Our trainee solicitor for Employment, Kashif Aslam, looks at the decreasing membership of trade unions and what they need to do to adapt to the future
Public concerns about low pay and job security have soared since the financial crisis in Britain. This general election is marked by political parties competing with their proposals to regulate the jobs market.
Recent Government statistics show that union membership has fallen by more than a quarter of a million, bringing the total union membership down to 6.2 million - under half its level in the 1970s.
Public sector union membership stands at 23.5% and private sector union membership stands at 13% and only 10% in London.
Why is membership decreasing? The reasons are all too familiar: industrial change, anti-union legislation, cuts to the public sector workforce, a shift in attitude and outsourcing work.
Over recent years, the public sector has been directly affected by the financial crisis. A large chunk of the drop can be put down to the severe cuts on the heavily unionised parts of the public sector, such as education.
Workers registered with a union are usually older, higher paid and public sector working individuals. If you are 50, high paid and working in the public sector you are 20% more likely to be a trade union member, compared to someone who is 30, on low pay and working in the private sector.
Those workers who joined unions last generation are now nearing retirement and younger workers are not rushing to replace them. Despite trade unions having some successful results; showing that those people who are part of a union have higher wages and better terms of employment, statistics show they are not attracting young workers. If the current trend continues, trade union membership numbers will continue to decline.
So, what can the unions do? They must adapt the way they work to appeal and attract younger workers. To appeal to young workers a trade union in the 21st Century will need to be low cost, digitally savvy and tackle issues affecting young workers directly, rather than wider issues in the employment sector.
Trade unions will have to innovate and change the way they target young workers to be more appealing or risk fading in to the past.
Union leaders could have been forgiven for hoping that the future looks ever so slightly brighter for their movement. Public concerns about low pay and insecurity have soared in post-crisis Britain, there is a resurgent debate about the quality of work and political parties are competing on their proposals to regulate the jobs market. Yet the stark reality is that the British labour movement is shrinking fast. Statistics published by the government on Wednesday show union membership fell by more than a quarter of a million, the largest fall in more than two decades, bringing the total to 6.2m — under half its level in the 1970s. This is like a country not much bigger than Scotland losing the population of Aberdeen in the space of a year.