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Unions for Health Workers

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 19 May 2024 | comments*Discuss
Health Health Care Union Unison Health

If you work for the National Health Service (NHS), then you are probably familiar with the concept of unions. For those who are perhaps contemplating a health care career or are now finished their training and want to begin their job search, the concept of unions is an important one that you should understand.

Unions are organisations of workers – in this case health care workers – who cooperatively join together to bring a stronger voice and presence to the workplace. This presence is important because it allows workers to improve job conditions and ultimately, improve the quality of care for patients.

Another feature of a union you should understand is that unions are democratic groups. If you are part of a union, you will contribute to the decision-making. You will vote on contracts and also elect leaders for the union as well as vote on any modifications and regulations to the structure of the union. Essentially, any important decision that must be made will provide you with an opportunity to have your voice heard.

Representing Health Care Workers

There are actually many different health care careers that are represented by unions. Unison is a large union that represents an enormous number of health care workers who are employed by the NHS. Many health care workers such as nurses, ambulance staff, managerial professionals and administrative workers are all represented by unions. Trades Union Congress (TUC) plays a key role in unions for the United Kingdom (UK). Considered the voice of the UK, TUC campaigns for fairness and equality in the workplace. TUC comprises fifty-eight affiliated unions, including Unison.

One of the key mandates of a union is to advance staff within their chosen careers. This means that there is a focus on positive, decent treatment of staff in the workplace. It also means that there is a consistent focus on improving these standards, particularly in terms of keeping up with changing social and economic conditions in society. Continuing education is one example of the way in which unions ensure that workers are competent in their careers. Another necessary mandate for unions is to ensure that workers are treated equally and fairly. Sexual discrimination, for instance, would not be tolerated and policies would be in effect to promote equal access and treatment for all in workplace conditions and services.

Improving Patient Care by Enhancing Employee Standards

It seems to be a simple concept that by improving the standards in the workplace for all employees, then patients will ultimately benefit. However, implementing strong professional standards can be easier said than done. In this way, unions are a driving force for supporting and enhancing professional standards and codes of conduct in the workplace. Members are encouraged to participate in the decision-making process that impacts all members of the union and their place of work. In turn, employees will feel more supported and will thrive in the workplace, which then translates to a better quality of care for patients.

Patient care is also improved because employees are made responsible and accountable for their conduct and provision of care. In turn, employees also receive protection against any false claims of malpractice. Unions protect employees under the law and prevent any harassment or poor treatment by colleagues or management in the workplace.

Union Dues and Workplace Salaries

A key area where unions play an active role is in the negotiation of fair and appropriate workplace salaries. Generally, a union contract will indicate regular yearly raises in salary and sufficient breaks during the day. A union will fight for salaries that are in line with the rising costs of living, which allows health care workers to receive a proper pay that supports living costs. Most unions also allow workers to access pension plans and obtain extended health benefits.

To work at maximum effectiveness, a union does require members to pay union dues. While they may initially seem unnecessary, they are vital to maintaining the union's strength and resources. In the long run, the dues more than pay for themselves because they help members to obtain raises and premium pay. They also allow workers to function in a safe and healthy workplace. Union dues are used for a number of priorities such as negotiating contracts and working conditions as well as to increase wages and associated benefits.

Challenges of Health Care Unions

Unfortunately, a health care union is not without its challenges. For some workers, the democratic process may mean that they are forced to go on strike even when they didn't vote to strike, simply because the majority demanded a strike. Still, this democratic process guides most of society in all other areas and the vast majority of Britons do support democracy as a means to improving society and making the best decisions.

If you are a new health care worker who is embarking on your dream career, you may soon be a part of a health care union. It's important to be aware of the many different features of unions, which can then allow you to be informed and educated in your own role within that union and the decision-making process. Despite some of the challenges of unions, they are ultimately considered by many to be a vital driving force in the improvement of workplace standards and patient care.

