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10 benefits of joining a union

For some, joining a union is like having an insurance policy they hope they never have to use. For others, it’s a lifeline of support in a time of need. We scoured the Mumsnet forums and spoke to experts to discover some of the surprising benefits of joining one.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jul 9, 2021

Woman working from home

1. Receive employment advice

It’s probably the most obvious reason for joining a union, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. If you experience bullying, harassment or discrimination at work, being a member of a union can give you access to confidential advice when you really need it.

Unions can help with general support at work, like making flexible working requests to your employer, or more complex situations like navigating disciplinary procedures or grievances.

What Mumsnet users say

“You only need to have them represent you in one dispute in your entire working life and your subscriptions will have been well spent compared to hiring and paying for legal representation.”

“I really recommend joining a union. I haven't needed mine (apart from phone advice on one occasion), but it's good to know someone would be on your side if it came to it. No one else will. The power is usually with the employer.”

2. Earn more money (on average)

Statistics show that on average, union members earn 10% more than non-members (source). Asking for a pay rise can feel uncomfortable, but, if you’re a member of a union, you can benefit from collective bargaining. That’s when your union rep raises the issue with your employer on behalf of all union members in your workplace.

3. Collective bargaining

As well as undertaking collective bargaining to secure pay rises and resist pay cuts, union reps can also bargain on terms and conditions for union members, such as improved sick pay and maternity pay. Equally, it's also possible to ensure your terms are protected from being made any worse.

What Mumsnet users say

“Being a union member has been massively useful for me. Our union has negotiated better terms and conditions plus pay increases.”

“The more active members a union has, the more effective they are. The fewer members they have, the less likely they are to be able to collectively bargain to protect your terms and conditions, never mind the individual representation they offer if you're ever in trouble.”

Woman on a video call

4. Advice and support around pregnancy at work

Yes, it’s 2020 and the rights of women in the workplace are better protected than they used to be, but, unfortunately, pregnancy and maternity/paternity discrimination is still a problem many people face. It’s estimated that one in nine new mothers and pregnant women in employment will lose their job as a result of pregnancy discrimination.

If you’re a member of a union, you can access information and support on the legal protection you're entitled to – which may be particularly helpful if you’re facing redundancy. You can also get information around maternity- and paternity-related sick leave and returning to work following maternity or paternity leave.

What Mumsnet users say

“I'm currently going through a very messy and badly carried out restructure at work. Having the union on our side has ensured that the cock-ups are quickly identified and rectified, that people feel supported and valued as individuals, and that my employers don’t get away with anything dodgy. My union subscriptions have been worth every penny.”

“I’ve just taken my employer to tribunal and I could never have afforded the legal fees. Luckily, the union covered them.”

5. Non-employment legal support

Lots of unions offer additional support to their members. Unite Union, for example, has a 24-hour legal helpline, where their members can obtain free advice on non-work-related legal matters, from family law to wills and trusts.

What Mumsnet users say

“I've recently been in an accident, I'm suing and my union is covering 100% of my legal fees so I don't pay anything upon settlement. It's not even work-related so being a union member has definitely been worth it for me.”

6. Access to learn

Whether you’re looking to change your career path or find a new role, have been made redundant, or simply want to upskill, another surprising benefit of being a union member is the opportunity to access new learning opportunities.

What Mumsnet users say

“I've been to a 'Women in STEM' day through being part of a union and used subsidised career counselling.”

7. Additional member services

As well as free advice, union members also receive access to other benefits at reduced rates. Some unions offer help with pensions, financial advice and can provide discounts for life insurance – including critical illness cover.

What Mumsnet users say

“Think of it as an insurance policy – you might never need to use them but, if you do, it would make all the difference. Also check out the membership benefits on the union website. You might be surprised at what you're entitled to, which can help to justify the membership fee.”

“As members, we get discounted insurances, a free will writing service and discounts on quite a few other things.”

8. Increased job security

Woman working at a desk

Union members stay in their jobs, on average, five years longer than non-members. Concerns can be addressed with the support of the union and support on employment processes is on hand, meaning members often feel more secure and content at work.

What Mumsnet users say

“The cost of being a member per year is less than what you would pay for one solicitor's letter if a problem ever got that far – and, as a rep, I’ve seen it get that far many a time. Those with support of a union have access to trained people both locally and regionally who can support you through really tough times. Additionally, there's the wider collective issues that need strength through membership – think pensions, leave, working conditions etc.”

“Get involved, go to executive meetings and find out more. I find out a lot about my organisation and what's going on from being in a union. Knowledge is always power and I generally know more than my superiors.”

9. Improved health and safety at work

Unionised workplaces have a lower risk of accidents (50% lower in fact) because the union can talk directly to employers to protect employees against risks.

Additionally, if you are injured at work, you'll have the full support of the union. This includes raising the issue with your employer, claiming compensation and ensuring you're paid any entitled sick pay.

10. Unions fight for change

As a member of a trade union, you help support its wider campaigns. Some unions have defended the rights of key workers, fought for decent homes and campaigned against discrimination.

What Mumsnet users say

“When you join a union, you help others – there's strength in numbers. The union has more influence with managers if more people are members. The union, if properly funded, can help other people.”

“The employment rights we have now were achieved through union campaigning before they were enshrined in law. Weekends, holidays, sick days, maternity pay, lunch and tea breaks etc. All fought for here and elsewhere. As was the right to be in a trade union at all.”