Good practice examples

Representing members can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a UNISON rep. When people face problems at work, the first person they turn to for help is their union rep.

Representing members tabbed media

Every member has the right


  • to seek advice about workplace problems, and to be represented;
  • to help from UNISON to make sure their employer gives them a fair hearing;
  • to be treated with respect and integrity;
  • to be helped by a trained UNISON rep.

Representing members tabbed media

Representation, recruitment


Our ability to recruit or retain members is influenced by how well we represent them.

That’s why our reps deserve all the support and training we can offer to help you support our members.

Representing members tabbed media

Writing on white board, Grievance training. Credit: Chris Taylor

Use the tabs below to browse a how-to guide to representing UNISON members individually or in a collective action; examples of good practice by others, to help you get the best out of the representation process; templated documents and assets for help with representing members.

Are you new to being a rep?

We know our reps and activists need support and information, help and advice – even more so if you’re new to the role.

More on being a UNISON rep

Whether you are representing members individually or collectively, your skills as a UNISON rep can make a difference for all your members.

Here are some examples of how reps work with individual members, groups of workers, and employers.


Understanding your members

Kettering Healthcare branch secretary Ian Kelly has supported a number of members whose “Skills for Life” issues were behind their disciplinary problems.

“I don’t know anybody who comes into work to get into trouble on purpose: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that the whole time I’ve been working,” he says.

“The more I got involved with learning when I trained as a union learning rep, the more I started to spot things: like seeing one person reading a newspaper to a group of four or five people in the canteen, or seeing how some people are resistant to change because it challenges their learning issues.”

When members have become involved in disciplinary problems that are rooted in learning issues, Ian has been careful to raise two key issues: appraisal and communication.

“During disciplinaries, I always check whether literacy issues have been mentioned in a person’s appraisal, because if they have, it’s up to the manager to help that person tackle those issues.

“Often managers say they expect staff to read everything they put in a communications book, but they don’t take into account the literacy level that might be required to understand a new policy.”

While it can be stressful for members to face up to literacy or numeracy problems in the middle of a disciplinary process, Ian has seen some members commit to developing themselves as a result because the issues have been handled effectively.

“It’s like an Aladdin’s cave has been opened up to them and they have this opportunity to make a difference to their careers and make a difference in their whole lives.”


Legal action

Sometimes, legal action is necessary to protect the rights of our members. But any successful case always begins with reps using their skills in the workplace. Here are some examples of how UNISON has helped individuals, and groups of workers, to protect their rights.

Sheffield council equal pay: In 2010, The Court of Appeal backed UNISON’s claim that women working for Sheffield council were entitled to the same bonus payments as men in the case of Gibson & Ors v Sheffield City Council.

The decision opened the door for thousands of women across the country to claim against their council in a similar way. 

 The women, who worked as carers, care workers and school meals staff, were backed by UNISON in successfully appealing to the Court of Appeal against an employment tribunal decision.

Backing a bullied member: Probation officer Dominick Lee was awarded £83,000 for being unfairly dismissed. 

 An employment tribunal ruled that a decision to transfer him, then dismiss him for not changing jobs, was unreasonable and awarded the maximum compensation, plus an additional award because his employers refused to reinstate him.

UNISON had backed his claim and instructed solicitors to act on his behalf.

Permanent job victory: UNISON won a three year long battle for a permanent job, for a Northern Ireland member who had been working in the same role for 10 years. The prescribing support assistant had made three applications for the post she had been working in since 1999 to be made permanent, only to be turned down because the employer said there was no funding for it.

UNISON got involved and started legal proceedings and the employer then settled out of court and gave the member concerned a permanent contract.


Working with employers

Our reps support our members in hard times, but the role goes beyond that.

In good times or in bad, trade unions have a vital “agent of change” role in sustaining and improving public services.

This often helps represent members interests, such as when the Blaenau Gwent branch protected jobs by helping improve efficiency in the council’s corporate and transactional services, or when Newcastle UNISON mobilised members behind a successful in-house bid to modernise IT services.

And on top of that, the good will that often results from this type of involvement can pay dividends when representing members who have problems or issues, either individually or collectively.

More on working with employers.


Support on issues at work

You can find more guidance on issues such as redundancy, discrimination and health and safety, in the knowledge section of the website. See the “Search UNISON Knowledge” function on the right.