Joining a trade union as an apprentice

A union is an organisation made up of working people. Unions work on the principle of strength in numbers – we are stronger when we stand together than when we act alone as individuals.

Unions aim to improve people’s lives. They stand for fairness and justice, equality, and for dignity and respect for all.

In the UK more than 6 million working people are union members, making unions the country’s biggest voluntary organisations.

Most of the UK’s unions are members of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC has been campaigning for better, safer and fairly paid jobs for over 150 years, and continues to support unions with research, education, and international links.

Joining a union

Can anyone join a trade union?

Everyone in the UK has the right to join a trade union. Some unions specialise in looking after workers in a particular occupation or industry, while others will accept all workers into membership. The TUC’s union finder will help you find the right union for you: www.tuc.org.uk/join-union

Which union should I join?

If there are lots of union members in your workplace, there will probably be an agreement that the union or unions negotiate with the employer about pay rates and other working conditions. Where such an agreement has been reached, we say that the union is recognised.

If your employer recognises one or more unions, you’ll probably see union posters or newsletters on noticeboards, or hear colleagues talking about the union(s). It would make sense to join one of those unions, rather than a different one.

A local union representative might also come to talk to you about joining, though you don’t have to wait for that to happen before you become a member. Most unions now take online applications via their website.

What if my employer doesn’t recognise unions?

If there is no recognised union in your workplace you can still join one. Once you’re a member, the union will be able to advise and support you if you have a problem at work, just like a recognised union would - it just won’t be able to negotiate on your pay and other conditions.

One of the main reasons people join unions is to protect themselves from unfair treatment at work, and every year unions represent thousands of individual workers when:

  • Management want to discipline or dismiss them over issues like work performance, sickness absence or behaviour, or
  • The member complains of unfair treatment by the management

So it’s a good idea to join a union, even if your employer doesn’t recognise one. But don’t wait until you already have a problem – union membership is like insurance, in that it doesn’t cover events that happened before you joined.

Union finder

Want to join a union, but don’t know which is the right union for you? No problem – the TUC’s online union finder can help you decide.

You can find it at www.tuc.org.uk/find-union-you.