Trade unions have existed in the UK for centuries. Although membership levels have decreased significantly since their peak in the 1970s, they remain a legitimate and important form of employee voice. Developing effective working relationships with trade union representatives and members can help organisations to build a positive employment relations climate.

This factsheet explores the role and influence of trade unions and looks at the current level of union membership in the UK. It briefly looks at the history of trade unions and the role of trade union representatives. Finally, the factsheet considers the continuing value of a partnership approach to working with trade unions. 

This factsheet was last updated by Rachel Suff: Senior Employee Relations Adviser, CIPD

Rachel informs CIPD policy thinking on health and wellbeing as well as employment relations. She has over 25 years’ experience in the employment and HR arena.

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