CIPD: “Overall participation falls to lowest levels in 18 years The number of private sector employees joining trade unions has increased for the third year in a row, according to latest figures. Private sector membership levels increased by 61 thousand in 2013, to 2.6million, with members from ‘transport and storage’, ‘financial and insurance activities’ and ‘arts, entertainment and recreation’ industries contributing to the overall increase.
In the public sector, union membership levels fell to 3.8 million in 2013 from 3.9 million in 2012. There was a 13,000 decline in the ‘public administration and defence’ sector, while the ‘education’ sector reported 33,000 fewer members.
The latest trade union membership figures, published by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, show that the total number of union members was broadly unchanged from 2012, with a reduction of just 6,000 over 12 months.
However the proportion of employees who are trade union members has steadily declined over the years, with a peak of over 13 million in 1979. Last year saw the lowest rate of membership since 1995, with membership falling slightly to 25.6 per cent in 2013.
Assistant general secretary at Unite the union, Steve Turner, said positive growth in the private sector might encourage more employees to join unions.
“Despite the government’s anti-union rhetoric more and more people in the private sector are recognising that it pays to be in a trade union.
“Figures show that being a member of a trade union means you are more likely to get better pay, stronger protection in the workplace, and better health and safety conditions,” he said.
The trade union wage premium, defined as the percentage difference in average gross hourly earnings of union members compared with non-members, is greater for women at about 30 per cent, compared with 8 per cent for males.
This is encouraging news for women, who are more likely to be a trade union member, according to the figures, compared to their male counterparts. The proportion of female employees who were in a trade union was around 28 per cent in 2013, compared with 23 per cent for male employees.
Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment, said figures were not unexpected as the increase in memberships in 2013 kept pace with the rise in the number of private sector employees.
“These figures actually show the proportion of union members in the private sector stayed flat at 14.4 per cent.
“High-quality engagement between employers and their employees is what matters most, whether or not a workforce chooses to be unionised,” he said.
But TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said trade unions were important for the future of the workforce.
“It’s good to see union membership hold steady as private sector growth makes up for the big job cuts in local government, the civil service and the NHS,” she said.
“Unions deliver better pay, longer holidays, more training, safer workplaces, family-friendly jobs and decent pensions. That is because workers are stronger when they join together.
“And it is why we need stronger unions to secure the pay rises that workers across Britain need to share in the recovery,” O’Grady added.