The government has just published the annual statistics on trade union membership which show an increase in numbers in the private sector for the third consecutive year.
The 2013 statistical bulletin showed that, although union membership levels in the private sector fell from 3.4 million in 1995 to 2.5 million in 2010, they have risen every year since then, increasing by 61,000 in 2013 to 2.6 million.
In the public sector, however, union membership levels fell to 3.8 million in 2013 from 3.9 million in 2012. Trade union density also decreased from 56.3 per cent to 55.4 per cent, reflective of the faster decline in unionised employment in the public sector over the year.
Women are now more likely to be trade union members than men (28 per cent women compared to 23 per cent men) and they are increasingly older employees. The proportion of employees who belonged to a trade union fell in all age groups except those aged over 65 between 1995 and 2013. About 37 per cent of trade union member employees were aged over 50 in 2013, but only 27 per cent of employees are in this age group.
Employees in professional occupations are more likely to be trade union members than employees in other occupations, accounting for 37 per cent of all union members, although only 21 per cent of all employees in the UK work in this sector. A higher proportion of UK born employees are in trade unions (27 per cent) compared with non-UK born employees (about 18 per cent).
Overall, about 6.5 million employees in the UK were trade union members in 2013. The level of overall union membership was broadly unchanged from 2012, with a reduction of only 6,000 over the year (a 0.1 per cent decline), but well below the peak of over 13 million in 1979.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills is responsible for publishing the National Statistics on trade union membership. An annual question on trade union membership was introduced into the Labour Force Survey in 1989 and it has been asked in the fourth quarter every year since 1992.
Neil Todd at Thompsons Solicitors said: “It is welcome news that trade union membership within the private sector has increased each year over the last three years. Workers who are members of a trade are more likely to enjoy better pay, longer holidays and a safer working environment.”