Representing and supporting people working in the third sector

The UK’s ‘third sector’ is a unique segment of the national workforce. Driven by a highly motivated body of people who are often invested in the social impact of their jobs, we rely on this sector to make a significant contribution to the health and well-being of society.

Many who work in this area are perhaps more willing to sacrifice financial reward and compensation for the chance to make real positive change.

However, those working in the third sector are just like any others, and can benefit from being collectively organised around shared goals, values, and expectations. This is particularly important today as workers in the third sector feel the impact of austerity, budget cuts, and more recently the coronavirus crisis.

We take a closer look at the needs of workers in the third sector, and explore how union support can be a vital part of ensuring the stability and health of this vital UK industry.

What are third sector organisations?

‘Third sector organisations’ describe a range of organisations that don’t fall into the public sector or private sector. Most commonly, people will associate charities with this term, but it also encapsulates a number of other organisational types, such as social enterprises, co-operatives and community groups.

Third sector organisations are often:

  • Non-governmental – While working alongside government agencies they do not receive funding from these entities and function independently from the government in their actions and decisions.
  • Non-profit – Typically, third sector organisations raise funds and generate financial surpluses in order to invest in their objectives. While their activities may generate profit, this will be invested back into social, environmental, or cultural projects.
  • Built on values – Most organisations in this sector will be built around clear values and beliefs, often associated with certain causes or social issues, such as improving the lives of specific demographics or changing society for the better.

Third sector organisations operate at all levels of society.

If you work for one of the following organisations, you can consider yourself a part of the third sector.

  • Charities
  • Voluntary and community organisations
  • Social enterprises
  • Cooperatives
  • Think tanks
  • Private research institutes

There are also some organisations that have evolved from initial government projects, schemes and groups to form new quasi-third sector groups. For example, housing associations deliver vital public services to the UK largely in line with the government but are not strictly government organisations.

The benefits of union membership for third sector workers

While third sector work might be unique in terms of how the organisations generate funding and what that means for any income it makes, that does not mean that the role of this vital workforce should be any less valued or paid any less.

Wage rises, good working conditions and support for staff are just as important in charities and the wider third sector as they are in any other sector. The presence of a trade union helps to address the collective needs of the workforce and can help to ensure the success of the organization and the sector overall.

When it comes to the relationship between the employed and the employer, there are still a number of standards, conditions, and requirements that must be enforced in accordance with UK labour practices and laws. In addition to this, it should be expected that employees receive adequate reward for their efforts.

Ultimately, lack of resources in the sector can have real and dire consequence on the workers themselves. As such, it is beneficial for all third sector organisations to work in partnership with unions to ensure their workforce are fairly treated, and have a voice in the workplace.

Should I join a third sector union?

Some workers are reluctant to join a third sector union because they think they can’t, or that for some reason doing so would take away from their commitment to doing good.

However, everyone in the UK has the right to join a trade union and being part of one that campaigns for change and promotes positive treatment of third sector workers can help not only the workforce but can also benefit the sector as a whole, as well as the people it serves.

We would urge anyone considering joining to find out more about our work in the sector here.



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