From the TUC

Trade Union Membership – Steady as we go!

18 May 2010, By

I’ve just got back from a meeting of the TUC Executive after giving a report on the latest Trade Union membership figures published by BIS.  The figures offer some encouragement but also continue to present challenges to unions and the TUC. 

Overall union density (the proportion of employees who are in  a union) remained unchanged at 27.4 per cent.  Also remaining relatively stable was collective bargaining coverage (the proportion of employees whose pay and conditions are negotiated between a union and their employer) at 32.7 per cent.  Union members continue to be better paid than non-members; based on their average hourly earnings, union members are paid over 15 per cent more than non-members.

Union membership remains concentrated in the public sector where density is over 56 per cent compared to just 15 per cent in the private sector.  Unions are present in nine out of ten public sector workplaces compared to just three out of ten in the private sector.  For the eighth consecutive year, density amongst women was higher than amongst men (29.5 per cent to 25.2 per cent). 

It should be a source of some relative comfort that through 2008 and 2009 – the two years that have borne the full force of the recession – union density has remained steady with only a 0.6 per cent fall recorded.  Whilst this was largely due to union membership falling at the same rate as employment – credit should also be given to union strategies on organising and recruitment and work with employers to mitigate against the worst aspects of the recession.  The longer term trend is also more stable.  In the ten years from 1989 to 1999, union membership fell by 9.3 per cent but between 1999 and 2009 the rate of decline was 2.3 per cent.

However, this years figures also show that there was no breakthrough by unions into new sectors and a there remains a pressing need for unions to re-double their efforts in expanding where they already have a presence.

Looking forward, pressure on trade union membership and density is most likely to come from; a contraction in employment in sectors where union density is relatively high (obviously including the public sector) and where (and when) it does occur – employment growth in sectors where unions currently have limited presence such as business services and retail; Also an increase in the number of workers in part-time and temporary positions – amongst whom density is traditionally lower compared to employees in full time and permanent jobs.

The TUC continues to support unions on organising and recruitment via both the Organising Academy and the Activist Academy.  In addition to this in October 2010 the TUC with unionlearn will be launching a new development programme for senior lay leaders.  The TUC Lay-Leadership Development programme will be based on the TUC Leading Change course for senior union officers and will be a 6-day accredited programme of learning, discussion and support covering issues such as; strategies for union growth, using union resources effectively, developing effective campaigns and organising globally.  The programme will be delivered by Ruskin College.  If you are intested in this programme please email me at [email protected]