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Also known as trade union officers, trade union officials negotiate with employers to further the interests of their union’s members.

Often, employees secure the role of trade union official after having worked as a trade union representative.

What does a trade union official do? Qualifications and experience | Key skills | Typical employers

Trade union officials work to represent union members and support them when discussing grievances or proposed changes with employers. They usually work at either a national or regional level.

A trade union official working at a national level is likely to have the following responsibilities:

  • representing the membership during relevant industrial negotiations
  • informing members about important issues (such as the law on flexible working and overtime)
  • building the national policy of the trade union
  • reaching agreements with employers’ organisations, political parties and the government
  • communicating with members to reach a decision or consensus (eg regarding which campaigns to focus on)
  • developing learning and training opportunities for local officials and trade union representatives
  • helping to ensure positive relationships with the media.

As a trade union official working at a regional level, you would likely have to do the following:

  • organise recruitment of trade union representatives and local officials
  • help to provide relevant training for local officials and representatives
  • overcome local disputes
  • give advice and information on legal or health and safety issues
  • represent members in challenging situations.

Qualifications and experience

While you don’t need any specific qualifications to become a trade union official, many in this role have a degree or professional qualification. If you decide to follow this route, you could study any subject, so it’s a good idea to choose one you enjoy. However, a degree in law, politics or history may be beneficial by helping you to build skills in forming and articulating arguments.

Many job descriptions include knowledge in certain areas as a requirement, such as an understanding of employment law or trade union organising. This is one area in which being a trade union representative (also known as ‘shop steward’) beforehand could demonstrate your ability. A trade union representative is an unpaid role undertaken while working for an employer. Shop stewards support their colleagues through tasks such as accompanying them in meetings with line managers to discuss requests for flexible working or helping to negotiate pay and conditions. Often, employees secure the role of trade union official after having worked as a trade union representative.

Key skills for trade union officials

  • Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written
  • The ability to persuade and negotiate
  • Organisation skills
  • The ability to manage and lead others
  • An aptitude for problem solving.

Typical employers of trade union officials

As a trade union official, you will be employed by a trade union. A count of those listed on GOV.UK reveals 139 trade unions currently operating. Some of the ones with the largest memberships are:

  • Unison
  • Unite
  • GMB
  • National Education Union
  • Royal College of Nurses.

You could work for a union with a membership that spans many industries, such as Unite (with members in industries including manufacturing, public services, food, construction, transport and finance). Alternatively, you could gain a position with a trade union that has a more specific membership – such as the National Education Union, which works for teachers.

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