TUC chief Brendan Barber targets company bosses in bid to reverse decline in union membership

TUC leader Brendan Barber has pledged to turn around decades of decline in trade union membership – and he wants your help.

The TUC general secretary exclusively told Personnel Today that encouraging employers to unionise their staff was a major focus for the union umbrella body.

He admitted the union movement had been too inward looking since the late 1970s, and insisted it would grow stronger by targeting businesses.

“I am concerned that we have not got across clearly enough the benefits to businesses,” he said. “I want to see unions recognised as an asset rather than a threat.”

The TUC is to write to employers across the UK in the next few days, pushing the message that unions can reduce labour turnover, help compliance with employment law, and lend expertise.

But the message may receive a frosty reception from employers, according to David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF.

“It is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted,” he said.

“Trade unions have not been very good at demonstrating they can add value to a business.

“Anyone under 45 will have had very little involvement with unions, and will only know them by the history books and what they see in the media. It doesn’t exactly engender enthusiasm,” he added.

However, Barber remains convinced he can reverse 20 years of falling union membership – only 6.6 million people are part of a union today, official figures show – roughly half the number when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979.

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