The main service a union provides for its members is negotiation and representation.
Unions are active watchdogs constantly overseeing any workplace changes that your employer tries to introduce, employer breaches of awards, agreements, entitlements and conditions.
Negotiation is where union representatives discuss with management issues which affect people working in an organisation. The union finds out the members' views and relays these views to management. There may be a difference of opinion between management and union members. 'Negotiation' is about finding a solution to these differences. This process is also known as 'collective bargaining'.
In many workplaces there is a formal agreement between the union and the company which states that the union has the right to negotiate with the employer. In these organisations, unions are said to be 'recognised' for 'collective bargaining' purposes.
Pay, working hours, holidays and changes to working practices are the sorts of issues that are negotiated. People who work in organisations where unions are recognised are better paid and are less likely to be made redundant than people who work in organisations where unions are not recognised.
The union also represent individual members when they have a problem at work. If an employee feels they are being unfairly treated, he or she can ask the union representative to help sort out the difficulty with the manager or employer.
If the problem cannot be resolved amicably, the matter may go to an industrial tribunal. Industrial tribunals make sure that employment laws are properly adhered to by employees and employers. They are made up of people outside the workplace who listen to the employer's and the employee's point of view and then make a judgement about the case. People can ask their union to represent them at industrial tribunals. Most cases that go to industrial tribunals are about pay, unfair dismissal, redundancy or discrimination at work.
Unions also offer their members legal representation. Normally this is to help people get financial compensation for work-related injuries or to assist people who have to take their employer to court.