Trade unions and their role in an economy

A trade union is an organisation that represents the interests of its workers in negotiations about improving working conditions with employers and government.

Each employee who wishes to join a trade union must pay an annual fee, which contributes towards the costs and expenses that the trade union incurs when it provides services to its members, and supports industrial action by the workers.

Types of trade unions

1. Craft Unions
Craft unions represent workers across several industries with a particular skill.

2. Industrial Unions
Industrial unions represent all workers in one industry with different skills.

3. General Unions
General unions represent workers from many different occupations and industries.

4. White-collar Unions / Staff Associations
This type of unions represent workers in professional and commercial jobs.

A trade union will act in the best interest of the workers and try to secure the best possible working conditions, pay and protect jobs. Trade unions are financed by the workers who will normally pay a monthly subscription for the right to be a member. When a union represents a group of workers to their employers it is known as collective bargaining.

Aims of a trade union

1. To improve the pay of its members.

2. To improve the working conditions and the working practices of its members.

3. To support the training and the professional development of its members.

4. To ensure that their members’ interests are considered by the employers when any decision is made which will affect the workforce.

How do trade unions take action?

To achieve the above aims, trade unions may take different types of actions:

1. By negotiating a single union agreement with an employer.

This means, one union will represent all the workers in a particular place of work.

2. Official action:

This action can take a number of different forms:
• Work to rule – this means that workers do not carry out duties that are not in their employment contract. This can mean workers observing safety laws to the letter, when they are normally disregarded, which can lead to slower working;
• Overtime ban: It is when the employees refuse to work overtime or for additional hours of work apart from their normal working hours.
• Sit-ins – workers refuse to leave a premises after production has finished;
• Picketing – this involves members of a union on strike standing outside a firm’s entrance trying to persuade other workers not to cross it;
• Strike – this is the ultimate sanction a union can take. Employees refuse to work either for a set period of time or indefinitely. A majority of workers must vote in agreement of the strike in a secret ballot.

How successful are trade Unions?

Trade unions can really benefit their members. However especially in times of recession they cannot protect job losses nor gain wage increases. Often they can lead to firms having higher costs and in extreme cases the firms may become uncompetitive and in this case the firms may go out of business and workers may lose their jobs.

Trade unions today

Despite the good work that unions have done for laborers in the past, the union tradition is comparatively weak among the white-collar and (especially) the professional occupations, which have accounted for a large part of the new jobs in recent decades, so many of the iPod generation see unions as an anachronism.

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