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.

UNISON democracy

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.

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.

They can affect UNISON’s broader policy in elections and conferences.


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

As a member of UNISON, you could stand for election to a number of different bodies:

  • the regional council;
  • the service group executives;
  • the national committees of our member groups;
  • if you are a member of Labour Link, you could stand for election as a regional Labour Link representative.
  • the national executive council.

Equality is at the heart of the union’s beliefs. Since women make up two thirds of the UNISON’s membership, two-thirds of all of the union’s elected bodies must be women. We call this proportionality.

Two-thirds of the seats on the NEC, the union’s ruling body, are reserved for women and 13 seats are reserved for low-paid women. But all members are able to vote for these candidates in their regional or member group constituencies. All members are also able to vote for the national seats on the NEC for Black members and disabled members.

UNISON holds elections for its general secretary, national executive council (NEC), service group executives (SGE) and the Labour Link committee in England, Scotland and Wales.

These decide on issues and campaigns, oversee the running of the union and works with UNISON staff to support members. They represent UNISON to the wider world.

NEC, service group executive and Labour Link committee members are elected every two years by all eligible members of UNISON via a postal ballot.

The general secretary term of office is five years.


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.

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.


2018 National Executive Council By election – Reserved Greater London Regional Seat