Becoming a UNISON Workplace Steward


When I lived on the mainland, a very long time ago, I served on NALGO’s local Executive Committee. and was involved in negotiations regarding changes of service delivery from Social Work and Housing Services for a West Midlands local authority.  I have always regarded Unions as a GOOD Thing, and am aware of the many beneficial, if at times almost invisible, benefits that the workforce in general, not just union members have enjoyed.  Since then I have had support and reassurance from UNISON that really helped me at a difficult time.  I thought it was only fair that I put something back.


At the beginning of July 2012 I was one of eight potential Organising Stewards that attended a course through UNISON Learning and Organising Services that was held in a Stornoway hotel.  I knew a couple of the others by sight and our visiting trainer introduced herself. 


Impressive Steward packs were handed out, study bags with Workbook, Coursebook, Handbook, Rulebook, numerous guides, Codes of Practice, leaflets, scribble pad and pen, and a neat UNISON Steward enamelled label badge.  Crikey I thought, when do I get to read all this and will I be tested on it?


We were partnered up and I was pleased to see I was with a Community Nurse who I knew slightly already. Our first exercise was to talk to each other so that we could describe our partner and their work and activities. My poor partner, not only did she get all the grisly details of work in Medical Records, but I bent her ear about Whale and Dolphin watching on the island (no surprise there for anyone who knows me and many who don’t!). It was illuminating to hear about the work of the NHS from a different perspective and I hope I did a reasonable job of introducing her to the others.


We worked through various activities in the workbook at a brisk but not onerous pace, I especially enjoyed the times where we discussed topics and took a full part.  My first partner wasn’t lumbered with me for all the days I was there, we changed partners regularly, and bit by bit I got to know my colleagues.


The activities included: looking at the role of the Steward in UNISON, Finding out about your workplace, organising in the workplace, and resources available. The type and pace of the activities varied and even the drier areas were never boring but thought provoking. I found they were carried out in a pleasingly friendly and informal way yet we covered such a lot!  Areas still to be covered include: representing members, meeting a member about a case, the main steps of a grievance or disciplinary hearing, and achieving change and tackling inequality. 


I really enjoyed the revealing and brain-stretching exercises, the company of my fellow trainees from a variety of backgrounds, the laughter, and above all the wisdom, support and sheer jolliness of our trainer.


What I have done already has helped me become more comfortable about dealing with issues in the workplace especially as I now have much wider knowledge of the support and resources available to us.


Janet Marshall

Essential cover if you work in public services


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