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I would like to joine trade union. Can you help me please?
SR Daneys - 19-May-24 @ 6:35 PM
I work for a selfish private company that are taking advantage of my lack of experience and the fact they don’t see me because I work nights. Changing my rota without my permission forcing me to work hours I didn’t agree too as-well as only giving me one day off between night sifts that I sleep through because I’m so exhausted.
Judy - 7-Dec-20 @ 7:35 AM
I work as an Activities / Lifestyle co-ordinator for a care home in Richmond. During the recent lockdown my job role has become even more demanding and stressful as relatives were not able to visit their family members, myself and my colleague were put under even more pressure to keep residents entertained, calm and ensure their good mental health added to this was the fact that we were required to complete even more paperwork to monitor the residents wellbeing and how this was affected by lockdown residents mental health. Shortly after these new requirements for our job role were brought in my colleague decided to move to another department in the company and told me that she was going to be working in the kitchen, because she wanted to try something new. I was told that she would be reducing her working hours - I was also told that no new member of staff could be appointed in her role until she had resigned which I thought was very strange. My colleague reduced her hours to work more in the kitchen and then suddenly was working full time in the kitchen leaving me to work alone in the role as Activities co-ordinator to 44 residents on three different units of the care home. I later found out from our business manager that my colleague had no qualifications to go into her new role in the kitchen and that she never went through the internal interview process within the company. A few days later I wanted to talk to my manager about something and she suddenly came out with a statement that all the activities in the care home were very bad (her exact words) her reason for saying that the activities were very bad was because there is a spa room where residents can have their nails done and that this was never being used. Please bear in mind that up until this point I had almost single handedly done quizes with the residents, done arts and crafts activities, ran exercise sessions and done the residents hair in the absence of our regular hairdresser who was not allowed to come into the building. During this impromptu meeting my manager took me into the business managers office where both of them made me feel inadequate, frustrated, angry and very unhappy,they both tried to say that I should not take comments such as "all activities are really bad" personally and that I should view these as constructive criticism. Due to covid 19 restrictions many of the staff at my company were not able to travel abroad to see their families, me included. We received a letter from the company saying that Exceptionally we could carry two weeks of our annual leave over to next year to be taken by February 2021 and that we had to contact our manager to arrange this. I sent my manager an email asking if I could take two weeks of my annual leave over to next year. She did not respond to my email and I had to ask her in person if she had received my email about my annual leave. She said that this was only for staff members who could not be replaced in th
Webbie - 7-Nov-20 @ 9:27 AM
Please i would liketo join the union. Thanks
Ezeudo - 1-Sep-20 @ 9:07 PM
I am a mental health support worker, with my job it comes with some physical pressures. I sometimes have to restrain patients for their own safety and the safety of others. Recently I was suffered a back injury due to a difficult restraint. I had to take time off work, once going back to work it aggravated it excessively. I have now had to take more time off work but, due to previous sickness absences I am more penalised for taking time off with this current injury. I'm unsure what I can do where it is a work related injury, they've told me it doesn't matter and it still goes down as a normal absence. I'm changing jobs within the same trust and I'm petrified this could jeopardise that. Any advice?
Mental health suppor - 19-Jul-20 @ 4:13 PM
I have been of sick since feb 2020 ive now been informed that im going down to half pay is there anything i can do as im sure if it wasnt for covd19 i would have been back to work all appointments were cancelled.
