The UNISON workplace rep is the most important link between the union and its members. Workplace representatives play a number of roles. They are organisers who talk to, recruit and organise members around workplace issues, hold meetings, undertake surveys and help run ballots. They give members information about union issues by publicising UNISON campaigns, distributing leaflets and keeping members informed about and involved in local negotiations. They are advisers and sounding boards, talking to members about workplace problems and – if they feel confident – giving advice on how to deal with these. Alternatively, they may arrange for the member to get advice or assistance from elsewhere in the union, or work with them to get the information they need. They are representatives and spokespersons for members in their workplace.
UNISON has four types of workplace representative:
A UNISON steward is an elected representative whose role includes organising, recruiting and representing members (including at disciplinary and grievance hearings). Stewards in workplaces where UNISON is recognised by the employer have rights to time off for training and to carry out their work. Stewards have a right to be involved in how their branch is run and are the most important link between the members and the union. UNISON aims to have at least one steward in each workplace, more in larger workplaces and where members work shifts. Stewards are elected each year by the group of members that they represent and the post is open to job share.
A health and safety representative has the right to training and to raise issues which affect the health and safety of members. UNISON aims to have at least one health and safety representative in every workplace where we have members. In some cases, the safety representative and steward are the same person but they have two separate roles. Safety representatives have specific duties and responsibilities and also have important legal rights.
Union learning rep
Learning reps are likely to be members who have recently completed a learning programme and are enthusiasts and advocates for learning in their own workplaces. Their precise role will vary according to their own circumstances, but will probably centre on raising awareness of lifelong learning among the members and helping to identify and articulate the learning needs of particular members, as well as negotiating with employers on learning issues. They have some rights to time off for training and carrying out their duties. They will also liaise with employers about lifelong learning opportunities.
Workplace contacts distribute information, support a steward or carry out some tasks normally undertaken by a steward. Workplace contacts do not have access to the same rights as stewards, but can and do play an important role in helping groups of members to organise effectively. This is an ideal role for someone who is interested in becoming a steward or safety representative, but would like to find out more about what is involved. It is also ideal for those groups of members who can find no-one willing to be a steward.
Support and training
Where we have a recognition agreement, stewards, health and safety reps and learning reps have a legal right to ‘reasonable’ time off for union duties. Support is available for UNISON reps from your branch and region, as well as more experienced colleagues, and training courses are available for reps throughout the year. Nationally, the union produces a regular reps’ magazine and weekly email newsletter, as well as other support and information for reps.
Become a rep
If you want to get more involved in UNISON’s workplace activities, then drop us a line about becoming a rep.