What do trade unions do?
The core objective of the free trade union movement is the definition, promotion and implementation
of the collective interests and rights of workers, particularly in relation to employers, but also
in relation to the state and as part of broader civil society. Trade unions also provide their
members with many social and welfare services.
The labour movement has been the most important historical driver of labour standards and worker’s
rights. Trade unions have also frequently been in the forefront of wider struggles for political
change, democracy and social justice. This has led to their engagement in a range of activities
such as campaigning and advocacy, education and awareness raising, policy development and the
development of mutual financial institutions.
Functions of Trade Unions
Aim to further its members' interests, via the following:
ü Obtain satisfactory rates of pay.
ü Protecting workers jobs
ü Securing adequate work facilities
ü Ensuring satisfactory work conditions, this can include areas such
as health and safety and equal opportunities.
ü Negotiating bonuses for achieving
ü Negotiating employment
conditions and job descriptions
Objectives and Activities of Trade Unions
1. Collective bargaining: Where trade unions are able to operate openly and are recognised by employers,
they may negotiate with employers over wages and working conditions.
2. Industrial action: Trade unions may organize strikes
or resistance to lockouts in furtherance of particular goals.
3. Political activity: Trade unions may promote legislation favourable to the interests of their
members or workers as a whole. To this end they may pursue campaigns, undertake lobbying, or
financially support individual candidates or parties for public office.
Types of Unions
There are four types of unions
1. Craft Unions
2. Industrial Unions
3. Staff Unions
4. Blanket or General
Craft unions are those formed on the basis of particular skills such as motor
mechanics, plumbing or electrical work. This type pre-dates the general unions that are known
Made up of members sharing same skills or within the
They regulate the training requirements for the
Define who may lay claim to the skill and do the job
Limit the supply of the skill
Very protective of their member's jobs.
Draw their membership exclusively from a particular industry or economic
activity. Best examples Jamaica Teachers’
Association and Jamaica Junior Doctors Association.
Membership is made up of workers of different skills within the same industry.
Advantage to this is that the employers negotiates
with only one group of employee
are those that are formed to and
represent only workers in a
either registered or unregistered as trade
unions, bodies that represent the
interest of workers in their respective companies
These include clerks, secretaries and administrative staff. Membership can also include public
sector workers and supervisory staff.
UTSAP – Union of Technical Supervisory and Administrative Personnel
JCSA – Jamaica Civil Service Association – (not registered as a trade union)
BLANKET OR GENERAL UNIONS
Open to all workers in all industries
Members are drawn from all sectors and have a variety of skills
Have power based on size
Usually they are the largest and most powerful unions, developed to help unskilled workers in
Examples: BITU, NWU, UAWU
The Structure of Trade Unions
Trade unions are democratic organizations which are accountable to their members for their policies
Unions are normally modeled on the following structure
- People who pay a subscription to belong to a union
- Sometimes called union representatives - who are elected by members of the union to represent
them to management
- They support union members in different organizations locally. There is usually a branch
secretary who is elected by local members
District and/or regional offices
- These are usually staffed by full time union officials. These are people who are paid to
offer advice and support to union members locally
A national office
- The unions’ headquarters which offers support to union members and negotiates or campaigns for
improvements to their working conditions. At the top of the organization there is usually a General
Secretary and a National Executive Committee, elected by the union's members.