Trade unions do more than negotiating pay and conditions – the support and protection they can offer make them essential for nurses
In addition to their role in pay negotiations, unions are an invaluable source of support in employment and disciplinary issues and offer a range of professional service and training opportunities. It is important to look at what the different unions offer and choosing the one that best meets your needs.
Citation: Davis H (2020) Why should nurses join a union? Nursingtimes.net, 05/10/2020.
Author Helen Davis is assistant lecturer, Department for Children and Young People’s Health, Birmingham City University.
For many nurses, joining a union is one of their first activities when starting their nurse training at university. If you aren’t a union member, think seriously about joining one as soon as possible: you never know when you might need their support.
Selecting a union is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong union to join; you should consider what they can offer you and decide which best meets your needs. UNISON and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are the two biggest unions representing nurses. UNISON represents nurses and the wider multidisciplinary team; it has 500,000 members within the NHS and supporting services. In comparison, the RCN – which is also a professional body – is dedicated purely to the nursing professions, including midwives, nursing associates, and healthcare assistants and assistant practitioners, and has 435,000 nursing members.
What purpose do unions have?
You may be thinking, “Why should I join a union? I will probably never use it”. But you may need the support of a union if you have problems at work, and that is why it is essential to join one. Contrary to the perception of many, unions have numerous purposes beyond negotiating pay and conditions. While you may not need access their support, services membership means you have a range of other useful resources including professional development and clinical guidance at your disposal. Of course, unions are also there for those times you are in need of support: this may be to provide information about employee rights, support during a complaint process or help if you raise a concern or have other problems at work; they also provide legal support if .
Notably the RCN offers a tailored support programme for nurses with a dedicated education and development section and the opportunity to be part of different clinical practice committees. UNISON, on the other hand, is a strong union group with experience in representing many trades alongside health professionals. See the box below for links to more information and joining instructions.
Whichever union you join, you will have the opportunity to become a local representative within your employment area, meaning colleagues may approach you for advice. If you can, this is a great opportunity to take on: it will provide you with networking and development opportunities as well as being a great addition to your CV.
Paying membership fees
Although the annual membership fee is a lot to pay in one go, you can also pay by monthly direct debit.
At every yearly renewal point, take the time to research the unions and see what their focus is. You don’t have to stay with the same union each year; you need to ensure you are paying for the right service for you and that your chosen union is working on areas you are passionate about.
How to join the RCN and UNISON
Click the links below for details of what each union offers and instructions on how to join
Royal College of Nursing