What is a union?

A union helps to secure and protect a healthier working life for you and your colleagues through collective organisation. Above all, a union is you and your fellow workers changing the workplace for the better. A union has a democratic structure, and you decide on important issues that you want to change. Some unions have recognition agreements or collective bargaining agreements with employers, which gives them a legal right to negotiate with their employer. Other unions campaign for change without this legal right, but can be just as successful. For a more in depth look at unions, sign up to one of Prospect's 'What is a Union?' webinars.


I'm already paid pretty well. Why would I join a union?

There's a few reasons. Of course, pay is just one of the reasons we're organising - but let's talk about pay and wages for a minute. You might be in a good situation now, but what will be the effects of outside forces - like lockdown and COVID - have on the situation? What does your pay packet look like if you get sick, go on parental leave, or have to reduce your working hours?

Most importantly - is everyone in your company paid well? Does everyone have a secure position, with good pay and benefits? Think about whether everyone is paid fairly and equally. Think about those at the very top of the company and those who have just started in a junior role. Think about some of the stories and practices of the tech industry as a whole.

Can you use your stable and well compensated position to stand up for others? Can you use your influence and experience in the company to improve the working lives of some of your colleagues?

That's what a union is for. Yes, wages are often the headline issue, but being part of a union is also about committing to support each other and take care of each other. It's about making underrepresented voices heard. If you think you can help with that - protect, support, be an ally and amplify your colleagues - then you can be a vital part of a union.


If I have a problem with how the company treats me, I’ll just leave.

You could do that, and it’s great that you’re in a position where you can easily get another job. But perhaps that same problem is affecting others too, who don’t have the same ability to switch companies. If you move to a new company, you’ll also be making yourself vulnerable - people who have been employed for less than 2 years have fewer employee rights, and can be let go at any time without explanation.

Ultimately we’re looking at the bigger picture across the entire sector, and thinking about what we want the future of tech to look like. You might get pretty tired of jumping between companies to find the one with the right culture. The way to change that - and the way that has worked in other industries - is to create a higher base of welfare across the sector, and to hold every company (from startups to multinationals) to the ideals they started with. A union is the way to do that.


If I join a union will you tell my company?

No. When you join we ask for your workplace so we can keep track of the size of your branch, but we would never tell your employer. Being a member of a trade union is protected information, and it is illegal to discriminate against you for being a member.


Why do you hate bosses? Why do you want to bring down the company?

OK! Well, we don't do either of those things.

We believe in our work and the places we work. Unions don't usually grow from a group of workers who hate their jobs; they grow from workers who want to feel proud of where they work. They want the best conditions available to do good work. The Scottish Government, a huge supporter of the Scottish tech industry, is also a supporter of unions - in their Fair Work Framework they set out some useful advantages of Effective Voice:

Effective voice does not only benefit employees. It also benefits organisations. Effective voice encourages employees to engage with the organisation and put forward views and ideas in ways that can stimulate change and improvement. Dialogue can improve the quality of information, which in turn can improve the quality of decision making. Genuine and effective voice mechanisms can deliver commitment to decisions that are made - even from those who disagree - and contribute to a good work climate. There are many examples in Scotland and elsewhere of how collective voice through trade unions working with employers has addressed a wide range of organisational challenges and contributed to organisational improvements.


What can I do if I’m the CEO?

Hi Tech Boss! So you've found yourself on the website of a network of tech employees interested in unionising. Maybe you feel a little out of place! But don't worry - you've got a part to play here, too.

We know that there is a big need for developers at every level of the sector. You want the best people to work for you, and they want the best place to work. You’re offering a decent salary, a modern office, and a nice community. You’ve got a mission statement that you believe in. What sets you apart from everywhere else?

Broadcasting to your employees and new hires that you support a unionised workforce goes beyond promises to treat them well and do good as a company. It sets out that you’re willing to listen to your workers and be held accountable - it sets the stage for a real company as a group of people who are respected, respect each other, and work together. This is what will set you apart as a serious and mature company, willing to grow with your employees and allow them to help you with that growth.

A huge portion of new tech companies receive some support from the Government through grants. The Scottish Government also suggests every company in Scotland tries to uphold the tenets of the Fair Work Framework. It sets out some of the advantages of union representation:

It is clear from international evidence that employees and workers want a voice, not only to resolve problems and conflicts (which is important) but also to engage and participate constructively in organisations. Employee voice can improve employee's work experience as well as improving organisational performance. Opportunities for voice in organisations - through trade unions or other forms - reflect employees' legitimate expectations to speak, be heard and contribute to debates and decision-making. This benefits employees and employers. 

Your workers are in control of the union, but that doesn't mean you can't support and encourage your workers and new hires to join a union. By protecting your employees as a group, you're giving a genuine voice to the people who make up your company, and are inviting genuine and honest feedback. You'll be committing to accountability, equality and fairness for your workers.


Have trade unions ever actually changed anything?

We’re glad you asked.

Every working day, across thousands of workplaces, unions are working with employers to make a positive difference to workplaces. Be it health and safety, training, staff welfare or negotiating terms and conditions, employees are speaking up through their unions to get things done. You may never hear about this good work, and that suits most union members and employers. Every week, union members get in touch for support and advice on workplace issues. Every year unions will win big for their members 

Since the first unions were formed, they have been sticking up for workers and have a legacy of achievements:

  • Paid annual leave
  • Paid sick leave
  • Minimum wage
  • Living wage
  • Health & Safety regulations
  • Collective bargaining rights for employees
  • Breaks, including lunch breaks
  • Overtime pay
  • Pensions
  • Longer holidays
  • Flexible working hours
  • Age discrimination legislation
  • Whistleblower protection laws
  • Sex discrimination legislation
  • Equal Pay legislation
  • Maternity pay
  • Parental leave
  • The right to strike

Workers rights are under attack, some business owners see these rights as barriers to their profits. Good businesses prosper and grow by treating their employees fairly. Join today and add your voice to the many thousands who also support workers rights.


If you have questions that aren’t answered here, send us a message, join the network, or come to one of our open meetups.