In light of the struggle facing midwives, nurses and healthcare assistants, we thought it was best to explain what a union actually is, what it does and why you should join yours!
A union is a group of organised workers using the age-old saying ‘strength in numbers’ to secure better pay and working conditions. If one person refuses to go to work until they are guaranteed a living wage, an employer probably isn’t going to care. But if all their staff don’t show up, then they are forced to listen. Unions work because of collective power and so the more that join, the better.
Alongside collectively negotiating on your behalf, which means no more daunting conversations with your boss, unions also provide free legal advice; advocacy for employment and ACC-related issues; support around workplace bullying or harassment; and other benefits such as discounted healthcare. To fund these services and keep the union ticking over, members pay a small fee (and unlike your workplace, it really is just about breaking even, not making a profit).
Every worker has a right to join a union. If your boss tries to tell you that you will be fired if you join, they’re on the wrong side of the law. Some employers might offer you the choice at the start, but many don’t. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has an online tool to help you find out which union you should join or ask around at work.
Each year we celebrate the union movement in Aotearoa on Labour Day, a reminder that our current working conditions are the result of an ongoing struggle. Unions have won the right to an eight hour working day, to refuse unsafe work, take holidays, sick leave, parental leave and the provision of the minimum wage – heaps of these things we take for granted and we must protect them. We must also go beyond them and demand new possibilities (four day working week, anyone?)
We owe it those who fought before us, to the next generation of workers and to ourselves to continue the fight for better working conditions and higher pay. And any time the struggle is getting you down, remember: the workers united will never be defeated!
Most of you reading this are already part of a union. Part of your yearly AUT fees go towards funding AUTSA, your student union, so make sure you take advantage of the free events, keep reading your student mag Debate and come to the Advocacy team if you’re ever in need of help.