Business Category Business: career motivation and tips to move ahead

The Role of the Trade Union Representative

In unionised workplaces, union representatives, sometimes known as union reps, are the bridge between employers and employees. Representatives who are part of an employer-recognised union get a reasonable amount of paid time off to perform their duties. Duties may include union meetings, negotiation meetings, educational events and elections. Often, trade union representatives are elected, though occasionally, they are appointed.

Types of Representatives

There are several types of trade union representatives. Some work specifically with one or two issues, such as health and safety or the environment. Two of the most common types are lay union reps and permanent trade union reps. Lay reps are on-site union members generally elected by the union population. They are involved in personal interactions with their colleagues such as accompanying them to hearings. Permanent reps are full-time, paid staff members of the union. They have special training and often advise the lay reps about how to deal with day-to-day situations on site. They are generally not present on-site unless there is a mass lay-off or large negotiation.

Communicator Among Groups

Generally, local trade union representatives are elected by their colleagues. Sometimes, these elections can be highly politicised within the company. The trade union rep provides leadership among the union membership by listening to the demands of the workers. A lay union rep must communicate effectively with both employees as well as management and full-time union staff.

Personal Advocate

When a single employee needs to relay his or her concerns about their employment status, employer, or working conditions, he or she speaks with a union rep. In these cases, the union representative is responsible for relaying employees concerns to the employer. They also work to peacefully negotiate misunderstandings between the employer and employee. Additionally, they attend grievance and disciplinary hearings with employees.

Substantial Changes to the Company

Employers occasionally are required to approach the union representative. Generally, this is when there is a large change coming to the company. Examples include the sale or takeover of the business or mass layoffs. When a workplace is represented by a union, the employer is only required to inform the union representative of the changes, not any individual employees.


Trade union representatives attend several different types of meetings on behalf of the union. Large unions offer courses and conferences. These offer educational opportunities for union reps, but are not considered eligible for paid time off. Union reps also attend meetings to discuss negotiations. Negotiations may be for wage increases, changes to benefit packages, or improvement of work conditions.