Number of union members drops slightly but membership in public sector grows

The number of workers who are union members has fallen slightly in the past year, official statistics have revealed.

Union density in the UK fell by 0.6 percentage points to 28.4% in 2006, down from 29% in 2005. This was the largest annual percentage point decline since 1998.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber insisted the fall in numbers was actually a “success story”.

“Indeed after falling strongly through the 1980s and early 1990s, union membership has roughly stabilised since 1997,” he said.

“But unions need to run just that bit faster in order to start gaining members overall, and I am confident they can rise to that challenge.”

The report, Trade Union Membership 2006 is based on Labour Force Survey data for December 2006.

For the third consecutive year, a higher proportion of women than men were trade union members. Union density among women fell by 0.2 percentage points to 29.7% of employees in 2006, while for men it fell by 0.9 percentage points to 27.2%.

Just one in six private sector employees were union members in 2006.

Almost three in five (59%) public sector employees in the UK were union members. Public sector union density rose by 0.2 percentage points in 2006.

Collective agreement coverage in the public sector was 69%, three times greater than in the private sector. Trade unions were present in 87% of public sector workplaces in the UK.

For a full interview with Brendan Barber, see 24 April issue of Personnel Today