If there was ever a good time to join a union, this would be it. Since the Coalition took power, a number of rights people had at work three years ago are simply no longer there. For example, if you started work before 6 April this year, you'll have the right not to be unfairly dismissed by 6 April 2013. If you're unlucky enough to be made redundant after that date, you'll get redundancy pay. However, if you started work on or after 6 April, you'll have to wait until 2014 before you get those rights, because the government decided to extend the period to two years.
Even worse, from April 2013, there will be an up-front fee for any tribunal cases, so even if you do have the right not to be unfairly dismissed by your employer, it will become expensive to get justice. The TUC has warned that this will price the UK's most vulnerable workers out of justice.
And that's not all, in March 2011, the government announced a severe cutback to the number of visits to be made by health inspectors. Workplaces such as offices and shops will now only be visited after a complaint from workers, meaning many places will not be visited until after something bad has happened. Given that, since 2000, legal aid has not been available for personal injury claims, workplaces could get a lot more unsafe and, if something bad were to happen, doing something about it could be very expensive. This would be bad enough at the best of times, but with an economy as volatile as ours is at the moment, and unemployment high, some of the rights the government have cut are needed more than ever. For more on the changes and what else the government may be planning, have a look at the TUC’s campaign site, Employment Rights Stop Employment Wrongs.
The best way to keep safe at work is generally to join a union. Not just because a union can help you if things go wrong, but, more importantly, a well-organised union in your workplace could stop bad things happening in the first place. Unionised workplaces are safer places to work – in fact, workers are twice as likely to be injured in a workplace without a union. Also, unions can help you in the workplace – as long as you're a member. They can help prevent unfair dismissal by representing staff in meetings with management, negotiating with the employer and, in the best workplaces, creating a dialogue between staff and managers that nips problems in the bud before they escalate into dismissals and tribunals. So in difficult times like these, even if things seem to be going well for you at the moment, if you aren’t in a union yet it could really pay to join one. Try our Union Finder to see which one might be right for you. And if you are in a union, but aren't organised, get working on it. Check out our advice section on collective rights.