Trade union membership rose for the fourth consecutive year in 2020, reaching 6.56 million.
This is a rise of 118,000 on 2019 – continuing a trend of larger year-on-year increases that began in 2016.
In 2017, 17,000 new members joined, followed by 103,000 in 2018, and 91,000 in 2019.
The proportion of workers now in trade unions is 23.7% of the UK workforce, up from 23.5% in 2019 but still significantly below the European average of 60%.
Last year’s rise in membership was driven largely by female workers in the public sector.
Bill Adams, TUC Regional Secretary for Yorkshire & Humber – which saw the highest increase in trade union membership – attributed the rise to the vulnerability of workers while the UK fought Covid-19.
“This pandemic has brutally exposed the terrible working conditions and insecurity many workers face,” he explained.
“Thousands have turned to unions during this crisis, to protect their jobs, defend their rights and keep their workplaces safe.
“Unions can play a key role in helping the country recover from this pandemic by supporting good, green jobs and working with employers to level up pay and conditions across our region.”
Tracy Brabin, new Mayor of West Yorkshire, welcomed a rise of 10% in trade union presence in her region’s workplaces. Most West Yorkshire workplaces are now unionised at 58%.
“I’m really encouraged to see these figures today, because it has never been more important to join a union,” she said.
“The past year, and the terrible Coronavirus pandemic has not only exposed the uncertainty that many workers face but has also shown just how much we all rely on their dedication and service.
“However, a ‘thank you’ is not enough – workers’ rights must be protected, and their safety must be an absolute priority.
“By working with trade unions and businesses, we can ensure that this happens, and create a thriving economy that works for us all.”
IER Director, Carolyn Jones, encouraged workers to support the Status of Workers Bill, introduced by IER Chair Lord John Hendy QC in the House of Lords on Wednesday, which would abolish insecure work and make it easier to organise for better pay and conditions.
“John’s Bill aims to restore workplace rights, particularly to workers in the gig economy who have little or no protection against bosses who hire and fire at will and impose zero-hours contracts, leaving millions without a guaranteed regular wage,” she said.