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How to get trade union representation


Tue 7 May, 2019

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How to get trade union representation

A trade union representative can be a bit like a breakdown policy for your car…you think you can cope without one until you find yourself in unexpected trouble.

Saving on monthly membership payments may seem like a good idea at the time. But if you’re in desperate need of that specialist assistance you can find yourself in a difficult position.

Having to seek urgent help, whether it’s to deal with a broken down car or a threat to your job security, both come with their own worrying financial implications.

Getting assistance if you are an established and paid up member of a trade union (1) should be pretty straightforward, but it can be more difficult if you are not.

As a union member, depending on the size of the union, you can expect full support with all work-related matters, up to and including full representation and legal advice.

Knowing how, or if, you can get trade union help is useful. It is the type of expert support that can be vital when a significant issue arises with your employer.

If you are not a trade union member, and you need help, what can you do?

As a non-member you can ask a trade union rep to accompany you to a formal meeting with your employer. A rep is a union member who represents and gives advice to colleagues when they have problems at work. (2)

It is not unusual for an employee who needs immediate assistance to sign up to a union expecting instant support.

Most unions will provide email or telephone support only for new members. After a stated qualifying period – which can be anything from four weeks to a couple of months – new members will get the full support available.

It is often when an employee is facing disciplinary action or in desperate need for support with raising and airing a serious complaint that they will turn to a rep for help with a formal hearing.

If a trade union rep is happy to represent a non-member, or a new member, they can do so as long as they are certified in writing by a union as being able to do so (3)

The ACAS Code of Practice, which provides statutory guidance that all employers are advised to follow, does state that workers may ask an official from any trade union to accompany them at a disciplinary or grievance hearing, regardless of whether or not they are a member or the union is recognised (4)

The assistance of a trade union rep (rep) can be crucial in helping an employee deal with a concern, difficulty or complaint at work.

Reps can help with

  • discussing any concerns you have about your employer
  • go with (‘accompany’) you to disciplinary or grievance hearings with management
  • represent you in negotiations (‘collective bargaining’) over your pay and terms and conditions of employment
  • meet with your employer to find solutions to workplace issues
  • develop the best possible health and safety procedures with your employer

Employers must consult with union reps if:

  • there is going to be a business transfer or takeover
  • they are planning to make 20 or more people redundant within 90 days

It is usually when non-members find themselves in a spot of serious bother that they realise and appreciate the true value of being a union member.

Last year government figures showed that union membership had increased in the private sector by 70,000 and by 19,000 across the economy overall (5)

According to the statistical release from the report, there were more than six million trade union members in the UK. This was made up of 3.56 million in the public sector and 2.7 million in the private sector.

This is well below its peak of more than 13 million in the late 1970s. The decline in the overall power of unions and membership has been well documented over the years (6)  

If you are in need of the support of a trade union rep for help with a work related matter contact the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for advice (7).

“A reputation built on success”

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. Introduction to Trade unions [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]
  2. Role of rep [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]
  3. Represent non-members [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]
  4. ACAS code of practice [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]
  5. Government figures [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]
  6. Power of unions [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]
  7. Castle Associates support centre [Internet] [Cited on 7th May 2019]

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