From the TUC

Rob learns as he represents NHS workers – #heartunions

08 Feb 2017, By

8th – 14th February 2017 is #heartunions week, celebrating the great work unions do, and paying tribute to the reps who are an important part of that. The Unsung Heroes series is running all week, sharing stories from reps and members about how being part of their union has impacted their lives.

Rob left school with no qualifications

“My dad was a miner and his philosophy in life was that you contributed to the household as soon as you were able. That meant leaving school, getting a job and paying your way. The school I went to as a lad was a rough one and that, combined with the feeling that I wasn’t in the right place in my life to take in that huge amount of learning, meant I ended up leaving without a single qualification.

“I remember it was a Thursday when I left school; but by the Monday I had a job at the local lingerie factory. I was just 14 years and 11 months old. Despite my young age, I was quite ‘mouthy’ at work and maybe it was a sign of a budding trade union career to come, because when I voiced my objections once too often about how a manager spoke to me, I was given the sack.

“Unlike today, there was more industry in the country and I found work on the motorways, then at a chemical plant, before becoming an apprentice bricklayer under the Youth Opportunities Programme. The big promise was that we’d be sent to college to get qualifications and become skilled workers. However, my employer just wanted cheap, temporary labour and so the promise of education didn’t materialise. After a job in an ironworks, I had a spell of being unemployed before I started work as a Porter in the NHS. I still didn’t have any qualifications.”

Rob enjoyed working as an NHS porter and was a part of his union, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the union, it seemed like a great fit.

“There was one occasion when we had a particularly difficult issue and at the union meeting it was obvious we needed to elect a UNISON Steward to represent us. Someone suggested I should be the rep because I always had something to say at the meetings!

“It was true of course, I was always quite outspoken, asking questions and making comments, so in the end I agreed to do it. However, I promised myself that if I was taking on this role, I would do it properly. I knew the only way to do that was to go on trade union courses and get qualifications – that way I’d be sure I knew what I was talking about when I met with management.”

After a difficult issue at work was the reason he stepped up to his role as a rep, he then discovered that his involvement in the union could bring a lot of personal development opportunities his way.

“Since I took that decision to become a trade union rep, I haven’t looked back! I’ve done a number of courses with UNISON and the TUC. I’ve acquired computer skills; attended national courses and completed my Diploma in Employment Law. I’m now the Branch Development Officer and Branch Chair, and employed by the UNISON branch on a full-time basis to represent members.

“I really hadn’t dreamed opportunities like this would be open to me! I’m now 62 and, with the help of UNISON, I finally got qualifications when I was in my fifties. My confidence has grown massively, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of learning because I now feel I’m in the right place, and I’m learning about something I’m really interested in.”

The big aim for #heartunions week is to encourage more people to join a union. Please share this page with friends, colleagues and neighbours. If we each get one person to join a union this week, we’ll be well on the way to getting a better deal for working people all year round.

To find a union –

heartunions 2017