Trade unions are formed to protect and promote the interests of their members. Their primary function is to protect the interests of workers against discrimination and unfair labor practices. Trade unions are formed to achieve the following objectives:
Trade unions represent individual workers when they have a problem at work. If an employee feels he is being treated unfairly, he can ask the union representative to help sorting out the difficulty with the manager or employer. Unions also offer their members legal representation. Normally this is to help people get financial compensation for work-related injuries or to assist people who have to take their employer to court.
Negotiation is where union representatives, discuss with management, the issues which affect people working in an organization. There may be a difference of opinion between management and union members. Trade unions negotiate with the employers to find out a solution to these differences. Pay, working hours, holidays and changes to working practices are the sorts of issues that are negotiated. In many workplaces there is a formal agreement between the union and the company which states that the union has the right to negotiate with the employer. In these organizations, unions are said to be recognized for collective bargaining purposes.
Voice in decisions affecting workers
The economic security of employees is determined not only by the level of wages and duration of their employment, but also by the management's personnel policies which include selection of employees for layoffs, retrenchment, promotion and transfer. These policies directly affect workers. The evaluation criteria for such decisions may not be fair. So, the intervention of unions in such decision making is a way through which workers can have their say in the decision making to safeguard their interests.
During the last few years, trade unions have increased the range of services they offer their members. These include:
Education and training - Most unions run training courses for their members on employment rights, health and safety and other issues. Some unions also help members who have left school with little education by offering courses on basic skills and courses leading to professional qualifications.
Legal assistance - As well as offering legal advice on employment issues, some unions give help with personal matters, like housing, wills and debt.
Financial discounts - People can get discounts on mortgages, insurance and loans from unions.
Welfare benefits - One of the earliest functions of trade unions was to look after members who hit hard times. Some of the older unions offer financial help to their members when they are sick or unemployed.