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What is a nursing Union and Why Should I Consider Joining One?

Do you know what is and what is the purpose of a nursing union?

A trade union is an organisation with members who are usually workers or employees.

It looks after their interests at work by doing things like negotiating agreements with employers on pay and conditions, discussing big changes like large-scale redundancy, discussing members’ concerns with employers and going with members to disciplinary and grievance meetings.

In nursing, a Union broadly offers this kind of support, but it also:

  • offers advice and support;
  • undertakes campaigns and lobbies government;
  • offers learning and development;
  • and undertakes research.

Because of these activities, Nursing Unions are on a special register of trade unions which means the rules differ slightly to other trade unions because trade unionism is not the sole activity.

Pros of joining a Nursing Union

Let’s have a look at the pros of joinin a nursing union:

  • A union has the power and strength of numbers to negotiate enforceable contracts that improve working conditions (like acceptable nurse-to-patient ratios), the role of nurses in managing standards of care, when nurses work overtime, pay scales, etc.
  • Through a union you can get involved in political activism through lobbying government and other bodies to develop, influence and implement a policy that improves the quality of patient care; participate in campaigns that recognise the importance of nurses, health care assistants and nursing students as well as the outcomes for patients.
  • Many union members enjoy the benefit of direct representation by union staff in the workplace. This is especially valuable when disciplinary actions or grievance actions are being undertaken
  • Unions offer legal support in court and may offer a payout if you can no longer work due to illness or injury. They also offer advice and support on employment matters, career development, immigration and welfare.
  • Most unions also offer Indemnity Insurance as part of membership. Indemnity Insurance is a mandatory requirement for The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Registration. Without Indemnity Insurance you cannot practice as a nurse.

Cons of joining a Nursing Union

Let’s have a look at the cons as well:

  • Employers can experience conflicts of interest with a Nursing Union. For example, management can’t make changes on employee pay scales and benefits without consulting the union.
  • A union may make the decision to go on strike. If the union votes to strike, then you as a member must strike and will lose pay for every day the strike goes on. Strikes can impact significantly on patient care.
  • Unions charge membership fees. There is a cost to joining a union, however, these costs are linked to income so if you earn less, you pay less. And it is worth comparing the fees against Indemnity Insurance as there is a cost incurred for this.
  • Unions can put forward collective opinions that are based on the opinion of the majority of the group and that you may therefore not agree with.

There are three main Nursing Unions: The RCN, Unison and Unite.

The RCN (Royal College of Nursing) is a membership organisation of more than 435,000 registered nurses, midwives, health care assistants and nursing students. Around 35,000 nursing students are members.

The RCN is both a professional body, carrying out work on nursing standards, education and practice, and a trade union.

UNISON is one of the UK’s largest trade unions, serving more than 1.3 million members. UNISON represents and acts for members working in a range of public services and utilities, whether they’re employed by private companies, public authorities or in the community and voluntary sector. UNISON represents members; negotiates and bargains on their behalf; campaigns for better working conditions and pay and for public services.

Unite is the largest trade union in the UK and Ireland with around 1.42 million members across 20 different private, public and voluntary sectors including manufacturing, public services, transport, food, finance and construction.

In the health sector, Unite has over 100,000 members across all occupations and professional groups.

Whether you choose to go with one of the “big 3” unions or opt for one of the little ones, you’ll find that a Union should offer you benefits whether you are experiencing workplace issues or personal crisis, or if you just want to advantage of discounted products and access to CPD. And of course if you decide that a Union is not for you, just make sure that you have do have appropriate Indemnity Insurance; otherwise, you could find yourself in a whole heap of trouble with no one to help dig you out.


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