Trade union density in Britain

Issue section: 
  • According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there were 6.5 million trade union members in the UK in 2013. That’s well below the 13.1 million in 1979.
  • Union membership across the UK workforce now stands at 25.6 percent. We also know that the number of union reps is well down from its high point in the mid-1980s.
  • In 2013 in the private sector just 14.4 percent of workers were in a union. But membership in the private sector did rise by 7 percent from 2010 to 2013 — up to 2.6 million members.
  • In the public sector 55.4 percent of workers are in unions; that’s some 3.8 million workers in 2013. The figure in the public sector fell by 6 percent 2010 to 2013 as recession and job cuts hit.
  • But it’s important to note that there is a trade union presence of some kind in 44.2 percent of workplaces. That figure rises to 85.4 percent in the public sector and still reaches 28.7 percent in the private sector.
  • Women are more likely to be in a union than men — 28 percent as against 23 percent. But union members are getting older, with 37 percent of trade unionists 50 or over, as against just 3.9 percent in the 16 to 24 category.
  • Black and ethnic minority people (UK born) are more likely to be in unions — 29 percent compared to 27 percent across the population.
  • The trade union “wage premium” (the extra wages that you win by being in a trade union) stands at 19.8 percent for public sector workers and 7 percent for private sector workers.
  • While the wage premium rose in 2012-13 it has declined overall since 1995 by 10.5 percent in the public and 8.3 percent in the private sector. If the unions don’t fight, the gains they’ve made are clawed back.
  • The wage premium is 34 percent for 16 to 24 year olds. For women it’s 30 percent as against just 8 percent for men. So if you are a women or a young worker it really pays to be in a trade union!
  • Larger workplaces (with 50 or more workers) have a union density of 34 percent compared to 16 percent in workplaces with less than 50 employees.
  • Some 41 percent of workers in larger workplaces have their pay affected by collective agreements as against 16 percent in smaller workplaces.
  • Trade union density in the UK is still far higher than in many EU countries.