This week, 14th-20th February, is HeartUnions week. Labour Councillor and Chair of UNISON’s National Labour Link Committee, Linda Hobson writes about the importance of trade unions.
UNISON is the UK’s largest union, serving more than 1.3 million members, representing full-time and part-time staff who provide public services.
HeartUnions week is an opportunity to highlight the importance of trade unions within the workplace and encourage people to join a trade union. It is also an opportunity to thank all those trade union representatives up and down the country, across all workplaces, who volunteer their time to make our workplaces safer and fairer. This has been all too evident throughout the pandemic as working people kept our vital services running, cared for the most vulnerable and kept the shops open and stocked, public transport running and schools open for other key workers.
It is estimated that over a million of those people considered “Key Workers” are in insecure work, meaning many of those who made sacrifices during the pandemic are employed in sectors where work is insecure, poorly paid and where there is a lack of basic rights and protections.
After 11 years of austerity and wage stagnation the cost of living crisis is hitting families hard and it is estimated that one in six working families are experiencing poverty now; meaning in-work poverty is at an all-time high and set to increase further.
We need decent pay across all sectors, to do this we need stronger trade unions and more unionised workplaces. Evidence clearly shows that unionised workplaces are more likely to provide decent pay, above the statutory minimum entitlement to sick and holiday pay, access to decent training and progression opportunities and high standards of health and safety. Being a UNISON workplace representative in a large acute NHS Trust during the pandemic I have been at the forefront of negotiating safe working conditions for staff.
What I have also seen is the systematic attack on trade unions by this government. The UK now has some of the most restrictive and most regulated systems that make collective bargaining and organising more difficult. Trade unions were established to address the imbalance of power between individuals and employers. Through trade unions individuals have collective strength in the workplace to organise for equality, fairness and dignity at work.
At last year’s Labour Party Conference Labour launched its New Deal for Working People. This document was drawn up by the Labour Party in partnership with the affiliated trade unions, like UNISON. In it Keir Starmer has committed that within 100 days of a Labour Government taking office the working people’s lives will be improved by:
- Strengthening rights at work for all workers, from day one on the job.
- Ending fire and rehire.
- Making work more family-friendly, and make it easier to balance work with home, community and family life.
- Banning zero-hours contracts and ensure everyone has the right to regular hours they can rely on.
- Strengthening trade union rights, raising pay and conditions.
- Bringing in Fair Pay Agreements to drive up pay and conditions for all workers, using sectoral collective bargaining.
This is a contract that working people can and must sign up too, a contract based on prosperity, security and most of all respect.
There can be no going back to normal, normal wasn’t working pre-pandemic. We need a new deal where, as employees, we can enjoy our lives without worry.
So, this HeartUnions week, if you not a member of a trade union, consider joining one. You can join UNISON here or you can find the appropriate trade union here. If you are a member of a trade union, consider getting more active as a workplace representative and if you are a workplace representative – thank you for all that you do for our movement.
NHS Worker, Labour Councillor, Chair of UNISON’s National Labour Link Committee