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So you want to be a... union official.

What is a trade union official? Trade unions exist to represent the interests of their members in discussions with employers over such matters as pay and conditions of service, contracts of employment, working practices, health and safety in the workplace and equal opportunities.

Part-time officials, called shop stewards or representatives, are elected by trade union members. They pass on the views of the workforce to the management of the company.

They usually have an job within the company but have a legal right to undertake union business in working hours.

Trade union officials are full-time employees of the union, acting on behalf of the members. What do trade union officials do? Officials who represent the union at regional level might recruit workers and organise them into branches, arrange for the election of local officials, provide professional support to the local officials and train shop stewards or representatives.

Those employed by the head office of the union are concerned with broader issues concerning national policy and negotiations with the main employers' representatives, political parties and government.

What are the hours and environment? A union official's basic week is 35 hours, but in practice more than 40 hours is common, and often includes early starts, evenings and weekends.

Union officials are office-based but spend time travelling to employers' premises to meet members and union representatives/shop stewards, attend meetings and visit members at their place of work.

A driving licence is usually required. What skills and interests are required? A trade union official must have a genuine interest in the welfare of people and in the aims and objects of the union you represent.

In addition they should be self-confident and approachable, have excellent communication, negotiation, interviewing and listening skills and enjoy meeting people - often in challenging situations.

In addition, they are expected to be confident when speaking in public, be able to inspire trust in both members and employers and be able to motivate and manage support staff and local representatives.

How do you get started? The two main routes into trade union work are via branch or regional office or by joining the staff at head office.

Headquarters staff are usually qualified in the work in which they specialise. This may be employment or general law, accountancy, economics, trade union legislation, organisation, media, research or education and training.

They may have qualified and worked in these areas of work beforehand or they may be direct entrants from further education with either a degree or equivalent such as NVQ/SVQ level 3 or 4. An increasing number of trade union officials have degrees - entry requirements for a degree are five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) with two Alevels/three H grades or equivalent. The most relevant subject is labour studies but economic history, business and management may also be welcomed.

Branch or regional office staff will have spent several years involved in union work in an unpaid capacity, either as a representative or shop steward. They will have an intimate knowledge of the workings of the union at ground level.

There are no upper or lower age limits and many trade union officials enter full-time union employment after gaining experience on a voluntary basis. Evidence of negotiating skills or advice work in a voluntary or work setting is valuable.

What training is available? Training is mainly on the job.

This is supplemented by regular short training programmes run by the employing trade union, by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), or by commercial training organisations.

The TUC programmes cover subjects such as negotiating, bargaining and communicating, health and safety, industrial tribunals and employment law.

The TUC has its own National Training Centre in London, with further regional training centres around the UK.

NVQs/SVQs at Level 3 in Developing Union Organisation and Level 4 in Supporting Workplace Organisation and Representation are available. Officials who manage support staff are encouraged to gain the qualification M1 of the Management Charter Initiative (MCI).

Other NVQs/SVQs may be available in administration or relating to the work of the industry that the employing trade union represents. Trade union officials may get financial support to sit other professional exams that are relevant to the job, such as personnel or training qualifications.

What are the opportunities? Part-time union positions are easier to find than full-time employment. Employment trends are decreasing and the number of unions and union members is falling. Trade union officials may become regional secretaries of their union, i.e. managing other officials, and there are a few national posts, usually based in London.

It is possible for trade union officials to move into similar jobs in professional bodies, or to move into personnel work. Some move into politics as councillors or members of Parliament. What is the annual income? The annual income section is intended as a guideline only, but new entrants may start at around pounds 12,000, policy officers may earn around pounds 20,000 and trade union officials in senior management positions may earn pounds 30,000 or more.

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REACHING OUT: The modern trade union official must inspire trust and be good at negotiation
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 14, 2010
Words:854
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