandemic has affected everyone in the world. Imagine an employee who has been affected by the pandemic and whom the employer has not supported. This person will not be able to cope with the situation. However, if the employee is a member of a union that works with employers on similar issues, the bargaining position is much better. In this article, you will learn which unions are active in the UK and how they can solve the problems of their members.

A union entails a group of people (employees/workers) coming together to represent the best interests of the workers.

The mission of trade unions is to help their members negotiate with their employers and obtain the best possible benefits for the members they represent.

Trade Union Laws in the UK

Initially, trade unions were counted as illegal forms of organisation. However, under the recommendation of the Royal Commission, trade unions in the UK were decriminalised in 1867 for the benefit of employees and employers. They were made legal in 1871 with the Trade Union Act 1871.

The Trade Union and Labour relations (Consolidated) act of 1992 regulated the labour law.1

New Trade Union Laws in the UK

Another trade union law was passed in the UK in 2016. The Trade Union Act 2016 was implemented on 1 March 2017.2 This new law established restrictions on the trade unions and their associated members to take industrial action and conduct their duties.

Trade Union Functions in the UK

Usually, the basic functions of all the trade unions remain the same across the globe. Some of the main trade union functions in the UK are:

  • Collective bargaining. The primary function and objective of the trade union are to bargain collectively for the rights of the employees and their benefits.

  • Safeguarding. Another function of UK trade unions (or even across the world) is safeguarding the workers from employer exploitation and unfair practices.

  • A bridge between employers and employees. Trade unions in the UK act as the bridge between the employees and employers and try to resolve problems without increasing conflicts.

  • Better working conditions. Trade unions attempt to get better working conditions for their associated members of trade unions, resulting in which employees benefitting from better working conditions and facilities.

  • Demanding higher pay. Trade unions also work to demand higher pay and get other benefits like pension, paid holidays, bonus, retirement schemes, etc.

Percentage of Workforce in Trade Unions in the UK

Trade unions had a significant decline in membership over the past three decades. However, with the declining economy and outburst of pandemics, more and more workforce are joining the trade unions in the UK.

The recent reports (as of May 2021) show the total workforce in the trade union in the UK has reached 6.6 million.3 The numbers went up with 2,28,000 more public sector employees joining the trade union. However, around 110,000 private sector employees moved out of the unions.3

Trade union members are unevenly distributed among private and public sectors, industry, and age groups.

In figure 1 below, we can see the total funds generated by the trade union by the end of September 2020.

Trade Unions in the UK Total funds of trade unions in the UK in £000's StudySmarterFigure 1. Total funds of trade unions in the UK in £000's - StudySmarterSource: UK Certification Office

Key Factors Affecting Trade Union Support in the UK

Unions are experiencing a significant decline in membership in the United Kingdom. Some factors or disadvantages of trade unions in the UK that are leading to a decline in support for unions are as follows.

Unawareness of Unions

While trade unions have existed for many years, many people may be unaware of the unions in the UK because the UK has a population from many European countries and other parts of the world. Hence, they may not be fully aware of the working of the unions and their association with them.

Improved Working Conditions by the Employers

Many employers are now ensuring better working conditions, paying at least national minimum wages and above, paid leaves and sick leaves, which has resulted in the employees trusting the employers for better working conditions and not joining the unions.

Corruption

We have heard of corruption in most places, similarly many times since a huge amount of money is involved in the trade unions as well, there is no denying that some of the unions are under corrupt practices and are working for the money. Even in the UK, there have been allegations against some of the trade union members being involved with employers, passing them the information and denying employment to some workers.

Examples of Trade Unions in the UK

Trade unions have played vital roles across the world. Some large trade unions have members from the private and public sectors in the UK, and we will discuss a few of these in the below examples.

Unison Trade Union

Unison is the 4th largest funded trade union in the UK. They represent and act for the members working in the public services and utilities. They work for the fairness and equality of their members and bargain with the employees.

Unison's trade union is spread across industries like healthcare, local government, education, police and justice, water, environment and transport, energy, and private contractors in many regions.

The latest campaign of Unison's for the NHS staff was One Team for Patient care. This campaign helped all the staff working for NHS, which included doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners, midwives, pharmacy technicians, ODPs, healthcare workers, and many more, get equal recognition for their tireless efforts during Covid-19 and throughout the pandemic. They are now getting recognition from the public and politicians due to Unison's campaign.

GMB Union

GMB Union, one of the largest funded trade unions in the UK, is trying to fight against the 'fire and rehire’ in the UK. Many companies, including British Gas, ASDA, councils, schools and many more, are resorting to fire and rehire wherein they are cutting the pay by up to 15% and are changing the terms and conditions of the contract for the current employees. The employees who disagree with the firm's terms and conditions are sacked.

