How to become a Trade Union Official. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Trade Union Official do?
As a trade union official or officer, you would work full-time for a trade union, representing the interests of union members in discussions with employers on issues such as health and safety, pay and redundancy.
At regional level, your work could include:
- advising on legal or health and safety issues
- recruiting, training and supporting local officials and shop stewards
- dealing with local disputes and case work
- working as a learning representative, promoting learning and education programmes to local members.
At national head office level, you would deal with broader issues, including:
- developing national policy
- developing learning and education programmes for members
- media relations
- negotiating with employers’ organisations, political parties and government.
As a part-time union official (often known as a shop steward or representative), you would be elected by local trade union members to pass on the views of the workforce to the management of your company. You would have a legal right to conduct union business during working hours.
In a full-time job you would work between 35 and 40 hours a week, which could include early starts, evenings and weekends.
You would be office-based but spend some of your time attending meetings and visiting members and union representatives.
How much does a Trade Union Official earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Starting salaries for full-time posts are around £24,000 to £29,000 a year.
- Experienced regional or national officials can earn £35,000 to £56,000.
- Salaries for senior positions such as general secretary may be up to £86,000 a year.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You would often become a full-time paid official at a union’s branch or regional office after getting experience as an unpaid local representative or shop steward. This would give you in-depth knowledge of the workings of the union at ground level.
It can also be possible to find paid work as a Union Learning Representative without experience as a local representative/shop steward, if you have a background in adult education or training and development.
For many jobs at national head office level, you would normally be qualified and experienced in a specialist area of work such as:
- employment or general law
- trade union legislation or organisation
- education and training.
You could also join a national head office straight from university with a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification. This is most common in research officer jobs. Relevant degree subjects could include social sciences, politics, economics or law.
Alternatively, you could work your way up through the organisation from branch or regional office level to work at national level.
For either route, you should ideally get relevant paid or voluntary experience in areas such as advice work, student or local politics, negotiations or campaigning. This could give you an advantage when you apply for work.
Training and Development
You will be trained on the job and may also attend occasional short courses run by:
- your own union
- the Trade Union Congress (TUC)
- commercial training organisations.
The TUC runs a structured training programme covering a range of subjects including advocacy skills, health and safety, industrial tribunals and employment law.
You could attend training courses at the TUC’s National Training Centre in London or a regional TUC training centre around the UK. You can also study some courses online. See the Unionlearn website for more information.
Your union may also provide some financial support to take any professional exams that may be relevant to your job, such as qualifications in human resources, line management or training and development.
For more details on trade union training standards, see the ENTO website.
Skills and Knowledge
- a genuine interest in helping people
- political awareness and a keen sense of justice
- an approachable manner
- excellent communication, negotiation and listening skills
- assertiveness, for handling challenging situations
- confidence in public speaking
- the ability to motivate and manage people
- good research skills
- patience and tact
- problem-solving ability.
You could work for unions at local, regional or national level. National posts are often based in London.
Competition for paid jobs is strong. Vacancies are advertised in the local and national press, on the TUC website, and unions’ websites and newsletters.
- Trades Union Congress – Recruitment
With experience, you could become a regional secretary of your union, or move into a post at national head office. You could also choose to go into politics as a councillor or MP.