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 at 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 targets 

ü  Negotiating employment conditions and job descriptions 

Objectives and Activities of Trade Unions

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.  

Industrial action:
Trade unions may organize strikes or resistance to lockouts in furtherance of particular goals. 

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. Blanket or General
      4. Staff Unions

          (a) – Company unions  (b)  Staff associations 



    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 today. 

    · Made up of members sharing the same skills or  within the same trade 

    · They regulate the training requirements for the particular skill

    · 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 are the Jamaica Teachers’ Association and the Jamaica Junior Doctors Association. 

    · Membership is made up of workers of different skills within the same industry. 

    ·  Advantage to this is that the  employers negotiate with only  one  group of  employee representatives


            • 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 industries. Examples: BITU, NWU, UAWU


    · Company unions are those that are formed to and represent  only  workers  in a particular company

    · Staff associations: 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.


    UTASP – Union of Technical Administrative and Supervisory Personnel  

    JCSA – Jamaica Civil Service Association – (not registered as a trade union) 

    The Structure of Trade Unions

    Trade unions are democratic organizations which are accountable to their members for their policies and actions.

    Unions are normally modelled on the following structure

    Members – People who pay a subscription to belong to a union  

    Shop stewards – Sometimes called union representatives – who are elected by members of the union to represent them to management

    Branches – 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.