According to figures just published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the proportion of UK employees who were trade union members fell to 23.1 per cent in 2021 down from 23.7 per cent the previous year.
This represents the lowest union membership rate on record among UK employees for which there is comparable data (that is, since 1995).
The fall was driven by a decrease in public sector members, down 58,000 to 3.9 million in 2021. This was the first annual decrease since 2017 when membership among public sector employees fell by 53,000. There was a relatively small fall in trade union membership among private sector employees of 4,000 to 2.56 million in 2021, the lowest level since 2011.
However, it is worth pointing out that since 1995, membership among public sector employees has stayed relatively stable compared to those in the private sector. Membership in the latter has declined by 24.6 per cent since 1995, whereas total membership in the public sector has increased by 4.5 per cent over the same period.
Across all employees, the fall in numbers was primarily due to a decrease in female membership in the public sector. It declined by 71,000 while male membership increased by 13,000. Membership among women in the private sector, on the other hand, increased over the year by 11,000, with male membership falling by 15,000.
Just under half of employees (47 per cent) who were trade union members had been working for the same employer for 10 years or more, compared to 29 per cent of employees overall. Over three quarters (76 per cent) of employees who were trade union members were aged 35 or over, compared to 63 per cent of employees overall.
The proportion of employees who were trade union members fell in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2021. Membership density was down to 21.6 per cent in England (the lowest on record), 28.4 per cent in Scotland and 31.4 per cent in Northern Ireland. In contrast, the proportion of employees who were trade union members in Wales rose to 35.6 per cent.
To read the report in full, click here.