Overall increases mask low participation in the private sector and among young peopleby Margaret Prosser / June 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
There is much to celebrate within trade unions as this year’s membership figures show an overall increase of around 102,000 new members. In spite of headlines prophesising doom for UK trade unions it’s the second year in a row that membership has grown, and the second largest rise on record. The total figure now stands at 6.35m workers. In the public sector alone, we have 149,000 new recruits. Good news indeed.
But wait. An overall growth of 102,000 with 149,000 in the public sector does not add up. The bad news is that means there’s been a decline of 47,000 members in the private sector.
Now, we know it’s harder to recruit in the private sector which hasn’t got the same strong culture and history of trade union representation. And we know the private sector has growing areas which have never been unionised. But the worse news is that the public sector is shrinking. Currently, the public sector employs just 15 per cent of the workforce compared to 85 per cent in the private sector.
Looking at these figures, the unions’ success story will be short-lived unless we work harder to shift our focus on this front. The other lesson is that we must particularly target our efforts on recruiting young people.
At last year’s Unions 21 conference, Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive of the Resolution Trust, Chair of the Living Wage Foundation and occasional Prospect contributor, gave us a stark warning—organise young workers or face up to a timebomb of demographics. And, as this TUC data shows, over the past 25 years union membership has fallen by 40 per cent amongst 16 to 24 year olds and nearly 30 per cent amongst 25 to 34 year olds.
This year’s trade union membership figures re-enforce the warning. Younger workers are more likely to switch jobs than ever before and yet only 14.1 per cent of people who have been with their employer for two years or fewer are union members, in contrast to 44 per cent of workers who have been with their employer for 20 years or more.
Despite the likelihood that young people will change jobs more often than their older peers, and despite the current low union membership among young people, we know from our recent YouGov polling that they are open to the idea of…