Trade Unions


A trade union is a membership organisation made up of workers or employees. It looks after their interests at work by doing things like:

  • negotiating agreements with employers on pay and conditions

  • discussing big changes like large scale redundancy or TUPE

  • discussing members’ concerns with employers

  • representation of members for disciplinary and grievance meetings

Why join a Union Video - by the TUC

Trade Union Member Services

If you run into problems at work, your union has got your back. Your union’s legal team can make sure that you are treated fairly and represent you at no extra cost. Each year, unions win millions in compensation for members who suffer injuries or are treated unfairly at work.

Nearly all trade unions also provide member services that can include the below:

  • Training

  • Legal Services

  • Helplines

  • Discounted services and products

  • Wellbeing and free debt advice

  • Charitable financial assistance

Find a Trade Union

First of all, it is best to ask colleagues at work if there is a specific union or union rep you can talk to. You might find their details in your induction procedures or on a staff noticeboard or intranet

You can search a list of unions and their contact details put together by the Certification Officer, the independent organisation responsible for the legal regulation of unions.

You can also use the TUC’s interactive tool to help you find a trade union in your workplace, or one which covers your type of job.

Membership Subscriptions

Your union will charge a union membership fee (‘membership sub’) to finance the work of the union. This can be the same amount for all employees or based on how much you are paid.

Paying your membership subs

You can pay your subs by:

  • having the amount taken by your employer from your pay and sent to the union (otherwise known as ‘check-off’)

  • direct debit

  • cash

  • cheque

Paying by check-off

Your employer does not have to take union membership subs from your pay and send it to the union. They can stop sending your membership subs unless your employment contract says they have to.

Your employer cannot take union membership subs from your pay without your written permission. Many trade unions will get your agreement to pay by check-off when you join, and forward it to your employer.

You can also ask your employer in writing to stop taking money from your pay for check-off whenever you want. They must then stop taking subs from your pay as soon as it’s possible.

Your employer is responsible for making sure that any check-off payments they make are legal.

Your Employment rights to join a Union

You have the right to:

  • choose to join or not join a union

  • decide to leave or remain a member of a union

  • belong to the union you choose, even if it’s not the one your employer negotiates with on pay, terms and conditions

  • belong to more than one union

Your employer isn’t allowed to:

  • offer you a benefit to leave a trade union

  • threaten to treat you unfairly if you don’t leave a union

Refusing to employ you for trade union membership reasons

An employer or employment agency is not allowed to insist that you:

  • join or leave a trade union

  • leave one union for another

Dismissal for Trade Union membership reasons

Your employer is not allowed to dismiss you or choose you for redundancy because you:

  • are or want to be a union member

  • aren’t or don’t want to be a union member

  • took part or wanted to take part in union activities

Other unfavourable treatment

Your employer must not treat you unfavourably (for example refusing you promotion or training opportunities) if you:

  • join a union

  • take part in its meetings

  • leave a union

What to do if you have a problem

You may be able to use a grievance procedure or go to an employment tribunal if you think your employer has treated you unfairly because of your trade union membership.

Contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) if you have any questions about trade union membership.

Take a look at our 'Raising Issues' web page for further guidance.

Popular Trade Unions for Advisers