Cilla - 7-Jul-20 @ 7:35 AM
Idolatry, ostentatio - 20-May-20 @ 7:08 PM
I ama care worker and joined community union. when asking for support I have been told that the care sector is bad and I should look for another job. What kind of support is thatz and how are they improving the working conditions? I am disappointed.
Kalimataan - 28-Dec-18 @ 2:15 PM
I have dedicated my loyalty and goal to succeed as a pca accepting schedules and work assignments which at times was overwhelming.During my course of employment, I became aware of my employer cheating me continuously from the allocated fringe benefits which was discussed at orientation. Time and again, I have contacted my staff supervisor and payroll regarding my queries but on each occassion I was told that I was compensated. I should have left the company from the first day I realise they are not promissing as per their mission statement and opportunity to grow. I am 14 plus months with this employer and just about my 10 month, I observe and became aware that my staff supervisor was keeping me on part time hours and not offering more stable work hours or full time work schedule. Obviously this I find to be a scam by the company whom by keeping employees with less work hours will safe money from annual emoyee compensations Todate, I have been suffering awaiting full time hours while my employer continues their monthly orientation for new hires. I finally applied for unemoyment benefits and soon after, my staff supervisor has been sending me work assignments so as to offset the unemployment weekly pay, thereby overworking me with either one full day of 12-14 hours later than 5-6 days of average 7-8 hours of work. Though I am offered these long day of assignment, it still does not fill my financial obligations and surely has been taking a toll on my well-being. Today I spoke to HR and they claim I am the highest paid employee which is surely a lie...I have added responsibilities from when I started and was thrown to care for hospice and dementia patients without any formal training....however, I have succeeded at both cases and was complimented time and again by the family members. My supervisors and other caregivers with my staff administrator saying, " she wish they can clone me".I have only earned great beautiful sweet words of praise, thanks and gratitude....I cannot pay bills in this material world of high cost of living with the lulaby words. How should I address this legally and for the awareness of other young and inexperience care givers entering the homecare agencies. Upon researching the web, I found numerous videos on homecare agency fraud. I wonder if my agency is in part a criminal luring job seekers and abusing them as tools for higher profits. I feel used and abused by my present employer which is deploying stress on my very being. I a formal Democrat is so upset with the current labor laws that I will be voting for Republican . Jobs was created in the healthcare industry by Democrats whom originated a new era of slavery and drug addicts. This is not a benefit to hard working Americans...this is a foundation of wealthy profits to the millionaires and this orugination began in 1998when Bill Clinton told us all about the Canadian Healthcare OHIP ...I lol as every Canadian citizen born
Sandy - 11-Oct-18 @ 6:05 AM
Other than unison and unite can you suggest a trade union for warehousing supplying the nhs
Addie - 10-Apr-18 @ 8:59 PM
I am a supervisor at a care home and we care staff are looking into joining a union but need the right one who would help and support carers rightsand know the ins and outs of employment laws and the CQC standard of care what should be provided .
Jod - 5-Jan-18 @ 10:58 AM
I was shocked to see you recommending Unison as a union. I have been severely let down by them and wonder what was the point of paying my subscriptions for all these years. Even after making a formal complaint, they still ignore you. We need to take out insurance just in case our chosen union is a total washout! My friend is a member of Unite and has praised their support. And another non-NHS friend is with GMB whom he says are great. And lo and behold, the validation word here was 'mug!'
NewBeginnings - 12-May-17 @ 7:23 AM
Be - Your Question:
Good morning,I would be interested in getting a Profesional Liability Insurance.I am a radiographer, not registered at HCPC yet because I need the insurance to complete my declaration. Could you provide me that information?Thank you in advance

