Our volunteer workplace reps play a vital day-to-day role in helping UNISON members.
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.
Reps also act as a link between members, other union representatives and the national organisation.
Where the union has a recognition agreement, stewards, health and safety reps and learning reps have a legal right to ‘reasonable’ time off for union duties. Good recognition agreements may also allow some time off for union activities – rather than duties – but with will depend on the particular agreement and employer.
Support is available for UNISON reps from your branch and region, as well as more experienced colleagues, and every region runs training courses for reps throughout the year.
The role of a workplace contact is to let your branch know what’s happening in your workplace, and to help the union get messages to its members. It’s a good learning opportunity and starting point to get involved in the union. They:
- Share information with colleagues and other UNISON members
- Keep notice boards up to date with UNISON information
- Have regular conversations with members in the workplace
- Support people looking to join UNISON
Workplace contacts can and do play an important role in helping groups of members to organise effectively.
Elected workplace stewards
Workplace stewards are the heart of our trade union. UNISON’s stewards are the reason we win campaigns that result in better lives for our members and all working people. Stewards help to organise your colleagues into an effective, strong and welcoming membership. They:
- Are the first point of contact for members in a workplace
- Talk to members about the union
- Talk to staff about their issues
- Offer advice on issues at work
- Represent members in cases (including at disciplinary and grievance hearings).
- Campaign for better working conditions
- Recruit and organise new members
- Encourage more members to get active in UNISON
- Raise your members’ issues with the branch.
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 and department, more in larger departments 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.
Health and safety reps
Health and safety representatives care about workers’ safety and campaign for better working conditions. They play a vital role in keeping our members healthy and safe at work. They:
- investigate potential hazards
- consult members on working conditions
- lobby your employer to improve safety
- support members with complaints about safety
- recruit new members
- identify members who could become more involved in health and safety issues.
Safety representatives have specific duties and responsibilities and also have important legal rights. 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.
Union learning reps
Union learning representatives, often known as ULRs, are passionate about getting people back into learning – whether it is professional qualifications or basic numeracy and literacy skills. They:
- find out how lifelong learning could help to resolve issues at work
- promote learning in a workplace
- support members to take up learning opportunities
- encourage adult learners to be active branch members
- organise workers around learning
- support people who want to join UNISON
- recruit new learning reps
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.
They have some rights to time off for training and carrying out their duties.
Equality reps aim to make sure people are treated fairly at work and do not suffer from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, age, religious beliefs or because they work part time. They:
- Work with their branch to improve a workplace and employer equality policies
- campaign for equality in the workplace and the union
- Promote national campaigns such as International Women’s Day, LGBT History Month and Black History Month
- Work with other reps to ensure your branch is inclusive and accessible
- Support people who want to join UNISON
- Raise awareness of, and talk to members about UNISON’s self-organised groups and forums