Friday, April 20, 2007

Union decline

Reach of unions continues to fall
Andrew Taylor
Financial Times April 20 2007

The percentage of workers in a trade union fell last year by the biggest amount since 1998, continuing the long-term decline of the labour movement, according to official figures published yesterday.

The number of employees who were union members fell from 29 per cent to 28.4 per cent. The decline was much less for women, who are now more likely to be a member of a union than men according the Department for Trade and Industry.

Union membership, which peaked at 13.2m in 1979, when over half of all workers were members, has fallen to fewer than 7.5m as employment in traditional manufacturing industries has declined. Falling membership and subsequent strains on finances and loss of influence have triggered a series of union mergers in recent years.

The DTI reported that the proportion of male employees who were union members had fallen from 40.1 cent in 1992 to 27 per cent last year. Trade union membership among women by comparison had only fallen from 32 per cent to 29.3 per cent over the same period.

Public-sector workers, currently in a series of disputes over pay and job security, were also much more likely to be union members. According to the DTI only 16.6 per cent of private-sector employees were members of a union compared with 58.8 per cent of public- sector employees.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said that unions were "running hard to stand still" but denied that they were in terminal decline. He said: "Today's relatively small fall in the number of union members is actually a union success story, given the continuing decline in traditionally unionised jobs in sectors such as manufacturing. Indeed after falling strongly through the 1980s andearly 1990s, union membership has roughly stabilised since 1997."

Mr Barber will head a TUC drive next week aimed at non-unionised workplaces. Around 2,000 employers will receive a leaflet explaining why unions are good for business. It will emphasise: "Union workplaces tend to be safer and have more highly skilled workers on better terms and conditions than similar non-unionised firms."

Mr Barber said: "The continuing success of unionised companies such as Tesco, shows that employers have nothing to fear from constructive relations with unions and much to gain from the boost to productivity from the training, participation and workplace safety."

According to the DTI, almost half of UK workers were still employed at workplaces where a trade union was present, while a third of employees, the majority of them in the public sector, had their pay and conditions affected by collective bargaining. Hourly earnings of union members were also higher, averaging £12.43 last year, compared with non-union members who averaged £10.66 an hour.

The TUC said: "Detailed analysis of the figures shows that unions are reaching out to new sections of the workforce - for example the growth in union density in recent years among women and professional workers. But unions need to runjust that bit faster in order to start gaining members overall."

It said that next month's merger between Amicus and the Transport and General Workers Union - to create Unite, Britain's biggest union with more than 3m members - would generate savings of £5m, which would be available for trade union recruitment.



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