10 reasons why unions are great / fab / key actors in the industrial geography of the UK
1. On average, union members receive higher pay, better sickness and pension benefits, more holiday and more flexible working hours than non-members. Union members earn more than 12.5% more per hour than non-union members (with average hourly earnings £13.07 for members and £11.62 for non-members).
2. Unions can also play a key role in reducing pay inequality. Research demonstrates that there continues to be a clear union pay premium for workers that tend to face pay discrimination: – women (9 per cent improvement); black & Asian employees (8 per cent) and manual workers (13 per cent) – trade unions clearly play a highly significant role in combating pay inequality.
3. Each year unions help over 100,000 people develop new skills. These programmes cover everything from continuing professional development to supporting workers who want to develop ‘skills for life’. The TUC and unions have trained over 22,000 Workplace Union Learn Reps. In addition to workplace based learning over 400 learning centres have been established and networked. Courses range from short, taster courses to longer programmes, skills for life, IT and NVQ’s and are open to trade union members and their families.
4. Trade unions are the most effective tool for ensuring good health and safety at work – put simply unionised workplaces are safer workplaces. There are more than 150,000 union safety representatives in the UK, trained to internationally recognised standards. These reps lower the accident rate by ensuring safe working practises, and reduce ill-health caused by the stress of working long hours, of being bullied, and of working in environments with poor lighting and ventilation.
5. Unions were the first to raise major concerns over levels of violence in the workplace, the effects of RSI, and passive smoking. When unions first raised the issue of stress at work, employers and the media argued it was nonsense. It is now recognised that workplace stress affects up to half a million people.
6. As a result of unfair treatment by employers, in 2004 unions won an estimated £16.2 million in compensation for their members at Employment Appeal Tribunals. Unfair dismissal awards won by trade unions are over three times higher than the average in a non-union backed unfair dismissal case. In 2007 unions won a record £330m in compensation for members through legal action. They also won £1m in equal pay claims – an average of £15,000 per member affected.
7. UK unions, through the TUC, have been at the forefront of ensuring better treatment for Britain’s 1.3 million agency workers. An agreement last year between the TUC, the employers’ organisation the CBI and the UK government secured UK agreement to the European Agency Workers Directive the implementation of which is being consulted on in 2009. Trade unions were instrumental to the introduction of the European Agency Workers Directive which builds on existing protection of agency workers rights campaigned for by UK trade unions.
8. Trade unions have a critical role to play in helping to change employer attitudes and ‘greening’ workplaces, reducing costs for employers, and making appositive contribution toward challenging climate change. The TUC’s ‘Green Workplaces’ project supported trade union initiatives to make six demonstration workplaces ‘greener’.
9. Unions not only make a difference to workers, they can also bring benefits to employers and the wider community. The Dept for Trade and Industry (now BIS) published a report in 2007 which assessed the benefits of trade union involvement and representation in the workplace – and found that by giving employees a voice, rather than them simply leaving a firm when they were unhappy, union reps significantly reduce the number of ‘exits’, improving labour retention and reducing absenteeism. The DTI estimated that this could be a saving to employers of between £72 and £143 million.
10. According to a recent TUC survey “Unions in the Community: A survey of union reps” union reps are heavily involved in campaigning and activities outside of work. Trade union reps are eight times more likely than the general population to engage in voluntary work and give more of their time to community organisations.
Stats taken from a new TUC publication ‘The Union Effect – the positive effect of trade unions on the economy and British society’, For a copy email me at croper (at) tuc.org.uk