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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Dennis-Harburg

The value of unions

"Join a union" was the first piece of employment advice my dad gave me, and I followed it. I've been a member of Unite for as long as I've worked. The benefits come in many forms, from discounted lifestyle products (pre-paid debit cards, insurance products, cashback offers etc.) to employee assistance schemes and legal support in employment disputes.

During a restructure at work, Unite members came together to negotiate with HR, but also formed a valuable support network for staff - when you're a union member you're never alone, there's a real community creating a safe space to talk about the things troubling you at work.

With the cost of living crisis biting harder, unions are finding innovative ways to support their members. On 24 June Unison is launching a limited fund to help those one low incomes with the cost of school uniforms - you can find out more at School Uniform Grant 2022 | UNISON NI (

Unite will be marching for change alongside other unions on 18 June. With energy bills up 54%, 1 in 6 struggling to make ends meet as inflation rises to a 30 year high, the need for change and a fair deal for working people couldn't be clearer.

Thousands of rail workers across the country will now strike. They face either a pay freeze - despite inflation being at 11.1% (RPI) - or redundancy. With passenger numbers below their pre-covid levels by some 25% some sympathy could be had for the rail companies, except they've made £500m of profits. The rail network has received £16bn of public funding to keep it running during the pandemic, so why workers cannot be paid fairly is difficult to understand. Rail workers often work long shift patterns - 7 days in a row, with 1 weekend of every 9 weeks in some cases. No worker ever wants to strike - we're not paid if we do. But sometimes it's the only option left to get bring employers to the table to deliver a fair deal.

It's not just what some might call the 'traditional' strike groups who are taking industrial action. Criminal defence lawyers have been on strike for only the second time in their history this year. Again, the issue is fair pay. Newly trained lawyers in 2019 - 2020 earned a median pre-tax sum of just £12,200, less than half the national average in the same year. 22% of junior criminal defence barristers have quit since 2016, placing greater strain on an already over-burdened system. A 15% increase to criminal legal aid fees has long been promised, but yet to be delivered by the government, with the latest indication being that only a 9% increase will be delivered. The Criminal Bar Association continues to support barristers and press for a fair deal.

Unions and collective bodies give workers a voice, and a platform to achieve positive change. With the challenges we all face, and the failure of this Conservative government to deliver for working people, the value of unions is more clear than ever.

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