The role of Trade Union support in employment situations

The role of Trade Union support in employment situations


“I believe that my trade union representative has treated me unfairly? What can I do?”

“I’m a trade union representative, what are my duties towards an employee?”

“What is the new law regarding unions and employers in April 2022?”

There is a vast amount of trade union organisations across the country, each with thousands of members and at times things can go wrong. This bring us to the question as to what are the rights and duties of the representatives?

What is a Union, what do they do and what is their purpose?

A trade union is an organisation with members who are usually employed by businesses to act as an intermediary between the business’s employees and the business themselves.

The main purpose of a Union is to represent and advise employees of their rights within the business, improve working relationships between the employee and employer and promote learning in the workplace.

Their main issues usually involve dispute over payments, working conditions and industrial actions however they also deal with a vast number of work-related issues from attending grievance meetings concerning ill-health related absences to supporting employees at appeal hearings concerning disputes such as discrimination.


For a union to support you, you must be a member of their organisation. If you want to become a member of a trade union, you should firstly check to see if your company works with any particular trade union and if so which one.

If you company does not have a union, you are allowed to join a trade union and should not be punished for doing so.

Duties of a Union Representative

  • To act fairly

  • To act in good faith

  • To not discriminate

Unions must fairly represent employees. This does not mean that they must pursue all grievances that are being taken against the employer, however they do have a general duty to act fairly and impartially when pursuing a worker’s grievance. They must not discriminate or act in bad faith against you.

Unions do not have to file a grievance on your behalf, but they should at least investigate the complaint that you are making to decide whether they wish to represent you. Provided they were reasonable in their approach they would be able to refuse to support you. If, however, they refused to support you on the basis of race, religion, gender or any other discriminatory reason, this would be breaching their duty.


If an employer is planning to make 20 or more people redundant within 90 days or there is going to be a business transfer or take over, employers must consult with trade union representatives (or elected employee representative).

If the employer doesn’t do this, this will be unfair, and you could potentially have a claim against them.

There is no time limit regarding consultation however there is a minimum period before an employer can dismiss any employee:

  • 20 to 99 redundancies – 30 days minimum consultation

  • 100 or more redundancies- 45 days minimum consultation

April 2022 Reforms

“The government plans to modernise the regulator for trade unions to too transparency and provide reassurance to workers that high standards will be maintained.

Reforms will reassure union members that the unions are upholding high standards and the Certification Officer will be able to respond when a third party raises concerns that a union may have breached its statutory duties”.

For more information please see the link attached: Government confirms plans to modernise trade union regulator - GOV.UK (


Whilst some people find trade union representatives as disruptive, you may actually find that they are a very good way of being a neutral third party, a valuable listener and a key negotiator when wanting to solve your workplace disputes.

Rebekah Brown

Employment Solicitor Rebekah Brown comments: “Of course, not all trade union representatives get it right, but they are there to help and support an employee, doing the best they can in a situation which may cost you employment. Remember, they are not qualified solicitors but time and time again I find that they are going over and above to do the best they can for employees in the workplace every single day.”

If you would like an informed conversation with a qualified and experienced employment law solicitor, Contact Us here and we will be in touch. We understand membership organisations and members' legal needs.

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