Labour unions - improving workers right at work
By Kassim Yusuf
Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) gives workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a labour union in the workplace. It also gives the labour unions the right to establish national federations or confederations and the right of the national federations to form or join international trade union organizations. Similarly, trade unions have the right to function freely subject to no limitations other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. And finally, it gives the labour unions the right to strike, on the condition that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country.
Labour unions have also known as trade unions are “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members' interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions”. Trade unions are independent, membership-based organizations of workers that represent and that bargain on behalf of working people. They give advice when their members have problems at work, represent members in negotiations with employers, on ways of improving workers’ wages and working conditions. Unions also ensure that their members’ legal rights are enforced, provide and broker education and learning opportunities for members, promote equal opportunities at work, fight against discrimination and help to make sure a healthy and safe working environment. Many unions provide services for their members, such as welfare benefits, personal legal help and financial services.
Labour unions have a significant impact on the compensation and work lives of both workers registered in labour unions and even those not registered. According to research by the Economic policy institute the labour unions’ effect on improving the wages, fringe benefits, total compensation, pay inequality, and workplace protections include:
• Labour Unions efforts help the raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.
• Labour Unions help reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.
• Strong unions set a pay standard that non-union employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.
• The impact of unions on total non-union wages is almost as large as the impact on total union wages.
• The most sweeping advantage for unionized workers is in fringe benefits. Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are approximately 18% to 28% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23% to 54% more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans.
• Unionized workers receive more generous health benefits than non-unionized workers. They also pay 18% lower health care deductibles and a smaller share of the costs for family coverage. In retirement, unionized workers are 24% more likely to be covered by health insurance paid for by their employer.
• Unionized workers receive better pension plans. Not only are they more likely to have a guaranteed benefit in retirement, but their employers also contribute 28% more toward pensions.
• Unionized workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% more total paid leave (vacations and holidays).
Steps to form a trade union
Creating a new union is very difficult specifically where there are no comprehensive labour laws like in Somaliland. There are five steps for forming new trade unions:
Consultations among workers - is to gather information and build consensus- There must be common issues and themes such as low wages, poor workplace conditions etc. that force workers to form a union.
Formation of organizing committee - If a majority of workers wants to form a union, they should form a Co-workers Representative Committee an “Organizing Committee”, the Committee trains fellow workers about the benefits of unionizing and their rights under the law, motivates co-workers to take action with confidence, identifies common workplace issues and helps plan how to build a union in your workplace.
Building Majority Support - is the next step after the organizing committee complete their work and the majority of workers are ready to support the idea of the formation of the new union. The union formation efforts are publicly declared.
Making the Union Official – this requires evidence that the majority of workers sign union authorization cards that the union is their representative.
Wining Union Contract – once your union is officially certified, the worker's employer is legally required to negotiate in good faith with the Labor union to obtain a written, legally binding contract covering all aspects of their employment. The workers select a negotiating team and decide what changes and improvements the Labor union wants to propose to their employer.
To conclude, Labor unions are an important platform for workers of any country in securing the establishment of favourable labour laws that protect their rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those laws on the job. Labour unions educate workers for their rights, hence, they're more likely to profit from social welfare programs like unemployment insurance and workers compensation. Unions are thus an intermediary institution that provides a necessary complement to legislated benefits and protections.