Unions - feedback from your emails

From the emails I have been receiving – over 30 now – I am told of very different standards of support and representation. Comments have ranged from ‘my union rep has been brilliant’ to ‘my rep was a waste of space’.

The unions are either professional bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing or more general unions such as Amicus and Unison. The problem with the latter two is that the rep is unlikely to understand clinical issues and will therefore not want to get involved with work performance issues.

There appear to be three different types of set up for union reps.


  1. The volunteer who does the work out of goodwill in his/her own time, juggling it with their workload. This includes attending management/staff side meetings to negotiate work and conditions, health and safety meetings etc. They may or may not have been for any training. If they are very busy, they may feel they cannot afford the time. The training for one union is residential for five days. Employers have to allow them to attend but if no paid cover is provided, it relies on the goodwill of colleagues to cover their work in their absence. They are unlikely to have any secretarial help. They must be up to date on employment law etc. They have the support of their regional officer.


  1. The person who works for so many hours as a rep and so many in their profession. They also work under a lot of pressure, attending all the meetings and representing colleagues in trouble. They must be up to date on employment law etc. They may not have any support facilities like dedicated office space or secretarial help. They have the support of their regional officer.


  1. The fulltime union rep. Usually their workload is enormous, dealing with complex industrial tribunals and the like. They must be up to date on employment law etc. They have an office and secretarial support and line management support, and give support to the reps mentioned above.


From the feedback I have received, people have complained about the following.

 (This is not to forget the reps who have given excellent support and been very aware of the destructiveness of suspension and false allegations.)


  1. The fulltime officer was ‘too close’ to the managers, appeared to be ‘in their pockets’ and on their side.

Comment: presumably it is inevitable that they know the managers and have to work with them, in order to negotiate. Investigations into allegations of poor work performance are so adversarial, such a relationship is not reassuring to the ‘accused’. Some people believe it has clouded their rep’s judgement, to the detriment of the union member.


  1. The union rep did not return calls or reply to emails. The union member had to keep trying to contact them.

Comment: remembering how some reps are working under such duress, with no resources, it is understandable how this happens.


  1. It was very difficult to arrange meetings quickly when the regional officer was involved due to his/her full diary and the full diaries of the managers.

Comment: this never happens in industry because they treat it as an emergency situation and expect to deal with it within a week. 2 reasons for this: the cost to the business – they cannot afford it and stay competitive; they understand the cost to the individual’s health!


  1. The rep felt the union member was mentally unbalanced. S/he did not understand how stressful the whole experience is and thought they were over-reacting.

Comment: it is very common for people to fail to understand the trauma/grievous loss a person is suffering, as with any of life’s bereavements. However, the reps are supposed to have some idea about this.


  1. The rep appeared to believe the union member was guilty and recommended taking a reduced ‘sentence’ as a victory!

No comment!


  1. The union rep did not understand the clinical issues and did not wish to address them.

Comment: the unions without clinical expertise need to set up a system of reps who can give advice and defend members.


These concerns are obviously very serious and suggest all is not well with the current systems and apparent lack of accountability.

Members have themselves to blame when they leave all the work to a few individuals and give no support. (Attending meetings would be a start!)

  Union reps are welcome to add their comments and suggestions for improving practice.