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Should You Join a Union?

Starting a new career comes with many things to think about, including work etiquette, appropriate clothing, pension schemes and unions.

What is a union?

A trade union is a group of employees who work together to ensure they are treated fairly in their sector and that good working conditions are maintained, or improved. This can include political campaigning and industrial action, as well as legal advice and campaigning for better pay or working conditions for their members. Unions train and organise representatives within workplace settings who help members with any problems they may face at work, providing support and advice.

There are many different options in terms of unions for Early Years Professionals in the UK, and a number that are specifically for the education or early years sector. Joining a union often includes paying a membership fee, but gives you access to legal support and advice during your membership.

It’s important to remember that it’s your choice whether or not you belong to a union, and you are allowed to be a member of multiple unions. When you join or leave a union is entirely up to you, and your employer is not allowed to try and convince you to leave a union. It is illegal for you to be treated unfairly because you are in a union.

In the case that something should happen at your setting that you are struggling to resolve with your manager, this is where a union rep could help. Employers have to work with recognised unions to: negotiate pay or working conditions; inform and consult over changes, such as redundancies; and make sure the health and safety of employees is protected.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Some unions act on national campaigns as well as for individual workers. For example, in February NASUWT started a Covid-19 Campaign for Supply Teachers, as national lockdown had such a detrimental impact on supply teachers who had very little access to paid work.

If your employer is acting unfavourably towards you because of union membership, you may be able to use a grievance procedure or go to an employment tribunal. If you have questions about union membership, contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

Education/childcare – focused unions:

NASUWT: The Teachers’ Union – covering all sectors from early years to further education and representing teachers in all roles including heads and deputies.

The National Education Union – the largest education union in Europe, supporting and representing more than 450,000 members, including the majority of teachers.

United Childcare Workers (UCW) – representing nursery practitioners of all levels as part of United Voices of the World (UVW), a grassroots trade union of migrant and precarious workers.

General unions:

Unison: The Public Service Union – the UK’s largest union, representing more than 1.3 million members.

Voice Community – previously Voice: The Union for Education Professionals, now the education and early years section of Community Union.

If you’re looking to join a union but still can’t find the right one for you, take a look at TUC’s (Trades Union Congress) Union Finder!