Join a union

Smart people know how to take care of their own business. Union membership helps you look after your interests and make your job more secure. The union also engages with employers collectively on your behalf.

Your union and its local employee representatives will help and advise you on a wide range of concrete questions, such as your entitlement to paid leave in case of illness. They know how to respond in a crisis, such as when your employer tries to terminate your employment. If problems cannot be settled by negotiation, then the union has the expertise and resources to defend your interests through legal action.

There are many good reasons for belonging to a union

1. Pay and other terms of employment

The union negotiates pay and other terms of employment on your behalf. The resulting collective agreement for each industry sets out the minimum pay rates for the work that you do. This agreement also governs hours of work, sick pay, bonuses for overtime and shift work, and holiday entitlement.

2. Employee representatives

The employees at a workplace elect a representative or shop steward to bargain with the employer and to serve as a channel of communication between the employees and the employer. The shop steward represents the employees in any dispute arising between the employer and the workforce.

3. Unemployment benefit

The members of a trade union usually also belong to its unemployment fund, which pays earnings-related benefit to members who are out of work. This benefit is not means-tested (e.g. the income of your spouse is not considered), and is substantially higher than the basic rate of unemployment benefit.

4. Advice, training and social involvement

Trade unions provide broad assistance in meeting the challenges of working life, ranging from legal aid to courses in foreign languages and information technology. You may find further details of these services on your union website or in its newsletter. Your union also provides various ways for you to get involved in social policymaking processes.

5. Other benefits

As large organisations of people in similar circumstances, trade unions are also able to negotiate and provide many other benefits for their members. Unions often offer reasonably priced holiday accommodation and other leisure benefits such as discounts on hotel room rates and cruises. Many unions have also negotiated member discounts on fuel prices, travel and other insurance, and retail banking services.

How do trade unions work?

While each trade union has its own way of working, the most common operating format is as follows:

The member belongs to a union branch. This branch may include all of the union members at some large workplace, such as a major industrial plant. Employees at smaller workplaces or in more specialised occupations, on the other hand, will generally belong to local branches covering a geographical region or to some national, specialised branch.

Many workplaces have locally elected union representatives (shop stewards) who are authorised to represent the affairs of employees at the workplace, often during paid working hours. While these local union representatives generally provide the easiest and most personal way for the member to contact the union, it is also possible for the member to contact the regional or national office of the union for assistance and advice when necessary.

In most trade unions new members become eligible for full services six months after joining. However, the terms of generally binding collective agreements protect all employees, regardless of trade union membership. It is easier to secure this protection when more employees are members of trade unions. If the organising rate in an industry declines, then its collective agreement may cease to be generally binding and the protection is lost.

How to join?

Application forms are available through local union activists or directly from the offices of each trade union. You can also use the search engine at to help you find the SAK trade union that is best suited to your circumstances. After finding the right union, all you need to do is click on the Join now link, carefully complete the application form that appears, and forward it to the union as instructed. This process initiates your union membership.

Our toll-free number 0800 179 279 also helps you to find the right union. You can call us anytime between 09.00 and 15.00, Monday to Friday.

Student members

Most SAK-affiliated unions also accept student members, who are not usually required to pay a membership fee. If you work during your studies, then you may join the union and the unemployment fund as a full member. This can help you qualify more quickly for earnings-related unemployment benefit.

Membership fees

Trade union members pay a membership subscription, which is generally a certain sum each month. The size of the subscription depends on the union, and is generally between 1 and 2 per cent of the employee’s gross pay.

The impact of the union membership subscription on the member’s take-home pay is substantially less than this, however, as the subscription is tax-deductible. This taxation policy is clear evidence that society encourages union membership.

It is common for employers to agree with the trade union to deduct union subscriptions directly from the member’s pay. This enables the member to benefit from the tax deductibility of the subscription immediately, and with no separate tax formalities. A trade union member may also choose to pay the subscription separately, for example if there is some reason why it is not possible to make such an agreement with the employer.

Students are not usually required to pay a membership fee.