What is a Trade Union?

By | Uncategorized

What is a Trade Union?

Trade unions are independent, membership-based organizations of workers, constituted for the purpose of furthering and defending the interests of workers (ILO). They represent and negotiate on behalf of working people. Unions provide advice to workers who are often unaware of their rights, and they can also negotiate with employers to improve wages and working conditions.

Trade union rights are defined as workers’ freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. These rights form the foundation of social dialogue and industrial relations to manage conflicts in the workplace.

Differences between a trade union and other forms of organisation

Independent trade unions represent the ideal model for worker representation. Trade unions have legal protection, access to resources, the support of wider trade union networks, and are free from influence from the employer and the government.

Restriction of FoA: Where FoA is restricted by law and/ or (independent, democratically elected) trade unions cannot be formed because of (impossible) conditions for registration as a union, the next best available form of independent worker representation should be pursued. Alternative forms of representation can help build dialogue and develop worker and employer industrial relations skills.

Other committees: In many countries you will find workers participation committees, health and safety committees, or anti-harassment committees. These types of committees, sometimes required by law, can certainly be useful, although they are not an alternative to a trade union, mainly because they do not offer workers the same kind of legal protection and they do not have the right to participate in the collective bargaining process. Some exceptions exist, like in Myanmar, where these committees do have the legal right to participate. Further, these committees lack support beyond the enterprise level, meaning they are not supported by district and national trade unions.

Yellow unions: More subtle forms of interference include paternalism, where structures are created that may resemble unions, but are actually controlled by management in some form. For example, workers may be selected to be the representatives on workers’ committees rather than being democratically elected, or company management may pay union fees, making the union less independent. You can also encounter alternatives for independent, representative trade unions, such as employee councils or unions that only act in management’s interests (‘paper’ or ‘yellow’ unions).

By using the CNV and FNV Checklist for companies on trade union freedom and social dialogue, you will get a better understanding of how trade union freedom is practiced.

Industrial Conflict and Collective Bargaining: Evidence from North Central Region of Nigeria

By | Case-study, Nigeria


The study analyses the effect of collective bargaining on employees in the wake of economic crises and rising unemployment in Nigeria. It concludes that collective bargaining generally helps to alleviate the situation for all involved, but that proactive bargaining should be done when crises are imminent or just occur, rather than some time after the fact. Another outcome is that training on bargaining techniques and involvement given to workers should be standard and would aid in the developments of the agreement, to reach a more amicable solution.

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Inclusive Growth through Collective Bargaining in Spain

By | Spain


This work details how social partners have incorporated inclusive growth into collective bargaining and how this has affected economic recovery in Spain after the financial crises in the early 2010’s. It combines desk research and fieldwork to assess this. It concludes that different social partners have different aims and successes in the inclusion of social growth, and that these differences need to be surpassed to move forward in the development of social inclusion and collective bargaining.

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Collective bargaining: a tool for industrial harmony in Ghanaian industrial settings

By | Ghana, Social dialogue

Collective bargaining has been recognised in almost all industrial settings as the most civilised way of resolving industrial conflicts and disagreements. The main objective of this paper is to determine the extent to which collective bargaining can effectively minimise industrial conflicts in Ghana, with particular reference to the brewery industry in Ghana. It is a means of helping to foster cordial management-labour relationships towards industrial harmony. The study was carried out with a focus on Ghana Breweries Ltd. The results of the study show that collective bargaining is a powerful and effective tool that can be used to minimise industrial conflicts and disagreements in industrial establishments. It is therefore recommended that employers should encourage the formation of trade unions to promote collective bargaining. It is further recommended that both management and labour should recognise collective bargaining as an effective tool for resolving conflicts and disagreements at the workplace.

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Labour Relations Quality and Productivity: an Empirical Analysis on French Firms

By | France, Social dialogue


We empirically characterise how good labour relations can alleviate the negative impact on productivity of regulatory constraints or workforce opposition. The estimates are based on a unique survey of French manufacturing firms collected by the Banque de France over the period 1991-2008. Our main results may be summarised as follows:

i) workforce or union opposition interacted with regulatory constraints has a negative significant impact on total factor productivity (TFP). When this interaction is not taken into account, a deteriorated labour climate, through workforce or union opposition, weighs directly on TFP. But when this interaction is taken into account, this negative impact relies solely on the combination of regulatory constraints and labour opposition: workers or unions can successfully oppose managements decisions and weigh on TFP when they can use or threaten to use appropriate regulation; otherwise, their opposition may be harmless;

ii) regulatory constraints interacted with branch or firm agreement has a positive significant impact on TFP. These agreements, which can only be obtained if labour relations are supportive, would be used by firms to offset the negative impact of regulatory constraints. This favourable impact can be obtained through two channels: first, informally, a good labour climate can lead to a flexible implementation of regulation; second, formally, the French labour code incorporates provisions that allow firm or branch agreements to adapt or even alleviate the constraints of regulation.

These results emphasise that the implementation of regulatory constraints and their impact on productivity crucially hinges on the quality of labour climate.

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Fostering economic development through social partnership in Barbados

By | Barbados, Case-study, Social dialogue


Analyses the framework and processes of labour relations and social partnership at the national level in Barbados and explores experiences of social dialogue in relation to improving productivity, technical and vocational education, occupational health and safety and in the tourism sector. Includes a comparison of social dialogue in other Carribean countries.

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Social Dialogue at Enterprise Level. Successful Experiences

By | Bangladesh, Case-study, Nepal, Pakistan, Social dialogue, Sri Lanka

One of the main challenges that Asian countries are facing, and will continue to face in the coming years, is the need to adjust their economic and social systems in accordance with the process of globalization. This process cannot be managed equitably and efficiently without social dialogue among the main stakeholders. From the ILO’s perspective, tripartism and social dialogue are integral components of decent work and essential channels for achieving it. As stated by the ILO Director General “cohesive tripartism is the ILO’s bedrock”. The main goal of social dialogue is to promote consensus building and democratic involvement among the main stakeholders in key aspects relating to the work environment. The objective of this publication is to introduce concepts of social dialogue at the workplace, enumerate enabling conditions for social dialogue to work effectively, and demonstrate positive features of social dialogue with empirical studies.


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