Can you join a union if you’re self-employed?

The world of work is changing rapidly and there are now more self-employed people and freelancers in the UK than ever before.

Many have chosen this approach to work out of choice and favouring the flexibility it offers, while others have ended up self-employed as a result of wider changes to the world of work and wider society.

While it’s beyond our powers to change some of the things happening today, with the rise of automation, new technologies, and evolving consumer preferences, it should still be within our control to ensure people who work for a living are offered basic rights and protections, regardless of whether they have a full-time job or operate as a self-employed worker.

We explore more about this topic and whether you need to join a union as a self-employed worker.

Do the self-employed need unions?

The current reality of things is far removed from the context that many of the nation’s strongest and most recognised trade unions were established, which were characterised by huge memberships and a large number of people working under the same roof or for the same organisations.

For instance, today, an employee can have several different “employers” that support their revenue stream and may never visit a physical office other than the one they’ve set up in their own homes.

When there is no single employer to negotiate with over pay or terms and conditions, how can a union negotiate with an employer to improve rights and protections? This is a good question, but as with all things, systems and structures must adapt as much as possible to meet our essential needs, not the other way round.

So, as the world of work evolves, so too many unions and the way we collectively ensure that our rights are being upheld.

Benefits of unions for the self-employed

Being self-employed offers certain benefits and flexibilities, but it doesn’t solve all your problems. Many who are new to this way of life find the sheer amount of anxiety and insecurities presented by securing ongoing work and managing several financial, admin and business tasks quite overwhelming.

Having a Community union that you can go to for advice, guidance and support can be a vital tool for anyone who is self-employed. This might come in the form of general and impartial advice on work-related issues or guidance on things like taxes.

Being a part of Community also brings with it the solidarity that comes with joining forces with thousands of others and campaigning together on issues that affect you. We bring self-employed people together through regular meetings and events to share and discuss experiences and to shape the unions policy, political and lobbying agenda for the self-employed. It is this collective action that draws many self-employed people to Community.

What type of self-employed person can join? 

Any self-employed person can join our union and be part of the collective voice for the self-employed. Whether you’re self-employed full time or part time, whether you’re a freelancer, sole trader or run as a limited company or a sub-contractor.

Whoever you are, whatever your industry and however you work, you’re welcome to join us.

Community benefits for self-employed workers

Community has a strong self-employed union membership dedicated to protecting the rights of its members. Benefits you can experience include:

  • Community advisors who can help with your tax returns including information on when you need to register, expenses, and what sections to fill out when submitting your tax return
  • Be part of a campaigning union and have your voice heard around specific issues that matter to you
  • Access advice and representation through Community’s experience and expertise
  • Receive help for recovering the money you are owed, as well as help with debt recovery claims, and support contacting clients who owe you money
  • Access self-paced, online training to help you sharpen and develop your skills in a flexible way

Join our Community

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of many of our lives and we have realised that there are many cracks in the system for those who are not employed full-time by individual companies.

Ultimately, we’ve seen that the government’s approach to protecting the incomes of the self-employed has been slow and patchy, and many have suffered because of this.

Joining our self-employed union at Community is one way you can stay connected with others who are like yourself and access levels of support that you may not have otherwise needed before the pandemic.

What does it cost? 

Joining the union costs just £6.13 a month for anyone who is self-employed.

If you are a member of Community and need advice or support, please contact our Service Centre at or on 0800 389 6332.

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