What qualities should you look for in a shop steward?

Nelly Nyagah

What qualities should you look for in a shop steward?

Shop stewards are union members elected by fellow union members in a workplace. A shop steward ensures your workplace rights are protected. It can help to have a shop steward who can represent you effectively as a worker.

Qualities of a good shop steward

Advocate for members: A shop steward must be bold and confident in defending workplace rights. Elect someone capable of effective negotiation with management.

Guardian: The role of the shop steward is to safeguard your rights. A competent shop steward remains vigilant to prevent any exploitation by management.

Strengthen the union: An effective shop steward is visible and actively participates in union activities. They attend local shop steward councils to strengthen union presence in the area. Elect someone dedicated to important tasks.

Listen and lead: Your shop steward should lead while also listening to fellow workers. Avoid electing someone who blindly follows or is unwilling to listen. Respect for workers’ mandates is essential.

Negotiation: While national unions negotiate significant issues, real progress occurs at the workplace level. Elect a shop steward capable of negotiating on issues that directly impact you and is open to training.

Advocate for marginalised workersWomen often face unique challenges at work, such as pay disparities, balancing work with family responsibilities, gender-based violence and harassment. Elect someone who understands women’s issues and demands. Consider electing a woman who can bring these perspectives to the forefront.

Organise and unite: Strong unions have more members. Elect someone who can encourage others to join and strengthen the union. A shop steward should build solidarity in the workplace. Choose someone who promotes unity rather than division.

Accountability: Your shop steward should regularly report back to members and respect their mandates. Elect someone who values communication and accountability.

How are shop stewards selected?

A union member in a workplace can vote for a shop steward or nominate themselves. The process for electing shop stewards in most unions typically includes:

  • Informing workers through a general meeting about the elections, the role of shop stewards, and eligible candidates.
  • Nominating candidates.
  • Posting nominees and election dates on workplace notice boards.
  • Conducting elections via secret ballot, overseen by an authorised person.
  • Tallying results, reporting them to the union, and notifying management.

In a nutshell, elect someone who is organised, confident, trustworthy, and willing to work hard for the benefit of all workers.  An effective shop steward strengthens the union, fosters unity, and advocates for decent conditions at work.

Also read: 

Know your basic rights in the workplace

What is an employment contract?

Finding a support system at work: My experience as a lesbian worker in the retail sector

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