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How to become a Trades Union member   

Whatever your job or your industry there is a Trades Union (TU) for you. Trade Unions support and represent their members and campaign for a fairer deal for workers. This has traditionally meant issues of pay and job security but it also involves concerns such as health and safety, pensions, equal pay for men and women, fair treatment for part-time workers, combating bullying and harassment in the workplace and improving the work-life balance. In Scotland, the Trade Union movement has often taken the lead on social justice and equality issues and has been very active in campaigns to achieve equality for LGBT people.

On this page:

What does this role involve?
What will I get out of this?
What will I be expected to give back?
What skills do I need?
How much time should I expect to give?
How do I get involved?

What does this role involve?

Being a member of a TU can mean many things, dependent on how involved you want to become. You can join a TU and have nothing more to do with it other than pay your membership fees. This gives you access to support and representation if you encounter problems in your workplace (such as harassment or unfair dismissal). However, many members choose to become more involved with running their TU. You could become a TU representative (or steward) and organise, recruit and represent members in your workplace.

TU representatives play a key role in the union. They act as a link between members and the TU, organise TU activities and support people in the workplace.

As a TU representative you can:

  • talk to, recruit and organise members around workplace issues
  • talk to members about workplace problems, advise them and keep them informed about developments
  • represent members in your workplace
  • be involved in the way your branch is run

    Some TU representatives also get involved in local negotiations or in grievance or disciplinary cases - with training and support from the TU. Senior representatives or convenors often take part in negotiations about pay and conditions with employers.

    TU representatives receive ongoing training and support to help them fulfil their role. Different TU representatives get involved in different activities, dependent on their experience, skills and time, so don’t worry, you won’t be forced to do anything that you don’t want to do!

    In addition to becoming a TU representative, there are other ways that you can become involved. You could:

  • represent your branch at TU conferences
  • become involved with the LGBT members network (most TU’s have a self organised network of LGBT members, however some only admit lesbian, gay and bisexual members, and others only admit lesbian and gay members!)
  • stand for a position on the Equalities Committee or on the National Executive Council (the main decision-making body within the union).

    What will I get out of this?

    Joining a TU is extremely important and is the best way to claim your rights at work. As a TU member you also have the opportunity to vote on pay offers and take part in electing TU representatives.

    As a TU representative you have the opportunity to gain and develop skills and knowledge whilst helping others. In workplaces where TU are recognised, TU representatives have the rights to time off for training and to carry out their work. Most TU’s provide new representatives with training on a range of issues, including handling grievances and disciplinary matters.

    It is vital that LGBT people, and other marginalised groups, become actively involved with their TU, so that their voices can be heard.


    What will I be expected to give back?

    Time and a little bit of money (for your membership fee)! It really depends on how involved you become. Being an active TU member can mean attending TU membership meetings and taking time to vote in elections. As a TU representative you will be giving your time to improve your workplace for yourself and your colleagues. Being a TU representative can also be challenging, as you may be required to support people who are experiencing difficulties in the workplace. However, you should receive support from your branch to help you carry out your duties professionally and effectively.


    What skills do I need?

    Again this depends on your role within the TU. If you become more involved it is important to have the following qualities:

  • commitment to fairness, social justice and equality
  • non-judgmental
  • commitment to confidentiality
  • ability to understand information
  • good communication
  • reliability

    How much time should I expect to give?

    As a TU member you should attend branch and regional meetings (many employers will give you time to do this). These meetings can be held annually (in the case of Annual General Meetings) or when a pay offer is being proposed. If you are a TU representative then you may be expected to give several hours each week to work on union business. TU will negotiate this with your employer. You may also be expected to attend conferences and training courses, both locally and nationally.


    How do I get involved?

    If you’re not a member, then contact the TU that you wish to join. If you’re not sure which union this is, then find out if people in your workplace are mostly members of one TU. It makes sense to join the union that your employer recognises and negotiates with.

    If you are interested in becoming a TU representative then talk to your branch. Representatives are elected each year by the group of members they represent.

    Useful Contacts

    Listed below are some of the main TU’s in Scotland, many of which have LGBT members networks (details of these networks are given where available).

    The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) co-ordinates, develops and articulates the views and policies of the TU movement in Scotland. They promote trade unionism, equality and social justice, the creation and maintenance of high quality jobs and the public sector delivery of services.

    In 1999 the STUC established a LGBT workers forum, to assist with its work in relation to the issues of discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender trades union members.

    Scottish Trades Union Congress
    333 Woodlands Road
    G3 6NG

    tel: 0141 337 8100
    email: (for general enquiries)
    or (for information about the LGBT Workers Network)

    UNISON is the UK’s largest trades union with over 1.3 million members. Their membership includes people working in the public services, including local authorities, the NHS, the police service, colleges and schools, electricity, gas and water industries, transport and the voluntary sector.

    They have an active self organised network of lesbian and gay members (there is currently a debate within UNISON about whether to extend the network to include bisexual and transgender members). They hold meetings at branch and regional levels and hold an national lesbian and gay members conference.

    UNISON House
    14 West Campbell Street
    G2 6RX

    tel: 0870 7777 006
    email: (for general enquiries)
    or (for info about LGBT Network)
    or (for LGBT Network)

    The GMB membership is drawn from a wide range of areas, including the NHS, local authorities, care, education, engineering, manufacturing, construction, shipbuilding, clothing and textiles, retail and catering sectors. They have over 700,000 members across the UK.

    The GMB has a self organised network of lesbian and gay members that meets several times a year to discuss common concerns.

    GMB Scotland
    Fountain House
    1/3 Woodside Crescent
    G3 7UJ

    tel: 0141 332 8641
    email: (for general enquiries)
    or (Equalities Officer for info about lesbian and gay members network)

    The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is one of the UK’s largest unions with over 288,000 members. Their membership is drawn primarily from government departments in both the public and private sectors.

    The PCS has an active self organised network for LGBT members, PCS Proud. PCS Proud has a representative in Scotland and a national representative for transgender members.

    PCS Scotland (Edinburgh)
    Glenorchy House
    20 Union Street
    EH1 3LR

    tel: 0131 556 0407

    PCS Scotland (Glasgow)
    Suite 320-323
    Baltic Chambers
    50 Wellington Street
    G2 6HJ

    tel: 0141 248 6978

    PCS Proud (Scottish Representative)
    Mel Sinclair
    Department of Work and Pensions
    8 Coustonholnm Road
    G43 1SS


    The T & G is the UK’s largest general workers union with over 900,000 members. Their membership comes from a variety of jobs and industries including administrative and clerical, agriculture, building, construction and civil engineering, transport and public services.

    The T & G have equalities officers based at their regional offices.

    T & G Scotland
    290 Bath Street
    G2 4LD

    tel: 0141 332 7321

    Amicus MSF is the union for skilled and professional workers. They have a large membership covering almost every industry and service, including engineering, craft, scientific, medical, voluntary and charitable sectors.

    Amicus MSF
    John Smith House
    145/165 West Regent Street
    G2 4RZ

    tel: 0141 229 6100

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