ASLEF - An Introduction

08 May 2019

What is a trade union?



A trade union is a group of people who do similar jobs, or in similar industries, coming together to make sure that everyone gets fair pay, good terms and conditions and a safe workplace.


When management has all the power, it can be difficult for individuals to fight for improvements in work, but if there's 20,000 of you together asking for the same thing you suddenly have more power.


Trade unions were formed mostly in the nineteenth century, and throughout their history have merged and changed, adapting to the workplace in order to best represent members.



What is ASLEF?


ASLEF is the trade union specifically for train drivers.


It was originally called the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (the firemen being those who put coal into steam engines, rather than the firefighters who are represented by their own union, the FBU).


It's a group of over 20,000 train drivers – 96% of all train drivers in England, Scotland and Wales – that works together to make sure drivers are safe and healthy at work, and can access support and fight for better terms and conditions.




What will happen if I join?


When you start work as a train driver, one of the first people you might meet is your ASLEF union rep. That's the person in your workplace or depot who represents union members and is there to support you day to day.


If you decide to join, your rep will give you a form to fill in, which is then sent to head office to be approved and processed. After this is complete you'll get a welcome pack in the post.


It includes a copy of the rule book for members, details of the union's equality reps and information about contacts in the union for your company, local area and region.



How does the union work?




ASLEF is organised into 8 'districts' – the South East, Scotland, West Midlands, North West, North East, East Midlands, Wales and the West, and London. You'll have representatives at district level: one member of ASLEF's executive committee (the board who run the union), a district organiser (who's responsible for negotiating with employers) and a rep for each of ASLEF's equalities committees – women, young members, BAME and LGBT+.


In your company you'll have a Company Council rep who meets with company management to negotiate on your behalf.


Locally you will be part of a branch which has a committee of a Chair, Secretary, Vice Chair and other local level reps who you will be supported by on a day to day basis.


At Head Office in London, the General Secretary and Assistant General Secretary (both elected directly by members) are in charge of operations. They are supported by a team of staff who work on administration, policy, communications, equalities, industrial relations, health and safety, finance and personnel.




Training and Development


The union runs lots of training and education programmes, both about the union and on other topics which you may find interesting.


You can learn about health and safety at work, develop key skills like maths and writing, learn how to represent members and negotiate, how to keep financial records and much more. The training programme is led by members so if there's something you want to learn, ask!





Equality and Diversity


ASLEF works hard to improve the work environment for all drivers, but particularly for people who may have less of an advantage or not fit the mould of a traditional train driver.


There are four representative committees – specifically focusing on issues affecting women, young members, BAME members and LGBT+ members. These committees have one representative for each district. They meet a few times a year as a collective as well as reporting into individual districts and the Executive Committee.


You can get in touch with your committee rep as they're your representative at national level.


ASLEF regularly holds equalities events celebrating things such as International Women's Day and Black History Month. This is in addition to social events, specialised training and weekend schools.



Our equalities committees have worked on a range of campaigns since they began, including:


  • Our Young Members' committee has called for the age limit for train driver licenses to be lowered from 21 to 18, and have been part of the campaign for more train driver apprenticeships
  • The BAME committee has campaigned for consideration for drivers observing Ramadan and for prayer/quiet rooms to be made available
  • LGBT+ committee members have produced a guide for trans-inclusive workplaces and worked on procedures to make sure people can keep their HIV status confidential
  • Our Women's committee has secured improvements in policy on maternity rights, flexible working, and more recently on supporting members who have suffered domestic abuse


Is it expensive?


The rate you pay depends on what your salary is at work, so people who earn more pay a little bit more and while you're training you will be paying a little bit less.


It is often said, though, don't ask 'can I afford to join the union?', ask 'can I afford not to?!'


The union is there for you if you have a problem at work, or your employer doesn't treat you fairly, and you need to be a member so we can help you out.




What does the union do if there's a problem at work?


If you have a problem at work, you get in trouble with management, or you're facing harassment or unfair treatment, that's what the union is there for.


The idea of workers coming together as a union is that if something is affecting one member, we all get together to take a stand. That way management doesn't hold all the power.


The railway is a safety-critical environment and it's really important that train drivers are able to have their safety taken into account, not be put in difficult situations and not be bullied or harassed by management or their colleagues.


If you need legal help, that's part of the union too. Our solicitors, Thompsons, have offices right around the country and if you have an issue at work you can access their lawyers free of charge because it's covered by the union's funds.




Can I get involved?


Yes, absolutely!


Unions are often seen as something that older workers are part of, but we know that the future depends on all members playing their part.


There are lots of ways to get involved. You could be a local rep, welcoming new members and being the first place members go to for help. You could learn about health and safety at work and be the representative making sure drivers in your depot and your company have safe workplaces.


You could represent members as a branch equalities representative, and go on to stand for a regional place too.


You may even be a future executive committee member, national organiser or general secretary. Go as far as you want.


When you're taking time out of work to attend ASLEF training, or to do union duties like supporting other members or attending committee meetings, the union helps you get the time off work and we cover your expenses so you're not losing out.



Find out more


You can keep up with ASLEF by following the union on Facebook (/ASLEFUnion) and Twitter (@ASLEFUnion) or by checking the news page on this website.


If you want to find out more about trade unions, visit the TUC Website.


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