Fewer than 7.5 workers are now members of a union but percentage of unionised construction workers rose

The percentage of workers in trade unions fell last year by the biggest amount in almost a decade, according to TUC figures.

Union membership fell from 29% to 28.4% last year, the largest annual decline since 1998. The number of unionised employees in the British workforce now stands at fewer than 7.5m.

Amicus protest

Trade unions are present in 27.6% of construction workplaces, down from 29.3% in 2005. The percentage of unionised construction workers rose slightly from 15.7% last year to 15.8% in 2006.

The figures also showed that female workers are now more likely to be members of a union than male workers. Trade union membership amongst women is 29.3%, compared to only 27% of men.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber played down the drop in membership. He said: “Today’s relatively small fall in the number of union members is actually a union success story, given the continuing decline in traditionally unionised jobs in sectors such as manufacturing. Indeed, after falling strongly through the 1980s and early 90s, union membership has roughly stabilised since 1997.”

The TUC is launching a drive explaining to non-unionised companies the benefits of union membership. More than 2,000 employers will receive leaflets emphasising the relative safety and skills benefits of having a unionised workplace.

Meanwhile, the newly-merged ‘superunion’ incorporating Amicus and the T&G has announced its intention to join up with the United Steelworkers union in the USA.

Representatives of all three unions signed an agreement to explore the climate for an official merger sometime in the next year, creating the largest union in the world. If the plans are successful, it would represent over 3.4 million members in the US, Canada, UK and Ireland.