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Getting to know your trade union representative

Published 26 August 2019

Getting to know your trade union representative

What you think about a trade union representative may be influenced by the differing views presented of them.

On the one hand they are seen as serving to protect the best interests of employees and on the other a disruptive influence.

To most employees the face of their trade union is the workplace representative, but who is a trade union representative?

A trade union representative (rep) is a union member who represents and provides help and advice to members (1). Trade union reps are not paid but they do get paid time off to do their work as a rep.

The way that reps are chosen varies between unions. They can be elected via a ballot or at a meeting, and their appointment should be approved by the union.

There are not any specific entry requirements to becoming a rep, but a lot of trade union officials will have a degree or some form of professional qualification.

Reps will have an in-depth knowledge of all work related matters and legislation. They will be good communicators and people managers and skilled problem solvers.

The reps are the mainstay of the trade union movement. The role is wide ranging and it is one that links workers, employers and unions. They are the first point of contact for members in the workplace.

Reps come from all walks of life, work in the public and private sector and they can be an employee who represents colleagues in the same workplace and therefore have direct day-to-day contact with members.

They can talk to members about the union; encourage members to get active in the union and campaign for better working conditions. An example of successful trade union campaigning can be found in the introduction of the National Minimum Wage (2).

It is often in times of need that members look to their rep for knowledge, experience and guidance. Reps are trained to help workers deal with most of the problems that may arise at work. If an employee has a work-related issue, concern or complaint, and they are a union member, they can approach a rep for advice. 

The rep can provide invaluable support for members. For example if an employee is facing disciplinary action at work or is suitably concerned about an issue that they raise a formal grievance, they have a statutory right to be accompanied at a formal hearing by a rep (3).

At such a hearing the rep can address the hearing in order to put the worker's case, sum up the case and respond on the worker's behalf to any view expressed at the hearing (4). They can also confer with the worker during the hearing.

In general the issues on which reps spend most time are health and safety matters and the way employees are treated by management. The role can also include supporting and advising members on various workplace matters such as redundancy, equality, pay and conditions and hours of work.

Although recent figures show an increase in the number of employees signing up to become trade union members, it is still some way short of the days when unions were seen as powerful and influential in UK workplaces.

Government statistics show the number of employees who were trade union members rose by 103,000 on the year to 6.35 million in 2018 (5). This was the second successive annual increase in employee union membership levels following a low of 6.23 million in 2016. 

In post-war years there was a boom in trade union membership. By the end of the 1970s - a decade of widespread industrial unrest - more than 12 million workers were said to be members and paying their subs.


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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611




  1. Rep [Internet] [Accessed on 19th August 2019]
  2. National minimum wage [Internet] [Accessed on 19th August 2019]
  3. Disciplinary action [Internet] [Accessed on 19th August 2019]
  4. Hearings [Internet] [Accessed on 19th August 2019]
  5. Government statistics [Internet] [Accessed on 19th August 2019]

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 


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