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Unions 21
| Publication

Changing World of Work

Last week the trade union membership figures came out, painting a worrying outlook for the union movement. For a moment, let's take the headlines from the Government bulletin:

  1. Membership levels fell in both the private and public sector; private sector membership fell for the first time in six years and there was a sharp decline in female membership

  2. Higher educated employees are more likely to be union members; professional occupations are more likely to be union members

  3. Larger workplaces are more likely to negotiate through collective bargaining

  4. Middle income workers are more likely to be union members

  5. Employees in public sector and utility services are more likely to be union members

This year, we launched a piece of research with NIESR entitled 'Changing World of Work' which sought to map out employment trends over the next five to ten years. We did this because we felt (and still feel) that unions will be better placed to consider strategic direction if there is some idea of where people are working, how they feel about work and what they think about us as organisations. The five points raised in the stats raise pertinent questions for the union movement in terms of how we 'future proof' ourselves which align to the challenges we laid out in that publication.

To recap - there will be growth in three main sectors - retail, food and beverage and management consultants. In all of these sectors, there will be a rise in the higher skilled or occupational roles as automation and technological increases play a role in the delivery of services. This means that where there will be growth, there are already unions, albeit in small concentrations. So, we're not starting from nothing. However, we do need to think about how we reach those workers and how they interact with unions, the mechanisms and tools they may use and that we might employ.

And with all of this in mind, we must also think about the processes we use in order to achieve sustainable long term wins on terms and conditions at work. Not in the headlines is that now, 26.3% of workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement and in the private sector, that figure is down (a statistically significant) percentage down to 14.9%. This is a massive challenge for us. Firstly, how do we maintain and extend membership (in both areas of the new hour glass economy) but also, how to we maintain and extend collective bargaining, especially in a more fragmented, two-tier and precarious economy?

We're starting our new research and projects and trying to address this, will be high on our list.

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