Labour & European Law Review – June 2019
According to recent government figures, the number of people who were trade union members rose by just over 100,000 to a total of 6.35 million in 2018.
This was the second successive annual increase in union membership levels following a low of 6.23 million in 2016. The proportion of workers who were trade union members also rose slightly from 23.3 per cent in 2017 to 23.4 per cent in 2018.
Although public sector membership increased by almost 150,000 in 2018, private sector membership decreased by 47,000 after recording an increase of 70,000 the previous year. There is still a large disparity in the proportion of public sector workers who are members of trade unions compared to private sector workers – 52.5 per cent compared to 13.2 per cent respectively.
The figures also show an increase in the rates of female union membership against falling male union membership. Only 20.7 per cent of male workers were in a trade union in 2018 (the lowest since figures started being recorded in 1995), whilst the proportion of female workers increased to 26.2 per cent (the highest recorded since 2015 when it stood at 27.7 per cent). By contrast in 1995, the proportion of male workers in a trade union stood at around 35 per cent, compared with just below 30 per cent for women.
UK born workers were also recorded as being more likely to be trade union members (24.8 per cent) than those not born in the UK (16.6 per cent). The proportion of workers who were trade union members was highest in the Black or Black British ethnic group (27.1 per cent), whilst the lowest figures were recorded among Asian or Asian British and Chinese at 18 per cent and 15.5 per cent respectively.
Highly educated employees were more likely to be union members. For instance, the proportion of employees with degrees or equivalent stood at 28.7 per cent, compared to those with no qualifications who had trade union membership which stood at 16.7 per cent.
Finally employees who work in larger workplaces (with 50 or more staff) were recorded as being more likely to be members of a trade union and more likely to have a trade union presence in the workplace. They were also more likely to have their pay directly affected by a collective agreement between their employer and a trade union.
Matthew Pull, of Thompsons Solicitors commented: “The rise in trade union membership, which is the second in consecutive years, and the fourth in the last seven years, is obviously promising, and flies in the face of the general media narrative about a movement in terminal decline.”