Role of Union Stewards

What is a Union Steward?

The ILO Staff  Union rules define a Union Steward as a member who is “elected by the officials (who are Union members) of their respective branches, field offices or other units” […] who “shall communicate the views and concerns of the staff of their constituency, especially Union members, to the Union Committee and to the General Meeting, so that these bodies will take the appropriate steps.”

As stated above, the Union Steward is a key link between the Staff Union Committee and the Union members throughout the Office. The SUC relies on the Union Stewards to help it to:

  •  Inform staff of key issues and developments;
  •  Help staff access the assistance they may need to resolve problems, either through the SU Committee, facilitators, or with the Mediator’s office, as appropriate;
  •  Mobilize staff to get involved in meetings, events, or Union activities;
  •  Invite non-members to join, and invite members to get more involved;
  •  Provide ongoing feedback to the Committee on issues of importance to their work unit.

Union Stewards are elected by Union members in their constituency. The SUC would like to see at least one Steward for every 25 colleagues. However, the reality is somewhat different. In field offices, there is no lack of candidates wishing to represent their colleagues, but at headquarters, we need many more to reach out to all the members on a daily basis – how about you!

Role and responsibilities of a Union Steward

Through their direct links with staff in their department, the Union Stewards are the bond which holds together the Staff Union in its everyday life. They communicate the views and concerns of the staff in their constituencies to the Staff Union Committee (SUC) and communicate decisions and information from the SUC to their constituencies.

They represent the interests of Union members in their constituency – subject to the individual rights of members – at Union meetings. They also actively participate in recruiting new Union members and can intervene in the handling of disputes and other procedures in their constituencies.

What does it take to be a Union Steward?

An effective Union Steward is one who leads by example, and whose professional and personal behaviour is both ethical and beyond reproach. While a steward may have first come in contact with the Union because s/he was facing a problem at the office and the Union was able to provide assistance, it is important to note that a steward does not use his or her position in the Union to further a personal agenda.

Rather a steward acts out of a desire to improve his or her workplace in the interests of all. A steward’s job is far from a full-time engagement. Stewards volunteer what time they can to work on issues of interest for them and their work units. Monthly information-sharing meetings also take place to ensure ongoing communications between the stewards, and between the stewards and the SU Committee.

How are the Stewards supported by the Union

The Union is committed to training our Union Stewards’ Network, both on important technical subjects (understanding the staff regulations, entitlements, etc.) and on strengthening the skills and abilities necessary to effectively carry out the functions of a Steward. The Committee places a great deal of importance on the role that our stewards play in the workplace, and as such we are open to providing whatever support we can.

The Union is ready to field questions, provide advice and feedback, and to get directly involved when the situation warrants such an intervention. The Union also facilitates communication, sharing of information, and common learning among the stewards themselves through the Union Stewards’ Network.

Remember – a steward is never alone!

What issues should I bring to my Steward?

The Union Steward is a resource for any issue, personal or professional, that you may wish to raise. We spend the majority of our adult lives at work, and your Union Steward is here to help you ensure that your time is spent doing a job that is both fulfilling and rewarding. Of course, the steward will make the necessary links with, and act with the guidance of, the Committee. If you have ideas for improving life and work in your department, or are looking for ways to get involved with the Union, your steward is an excellent resource person.

How do the Stewards carry out their functions during working time?

The release of Union representatives to carry out their functions is governed by the staff regulations, the Recognition and Procedural agreement between the ILO and the Staff Union, and Circular No. 448 (Rev. 1) which states: “Union representatives both at headquarters and in field offices shall be entitled to such release time as may be reasonable and appropriate in order to enable them to carry out their functions promptly and efficiently within their normal working hours.”

While this release time should not impair the operation of the department, management must provide an adequate amount of release time for a steward to carry out his/her functions.