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  • Marcail Parkinson

VUWSA: Wtf is a Union?

Words by VUWSA President Marcail Parkinson (she/her)

When I first started working, unions seemed like a distant concept, something I heard mentioned in passing but never really understood. What did they even do? Were they just a bunch of organisations with confusing acronyms? And most importantly, what did they have to do with me? 

But then, like many of us, I encountered some truly shit work scenarios and then ended up in a classic Wellington flat (mouldy, cold, and with no opening windows!). These things seemed unfair, but I didn't know where to turn for help. That’s when I started at VUWSA and quickly realised the necessity of unions. 

Turns out unions are a poor student’s best friend—being in a union is like having a guy who you can complain to when people are being horrible to you and they can step in and fight your fights for you. Your union is there to stand up for you and do the work to make sure you get treated right. 

Essentially, a union is a collective voice for workers, an organisation that stands up for employees in the workplace. They act as advocates, both collectively and individually with the employee's consent, negotiating for better working conditions and fair treatment.  

One of the primary functions of unions is to bargain for collective employment agreements with employers. These agreements outline the terms and conditions of employment, including wages, hours, benefits, and workplace policies. By banding together, workers gain strength in numbers, increasing their bargaining power and ensuring their voices are heard. 

But unions offer more than just collective bargaining. They provide invaluable support and resources to their members. From offering advice on work-related issues to providing training and educational opportunities, unions empower workers to understand their rights and stand up for themselves. 

Membership in a union typically requires payment of a fee, but for those in casual or fixed-term positions, the cost is often minimal or even free. And the benefits far outweigh the dues. By joining a union, you not only gain access to expert guidance and representation but also become part of a community. You'll have the chance to connect with fellow workers, join networks based on common interests or identities, and build solidarity across different sectors. 

So, when you find yourself in need of advice, support, or representation at work, remember that unions are there for you. Whether it's addressing a dispute, navigating a disciplinary process, or asserting your rights in the workplace, unions have your back. 

VUWSA are a student union which means we’re here to look after students and whatever it is that students care about. Our advocacy service deals with all kinds of issues, from problems with the uni and your courses to employment to renting we’ve got you covered. Luckily for you VUWSA is also free (although we are partially funded through your student services fee), so make sure to make the most of our services! 

What union is right for you??

All Vic Uni Students - VUWSA (free)

Tutors & other uni staff - TEU (free for tutors)

Hospo workers - Unite Union

Public Sector - PSA

If you aren’t sure which union to join come chat with us at the VUWSA office or look on the NZCTU website <3


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