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Thursday 23 September 2021

“My FDA colleagues have been a great source of advice, support, sympathy and laughs”

By Sarah Amis

FDA Fast Stream rep Sarah Amis explains how being in the union has enabled her to both support her colleagues and develop her own leadership skills

I’ve been a member of the FDA since I joined the Fast Stream, which is two full years ago now. Since then I’ve trained as a union rep, been on the Fast Stream FDA committee, and currently represent the Fast Stream section on the FDA Executive Committee. I would definitely encourage Fast Stream colleagues to join!

As a trade union member, you pay a small monthly subscription (Fast Stream members of the FDA get the first six months free!) and get a bunch of benefits. You get to vote when the union negotiates with the employer about pay, pensions, and other issues, and of course vote in union elections.

The FDA Fast Stream section successfully negotiated reforms to pay for the centralised FS in 2020, resulting in pay rises in the second and fourth years of the scheme. Our negotiating power was increased because of the high percentage of FS colleagues who are FDA members. The wider FDA also does a lot of work around issues that affect civil servants - from vocally defending the reputation of the civil service in the media, to advocating for more flexibility for workers around the return to the office. Joining the union helps the union deliver for all colleagues.

As an individual, you can get advice, representation, and legal advice from the union if you have any problems at work. You can have a trained union rep accompanying you to important meetings, or if you need to make a complaint about anything at work, the union will support you in that process. If you need advice on something you are concerned about at work, then reps can also help you talk through your issues and possible solutions.

It’s important to note that in UK law, unions are only allowed to help people with problems if they joined the union before the problem occurs - so in that sense being an FDA member is basically like having insurance against something bad happening at work. Hopefully you will never need it, but it’s important to have just in case!

The FDA also has many benefits outside of workplace representation. FDA Learn offer a lot of free trainings and webinars on all sorts of topics, from leadership to gardening. Because the union represents the higher grades of the civil service, many of these training offers are really great for your continuous professional development and building your understanding of leadership. For instance, last year I went to a set of webinars on institutional racism and how to combat it that really influenced how I think and approach inclusivity in the workplace. Although COVID has affected things, there are still opportunities for networking, mentoring and so on.

I would also say that being a rep and taking on a role in FDA committees has been one of the biggest opportunities for personal growth and development so far in the Fast Stream (and sorted that corporate objective…) My understanding of workplace policies and issues has increased massively, and I’ve gained experience helping others solve their problems and make important decisions. All of which has been incredibly important as I think about the kind of senior leader I want to grow into. I’ve worked collaboratively with colleagues not just across the Fast Stream but across the entire Civil Service, helped the union make high-level decisions, and held our Officers and General Secretary accountable to the needs of members.

Lastly, and actually almost the most important point for me, is the social aspect. My FDA colleagues have been a great source of advice, support, sympathy, and laughs. I’ve enjoyed pre-COVID pub trips and coffee hangouts, and during lockdown shared the trials and tribulations over group chats. So overall, being involved in the union has been a win-win – helping other members, developing my skills, and making friends.

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