Becoming a rep: a young worker’s experience

Ndala Mukanda, a Prospect rep in BT, explains how he became a rep, and what it’s been like for him as a young worker.

My name is Ndala, I’m 27, I work for BT and I’m a member of Prospect Union. I joined Prospect when I first started working for BT as a graduate about four years ago – they had a stall during induction and had reduced membership fees for an entire two years for graduate joiners. I’m a sucker for a good discount, maybe it was the chocolates and free pens!

My general outlook on unions at the time was: “they’re ok but not really that cool…I don’t really need them right now but it’s only costing me the same as a pint or two for a month’s membership…erm sure why not?”

After only being at the company a few months, I started to hear about some of my fellow grads not being given opportunities, feeling disillusioned and really just having a crappy time at work. I used to organise the weekly socials for our graduate intake outside of work, but through that I got to know people, and hear them out, and actually there’s a lot of stuff we moan about when it comes to work – what do we do about it though?

So I thought I’ll take everyone’s complaints to the union they’ll sort it out right I think…

Anyway, months later, I happen upon one of our union stalls in the canteen over lunch. Naturally I thought to myself, “I’ve been meaning to speak to them lot,” so I walked on over, told them about all the complaints I had collated.

As I spoke, they shook their heads in agreement and subsequently asked if I was a member and to come to the branch meetings to raise these points.

The branch is made up of the union members in your work place typically in your office building or region. They make up the base component of the entire union structure really – but just a good bunch of people some of whom have been around for ages.

So I attended, and before I knew it I was actually inadvertently representing my colleagues… Not far off from being a rep and that’s all it took! After being a regular branch meeting attendee it was just a matter of time before my branch chairperson said to me “You may as well go on the reps’ course”.

Prospect ran the course online due to COVID-19. They split it into three separate one-hour segments throughout the day, which meant I could still attend my other work meetings that day. Our virtual class comprised people from different backgrounds from a young member like myself to someone who after 20 years had enough and wanted to instigate some change in their workplace.

The course went through the union structure, what the function of a trade union is, how negotiations with companies work, how strong branches make a strong union, organising and campaigning.

We also delved into the core elements of what is a rep – remember how earlier I told you of how I took my colleagues’ issues to the branch meetings, well turns out that’s also part of being a rep –  who knew! Then there’s stuff like recruitment, sign posting, health and safety and the environment… it’s quite a broad spectrum and you can find what suits you.

My biggest takeaway is that all it takes to be a good rep is to be a good listener.

Being a rep opens up the doors to so much of the work that the union does, and ultimately empowers you to act in some capacity, to be the voice of your friends, peers, and colleagues in the workplace. You can with something as small as getting new microwave for your shared kitchen at the office, to getting the training you deserve and even negotiating things like pay disputes and redundancies.  So all we have to do is start…

Does that sound good?

Reps like Ndala are the bedrock of our union and enable us to make positive change in their workplaces. If you’d like to get more involved in Prospect, let us know.
Register your interest in becoming a rep