Our Response:
You would have to contact a Public Liability Insurance agent directly and I'm afraid it's beyond our remit to make recommendations.
AHealthCareer - 13-Jan-17 @ 12:56 PM
Good morning, I would be interested in getting a Profesional Liability Insurance. I am a radiographer, not registered at HCPC yet because I need the insurance to complete my declaration. Could you provide me that information? Thank you in advance
Be - 12-Jan-17 @ 7:30 PM
Mayla - Your Question:
Hi everyone! I am a support worker and work with adults with learning disabilities. I was wondering what union would be best to join? Thanks

Our Response:
For healthcare sector workers, UNISON is one of the UK’s largest trade unions, serving more than 1.3 million members and represents full-time and part-time staff who provide public services, although they may be employed in both the public and private sectors. There is also GMB, which is a campaigning union within the care sector. It has members in all areas of social care such as residential homes, home carers and charities. Please also see the WorkSmart finding a union link here.
AHealthCareer - 8-Mar-16 @ 10:18 AM
Hi everyone! I am a support worker and work with adults with learning disabilities. I was wondering what union would be best to join? Thanks
Mayla - 7-Mar-16 @ 7:48 AM
@Thom - I have included a National Careers Service link here, which should tell you all you need to know. I hope this helps.
AHealthCareer - 9-Jun-15 @ 9:54 AM
Hi, I'm thinking of starting a career as a care worker but don't know where's the best place to start.Is there a recommended course or course provider or reading materials? It would need to be a distance learning course as I still need to earn as I learn and I've looked at many different courses but not sure. I have no experience in the area but plan to do volunteering at some of the organisations near me in North Wales. Any help would be appreciated. Thankyou.
Thom - 6-Jun-15 @ 11:56 AM
@Mcastle - Apart from the advice offered in the article, have you asked whether there is a union at work? If so, you can ask the trade union rep about joining. Contact details may be in your company handbook, intranet site or on the union noticeboard. Or you could also use the TUC’s interactive tool; UnionFinder, link here to help you find a trade union in your workplace, or one which covers your type of job. I hope this helps.
AHealthCareer - 15-Apr-15 @ 10:57 AM
I work as a care assistant and would like to jointly to the best union that represent care. Can you please give me feedback. Many thanks
Mcastle - 12-Apr-15 @ 12:35 PM
I am a support worker for Adults with learning disabilities and would like to know the union for me to join please?
pet - 1-Mar-15 @ 9:10 PM
@Justin, as specified in the article UNISON welcomes members employed or contracted by the NHS, GMB is also a campaigning union within the care sector and based in the south. It has members in all areas of social care such as residential homes, home carers and charities. You may also have a union rep at work, please find more details on how to join and find a union via the gov.uk link here. I hope this helps.
AHealthCareer - 23-Feb-15 @ 10:31 AM
I work as a care assistant and would like to join the best union that represent care assistants.thank you
justin - 20-Feb-15 @ 10:08 AM
I will love to join the union , am work as health care assistant
Joy - 10-Dec-14 @ 7:23 PM
I started working as a care support worker, while waiting for my re-registration with NMC. Hoping to return to work as a midwife or nurse. Please advice on whcih union best for both carers? Thank you. Flora
Flora - 20-Sep-14 @ 5:37 PM
I have been working at the same place for the past 8 years, the company has recently been taken over by a larger company. I have got a btec national diploma in health and social care level 3. They are now saying that my btec is not recognised and are trying to get me to do my nvq level 2. Any information on this would be very helpful.
Lydia - 22-Aug-14 @ 8:19 PM
Iv started a care job and would like to join a union don't know much about them as never done this work before any advice to which I should join to protect me?
Mrs h - 5-Aug-14 @ 1:49 PM
Hi, I am starting as a support worker in a supported living unit for adults with learning disabilities. It is a charity organisation partly funded by the Belfast Trust. I was just wondering what union would be best for me. any help would be great. thank you so much. Kind regards Justin
Justin - 30-Jun-14 @ 8:05 AM
I want to join the union . Am doing Care worker and Support worker.
Touch - 7-Jun-14 @ 11:47 PM
Am looking for help for my son who works for a private company as a health care worker in peoples homes. He was being bullied by a team member, and finally reported it. He accepted offer of mediation, the other party didn't. Few weeks later, he was suspended due to allegations made by the other party and their close circle. He is 46 has worked in the industry most of his life, has never had any problems of not getting on with anyone, either colleagues or clients. Because of this and poor pay, he never joined a union and now needs help.
chris - 14-Nov-13 @ 11:45 AM
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