Major dispute has occurred between the employees and british gas company and many of its employees went on to twitter to support GMB's campaign #StopTheBritishGasFire.

This campaign has got national attention; however, it is still spreading across the country and the world. GMB Trade Union is trying to get the attention of the political parties to end this and that fire and rehire be made illegal.

2011 Public Sector Strike

The most massive strike in the history of the UK was in 2011, when all the public sector staff went on strike for 24 hours for pension cuts. According to the Office for National Statistics, 1.39 million working days were lost due to the strike. Many trade unions were collectively involved across England.

The strike actions resulted in the disruption of services, including:

  • 19,000 out of 21,700 schools in England closed or partially closed4

  • 6,000 out of 30,000 non-urgent medical operations canceled4

  • 135,000 civil servants went on strike, representing just over a quarter of the civil service.4

  • So, about 79,000 NHS workers also went on strike.5

Trade Unions in the UK - Key Takeaways

  • Trade unions in the UK were decriminalised from 1867 for the benefit of employees and employers and were made legal in 1871 with the Trade Union Act, 1871.
  • The main function and objective of the trade union are to bargain collectively for the rights of the employees and their benefits.
  • Trade unions also demand higher pay and get other benefits like pension, paid holidays, bonuses, retirement schemes, etc.
  • The recent reports (as of May 2021) show the total workforce in the trade union in the UK has reached 6.6 million.
  • Trade union members are unevenly distributed among private and public sectors, industry, and age groups.

References:

1. UK Government, 1992

2. UK Government, 2016

3. The Guardian, 2021

4. Dan Milmo, Caroline Davies, Polly Curtis, Hélène Mulholland, Strikes over public sector pensions hit services across UK as 2 million walk out, The Guardian, 2011

5. British workers strike over retirement benefits, CNN, 2011

Trade Unions in the UK

There are some reports of corruption within trade unions. There have been allegations against some of the trade union members being involved with employers, passing them the information and denying employment to some workers.

The recent reports (as of May 2021) show the total workforce in the trade union in the UK has reached 6.6 million.3 The numbers went up with 2,28,000 more public sector employees joining the trade union. However, around 110,000 private sector employees moved out of the unions.

Trade unions also demand higher pay and get other benefits like pension, paid holidays, bonuses, retirement schemes, etc., which helps uplift the employees’ economic conditions.

Trade unions are seeing a significant decline in their members in the UK. Some of the factors which are resulting in the decline in trade union support in the UK are as follows: 


1. Unawareness of unions

2. Improved working conditions by the employers

3. Corruption

Trade unions have many functions. Some functions are:

  • Collective bargaining
  • Safeguarding
  • A bridge between employers and employees
  • Better working conditions
  • Demanding higher pay.

Final Trade Unions in the UK Quiz

Question

What is trade union?

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Answer

Trade unions are groups of people (employees/workers) coming together to fight in the best interest of the workers.

Show question

Question

When were the trade unions in the UK decriminalised?

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Answer

In 1867.

Show question

Question

Under whose recommendation were the trade unions in the UK decriminalised?

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Answer

Under the recommendation of the Royal Commission

Show question

Question

In what year was the Trade Union Act passed?

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Answer

1871.

Show question

Question

What are the functions of trade unions in the UK?

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Answer

1.  Collective Bargaining

2. Safeguarding

3. A bridge between employers and employees

4. Ensuring better working conditions

5.Demand higher pay

Show question

Question

Trade Unions in the UK are evenly distributed among private and public sectors. True or false?

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

When was the New Trade Union Act passed?

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Answer

In 2016.

Show question

Question

When was the New Trade Union Act in the UK implemented?

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Answer

The Trade Union Act, 2016 was implemented on 1 March 2017.

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Question

Name any four trade unions in the UK.

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Answer

  1.  GMB
  2. Unison
  3. Unite
  4. British Medical Association
  5. Prospect
  6. Communication workers union

Show question

Question

Which trade union started the campaign #StopTheBritishGasFire in the UK?

Show answer

Answer

GMB

Show question

Question

What was the campaign #StopTheBritishGasFire all about?

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Answer

Many companies, including British Gas, ASDA, councils, schools and many more, are resorting to firing and rehiring. They cut the pay by up to 15% and change the terms and conditions of the contract for the current employees.

Show question

Question

What is the total number of workforce in the trade union in the UK?

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Answer

The recent reports (as of May 2021) show the total workforce in the trade union in the UK has reached 6.6 million.

Show question

Question

What do trade unions work for? 

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Answer

Trade unions also work to demand higher pay and get other benefits like pension, paid holidays, bonus, retirement schemes, etc. 

Show question

Question

Which act in the UK regulates the Labour Law?

Show answer

Answer

The Trade Union and Labor relations (Consolidated) act 1992 is an act that regulates labour law. 

Show question

Question

There has always been growth in the trade union members in the UK since it was made legal. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

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