The Union Difference!

A report comparing those working in a union versus those in a non-union environment based on findings in the Financial Services Working Conditions Survey of 2019.

About the author: Colin Whitston is former Vice Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the National College of Ireland. He has a wide experience of working in industry, and completed a Diploma in Labour Studies at Ruskin College Oxford, where he held a scholarship from the National Union of General and Municipal Workers.

Executive Summary

In 2019 the FSU conducted an online survey of workers in banking, financial and technology services in Ireland.

The survey was part of a move by the FSU to open up a conversation among banking and financial services workers – irrespective of company or union membership – about work and life in the industry.

Unsurprisingly, there were many similarities in issues facing workers in the industry. But even a cursory reading of the results showed that there were significant differences also – and that these differences reflected the effect of the presence, or the absence, of a recognised trade union on pay and pay setting, employment conditions, and management behaviour.

  • This report looks at some findings in four key areas:
  • Pay and how it is set
  • Pressure of work on individuals Pension provision and funding
  • Life beyond the workplace

Pay & How It Is Set

  • Union recognition is closely associated with the receipt of regular pay rises.
  • Fully 36% of workers in the non-union sample received no pay enhancement of any form (salary or bonus) in the previous year.
  • Overall, a lack of transparency in pay setting is associated with the absence of union recognition.
  • Overall, incentive pay arrangements operate less favourably in the non-union sector than in the union sector, and appears to discriminate against women in particular.
  • For most women employees a union presence is associated with more equality in pay distribution.

Pressure Of Work On Individuals

  • There is widespread concern over employers demanding unpaid work outside of contracted hours.
  • In general, pressure to be available by phone or email outside work is common in the industry, but this is especially true in non-union settings.
  • There is widespread concern among staff in both retail banking and financial services about under payment when acting up for absent colleagues.
  • Work pressure is accompanied by a widespread belief that employers do not listen well to employees’ concerns.
  • Notably, however, workers felt more secure in getting a fair response from employers where a recognised union was present.


  • The presence of a recognised union is strongly associated with the availability of an occupational pension, and, still, with better quality defined benefit schemes
  • Overall, the presence of a recognised union is associated with higher employer contributions to defined contribution schemes.
  • Overall, women seem disadvantaged in terms of employer contributions, but union presence is associated with more equal outcomes.

Life Beyond The Workplace

  • Housing costs, whether rent or mortgage, are a major call on net incomes in the banking and financial services sector.
  • Workers in the sector face long commutes to work each day in comparison to the national average.
  • Workers in the Irish banking and financial services sector experience below average satisfaction with work-life balance.

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