influence of trade unions and monopsonistic employers in determining wages and levels of employment
Introduction - Union Membership Trends
In autumn 2001, 7.6 million UK workers belonged to a trade union. This is 178,000 higher than in 1997. Overall, union membership in Great Britain declined by 1.3 million between 1991 and 2001 with membership falling faster among men (42 per cent to 29 per cent) than women (32 per cent to 28 per cent). In 2001, the rate of union membership (union density) among all workers fell to 26.8 per cent, from 27.1 per cent in 2000.
Union membership among the self-employed is traditionally low (9.4 per cent in 2001). Membership levels within different occupational groups in the UK ranged from 48 per cent among professionals to 13 per cent among sales and customer services staff. Union density in the public sector was 59 per cent compared with 19 per cent in the private sector. Employees with 20 or more years’ service were five times as likely to belong to a union as those with less than one year’s service (60 per cent compared with 12 per cent).
Adapted from Office of National Statistics (http://www.statistics.gov.uk)
Trade unions are organisations of workers that seek through collective bargaining with employers to protect and improve the real incomes of their members; provide job security, protect workers against unfair dismissal and provide a range of other work-related services including support for people claiming compensation for injuries sustained in a job. In the late 1970s over half the workforce was a member of a trade union. That figure has declined to less than 30% over the last twenty years and in some occupations, trade union membership is less than 10% of the employed workforce.
Trade union membership has declined for a variety of reasons. Some of them relate to the changing structure of the economy. Trade union membership was always highest in heavy manufacturing industry where the rate of job losses over two decades has been steepest. Unions have not always been as successful as they might have been in attracting new members in industries with less of a history of trade union organisation and activity. Membership has also decline because of the long-term impact of trade union legislation passed by the previous Conservative government which stripped away many of the traditional legal immunities enjoyed by unions in the course of undertaking industrial action.
Globalisation has also reduced the power of unions when negotiating on behalf of their members – a trend which has made union membership less relevant to potential members. There has also been a switch towards part-time employment in predominantly service-sector jobs – an area of the labour market where unions have rarely had much of a presence.
In 1998 the Labour Government introduced new legislation that gives workers a legal right to have their trade union recognised at the workplace. There are tentative signs that union membership has now reached a trough and is beginning to edge higher once more, but the days of old-style trade union collective bargaining seem to be a distant memory.
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