The number of employees represented by a trade union has fallen over the last 12 months, with just a quarter of the workforce now members, official figures show.
A National Statistics report, based on Labour Force Survey data, shows that trade union membership dropped by 0.5% to 6.78 million workers in 2004, representing a fall of around 36,000 compared to 2003.
As a result, the overall rate of trade union membership fell from 26.6% to 26% of all people in employment. Put into context with previous figures, the findings mark a steady decline since 1995.
The fall is most significant in the private sector, where less than one in five employees is in a trade union, with numbers dropping by 1% in 2004.
A union presence was also far less likely among private firms, with just 34.2% of workplaces covered, compared to almost 85% in the public sector.
However, the unions have succeeded in attracting more female members, with the number of women trade union members growing by 42,000.
There are also still clear benefits for trade union members, who earn on average 17% more than non-members.
The research found that 7.23 million workers had their pay covered by a collective agreement, with those in Northern Ireland, Wales and the North East most likely to be part of a union. The South East, the East of England and London had the lowest density of trade union members.