A trade union is an organisation with members who are usually 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
- discussing members’ concerns with employers
- going with members to disciplinary and grievance meetings
How to join a union
If there is a union at work, you can ask the trade union representative (‘rep’) about joining. Their contact details may be in your company handbook or intranet site or on the union noticeboard at work.
The union rep will tell you if you’re eligible to join and give you a membership form to fill in.
Trade union contact details
You can find a list of unions and their contact details on the website of 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.
Trade union membership subscriptions
Your union will charge a union membership fee (‘membership sub’) to finance the work of the union. This can be a flat rate for all employees or based on how much you’re 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
Paying by check-off
Your employer isn’t legally required 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 can’t 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.
What to do if you have a problem
If you have a problem with your check-off payments, try to discuss the issue with your employer and your trade union first.
If your trade union subscriptions are taken from your pay without your consent, you could make a complaint to an employment tribunal against your employer.
If your complaint is successful the employment tribunal can order your employer to pay you the value of the unauthorised payments.