Democracy and elections

UNISON is proud to be a "member-led union". Democracy is central to our structure and our achievements have been reached as a representative, democratic union where everyone has an equal voice.

All members have a right to make the decisions which determine the work we do. This ties in with our key principles.  

  • Equality - we all deserve to be treated with respect and fairness.
  • Solidarity - we support each other at work and in society.
  • Democracy - members each have a right to make the decisions that shape their union.
  • Participation - we share our skills, commitment and creativity to build a stronger union.

All members' voices should be heard, which is why they take part in voting to make their views known.

We make decisions by voting to elect members to particular positions within UNISON and to decide policy.

Your union, your vote

Every year, delegates from all over the UK are elected by their branch, region, service group or self-organised group to the national delegate conference.

This is where we vote to decide our policies and campaigning priorities.

Read more about our events and conferences 

Between conferences, an elected national executive council (NEC) decides on issues and campaigns, oversees the running of the union and works with UNISON staff to support members. NEC members represent UNISON to the wider world.

The national executive council

NEC members are elected by all members of UNISON via a postal vote. Members elect candidates to represent their region and their service group. There are also additional seats for Black members and young members.

As with all other UNISON elections, the union's principles of "proportionality and fair representation" means that some seats are reserved for women and low-paid members, so that the make-up of the NEC fairly represents the wider union.

Elections take place every two years, with members receiving a ballot paper with a prepaid envelope to return it to an independent scrutineer (an independent person who checks the ballot is fair and counts the votes).

Results are usually announced around one month after the voting deadline.

Find out who is on the national executive council

UNISON has a presidential team made up of elected members of the NEC. Find out who the presidential team are

Service groups

Every UNISON member is also a member of the one of the union's seven service groups, which unite members doing similar kinds of jobs or working for the same kinds of employers.

Every member is entitled to stand for election for the service group executive, which oversees each service group, including matters such as national bargaining.

These elections take place every two years, between elections to the national executive council. You also have a right to seek election a delegate to your annual service group conference, representing colleagues in your branch.

Self organised groups

UNISON also has "self-organised" groups of members who share similar experiences of discrimination, such as women, disabled members, Black members and LGBT members.

There are also young members' and retired members' organisations. These groups are organised in all regions and most, if not all, branches, hold annual national conferences and elect national committees.

Read more about member groups 

Making and changing UNISON policy

UNISON members can affect UNISON's broader policy.

If a member wants to develop a policy by having a motion considered and adopted by a the national delegate conference or relevant service group conference, they can once they have:

  • made sure they have support from other members in their branch, by having it adopted at a branch meeting;
  • submitted the motion to the relevant conference.

Branches, regions, service groups and self-organised groups can develop policy within their own 'sphere of influence'.

This means they develop and promote policy according to the needs of their own members, as long as these comply with UNISON's rules.

Find out more about UNISON's organisational structure

Join UNISON

Join today

and get essential cover wherever you work

Democracy and elections news