The good and bad things about belonging to a union

Are you interested in becoming part of your company’s union, but don’t know how convenient it would be for you? With this information, you can make a good decision.

Those trade unions end up inside companies that they do not fight for employees but their benefits, that they finally “sell” themselves to the company to make more money, that they are opportunistic or just the opposite that they help improve the quality of life of workers in a company. Are any of these topics valid? In this article, we intend to check whether or not these claims are accurate.

The truth is that ILO Conventions 87 and 98, the International Labour Organisation, the Labour Code, jurisprudence, some decrees and the Constitution, all safeguard the right to establish a trade union. This means that any worker is free to join, create or organise a trade union without interference from the state or the employer.

The union is an association made up of workers, either from public or private companies. Its objective is to defend and promote the social, economic and professional interests related to the work activity, the task then is to negotiate about the inconsistencies or problems that exist in the company to offer welfare to the employees.

Maria del Carmen Vivas, president of the board of directors of Ansemitra, the public workers’ union of the Ministry of Transport (Colombia), says that the most important thing about an association like this is the working relationship between employer and employee because both parties can sit down and work together for the quality of life of the organisation.

“Union is strength, teamwork is the best,” says Vivas. He points to the change of location of the Ministry as an achievement, the deterioration of which has been ignored by several administrations in recent years. “The building was falling, and we all fought to get this new headquarters,” he said.

What you must bear in mind

People who join a union must have the capacity to negotiate because, in the end, it is a matter of maintaining a dialogue between both parties to reach a consensus. A workers’ union must not have fewer than 25 members, and an employers’ union must have at least five employers as independents.

Besides, there are four types of union, including company unions, industry unions, trade unions and various trade unions. On the other hand, the board of directors is the main spokesperson for the union; they are the leaders, who represent all the employees and are attentive to their needs.

The good thing

Vivas has been with Ansemitra for 21 years and considers that the best thing about belonging to a union is the personal satisfaction one gets from doing something good for others, being of service and seeing that there are people who, with proactive action and who benefit the whole, are happy. He also stresses that being linked to these associations allows you to know more about the problems you have to work on and to find a solution.

According to Iván Jaramillo, a researcher at the Labour Observatory of the Universidad del Rosario, another benefit is to be part of what is a democratic mechanism for worker representation and the right to strike in order to put pressure through legal channels on agreements to improve employment.

Another benefit is the protection provided by entities such as the Procuraduría, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, as well as by the people. In addition, they have a trade union charter, which means that you have special protection that prevents your employer from firing you without authorisation. For that to happen, you must have the consent of the Ministry of Labour.

According to Adriana Montoya, founder of the firm Am Grupo Jurídico S.A.S., there is a trade union jurisdiction, which is for people who are part of the association as directors or people appointed in committees, and the circumstantial jurisdiction, which covers people who are linked at the time of negotiating a list of demands. The first is protected for two years, which is usually the duration of the board of directors plus six months, and the second depending on the length of time the list of demands is discussed plus six months.

Permits: under Articles 57 and 59 of the Substantive Labour Code, the company is obliged to provide the necessary permits for the union member to carry out the activities or functions they have.

The bad thing

It is a double job because you must comply with your activities as an employee of the company and with the commitments you have made to the association. Vivas, for example, in addition to being president of Ansemitra, is a lawyer in the law office.

There are no bonuses, no extra money. Union members do not receive any financial benefits.

As a member, you may get some discount on your monthly salary. For example, at Ansemitra, 1% is deducted for workers who are members. María del Carmen believes that it should be obligatory for all workers to contribute even if they are not members, “in the end it is a benefit for everyone”.

She has to deal with controversial issues such as parallel payrolls, which have to do with freezing direct links with the state, while contracts for the provision of services by independent workers are increasing, so fewer people could belong to the union and contribute to it.

Jaramillo explains that the importance of a company having a trade union is the possibility of dialogue or collective bargaining, so there is no need to sit down with each worker. It also has the possibility of “having a direct channel of information on the issue of working capital for production”, which has to do with the comfort of employees when carrying out their work activities in order to have a better result in production.