By Michelle Marnewick
A trade union is an organisation whose purpose it is to ensure fair labour practices and to watch over the rights and needs of employees in a company. They also look after employers’ and employees’ interests in disputes and negotiations.
Many people, especially employers, have negative perceptions of trade unions. They only hear about the bad things, e.g. that trade unions provoke riots and strikes and make life difficult for employers. They are not aware of the good things that trade unions do and how they could also benefit from a trade union’s activities. In general, people are not well informed. In this article I am therefore going to say a few things about the benefits that trade unions offer employees as well as employers.
Employers are used to doing as they please without answering to anybody. The moment a third party enters the scene, for instance in the form of a trade union, they suddenly have to justify their actions and questions are asked about what they do. It is an adjusment and not always agreeable, but if employers look at the long-term possibilities they realise that it could be to their benefit. A trade union can often provide an employer with guidance if only the employer would allow it and is openminded about it.
Solidarity organiser Rene Harmse explains this by means of a comparison: “Just imagine that legislation is implemented that compels everybody to have a financial adviser. This adviser not only helps you with investments etcetera, but has a say in all your finances and how you spend it.
“All of a sudden you have to account to somebody else for every item you buy and how you spend your money. It’s frustrating and everybody will be furious about it, but when you look back at it after a number of years you will see how you benefited by it, how it helped you to manage your money smartly and how much money you were able to save by just listening to them.
“Perhaps they helped you to provide adequately for your old age, to spend your money every month in such a way that at the end of each month you still had enough to tide you over and to have a nice, comfortable life financially. If one looks at the long-term bigger picture, you are better off as a result of that but at the time it wasn’t nice and you rebelled against it with everything you had. It’s the same with a trade union – perhaps you don’t see the benefits right now, but if you look back you will see how it helped you to do the right thing and manage your personnel in the right way. One can call it growing pains – it hurts before it gets better.”
Some benefits of a trade union:
- It makes the negotiation process easier. Instead of having to negotiate with a lot of people, you negotiate with one person on behalf of everybody else.
- It improves employee satisfaction. Employers do not always know what their employees need and sometimes it is something as simple as internet access. For most employees it is easier to tell somebody from outside what the problem is, and that is why trade unions are probably more familiar with the needs of the personnel. They can then negotiate about it, which further leads to happy and satisfied pesonnel in your company.
- Because of the better benefits and satisfaction of the personnel, personnel turnover is also much lower and manageable.
- It is also a form of, or a channel for, communication. Sometimes it is impossible for employers to make sure that a message has reached all personnel and also for the personnel to feel free and have an opportunity to go and talk to their employers, especially in bigger companies with 1 000 or more employees. Trade unions can also help employees raise a problem with employers, even if it is only to encourage employees to go and discuss it.
- This brings me to the next point: Trade unions can help to guide employees to do the right thing and take the right steps. Sometimes people are more likely to listen to advice coming from an outsider or a person without powers. Or perhaps they don’t feel at liberty to talk to their employers, and where it would normally just be suppressed or avoided, the trade union can now help to encourage them to discuss it with the line manager.
- Trade unions can also assist with the company’s disciplinary processes and procedures. When employers and trade unions cooperate to develop and implement processes, employees feel better about the processes and are more amenable to them. This creates a perception that the processes are fair and take both parties’ interests into consideration. Trade unions can also guide employers to institute the right processes that are in accordance with the law and which will prevent the employees from having to take matters up with the workplace at a later stage.
- Furthermore, processes to find solutions could also proceed faster.
- The last point I want to make in this article is the diversity of interests covered by a trade union. It goes beyond the workplace alone – it also involves economic, social and other interests that could benefit employers and employees. For instance, they regularly get information about what is going on in the country’s economy and can therefore give good advice apart from workplace advice. Employers should just be willing to listen.
It is clear that trade unions hold a number of benefits for employers. However, it is important that employers and trade unions build good relationships. In this regard it will help to look for a trade union that is adapted to your company’s culture, values and that in which they believe. Employers will then probably welcome trade unions with open arms. Employers and trade unions should just always try to cooperate and find common ground.
Do you belong to a trade union that will protect you in the workplace? If not, click here.