Trade Unions: Resilient and still delivering for workers
Trade Union membership continues to show resilience and there are encouraging signs of a revival of union membership in the private sector, according to the findings of the annual Trade Union Membership Statistical Bulletin which was published yesterday by BIS.
According to the report there are now 6.5 million trade union members in the UK representing 25.6% of the workforce. Membership in the private sector, which had fallen by almost 1 million between 1995 and 2010, increased for the third year running. There are now 2.6 million private sector union members, an increase of 61,000 on last years figures. Union density in the private sector is 14.4%. The sectors with the highest membership increases where ‘transport and storage’, ‘finance and insurance’ and ‘arts entertainment and recreation’.
The news from the public sector, where the impact of the government’s cuts programme continues to be felt, was not so good. Membership fell by 67,000 to 3.8 million and density showed a small fall to 55.4%.
Trade union members in both the public and the private sector saw a rise in their average hourly earnings over the last year. The union wage premium in the private sector increased and is now 7%. Young workers and women benefit most when they are members of a union. The wage premium for young workers aged 16-24 was 38% and for women 30%.
There was a small increase in bargaining coverage in the private sector – up to 16.6% – and across the economy as a whole – up to 29.5%. Union presence in private sector workplaces also showed a small increase.
For the twelfth consecutive year, women were more likely to be union members than men. Density amongst women workers was 28% and amongst men 23%. Older workers and those in professional occupations are also most likely to carry a union card. Density amongst workers aged 50 and over was 37%, however amongst younger workers aged between 16 and 24 it was just 7.7%.
More than one third of all union members in the UK are in professional occupations and density amongst professionals is 45%. More than one quarter of managers are unions members.
Workers who live in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the North of England are most likely to be members of a union. In Northern Ireland, 35% of workers carry a union card compared to 20% of employees in the South East. The North East has the highest percentage of union members amongst the English regions with 30.8% density.
At the risk of being parochial, a special mention should go to Merseyside which can claim to be the UK’s union ‘hotspot’. It has the highest density (37 per cent), union presence (57%) and is second only to Northern Ireland in respect of bargaining coverage (40%).
Overall these are reasonably encouraging figures and there are signs that union membership and bargaining coverage has managed to withstand the impact of the financial crisis, the recession and the government’s onslaught against the public sector, better than might have been expected.
That said the movement continues to face significant organisational challenges. Whilst the continued rise in union membership in the private sector is welcome we are still someway off representing and bargaining on behalf of even one fifth of private sector workers.
The movement also faces a serious demographic challenge. These latest figures showing an ageing membership should be seen alongside a recent report from ACAS based on WERS 2011 which showed that the average age of union activists is also increasing. This suggests that ‘next generation’ trade unionism needs to move up the agenda of unions and the TUC.