29 November 2013
Recognising trade unions helps to protect employers against recession, a new study has found, providing yet more data to support the Institute of Employment Rights’ policy proposals to improve collective bargaining levels across the UK.
The Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS), conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research on behalf of the government, revealed that unionised workplaces were “significantly less likely” to have been negatively affected by the recession.
This is good news for workers in some of the major firms where trade union presence is increasing. WERS found that union membership in larger companies – which employ more than half of all employees in the private sector – has risen to 50%, compared with 44% in 2004.
Workers, it appears, recognise the value of being part of a trade union, as despite the squeeze on many families due to rising living costs at a time of increasingly poor wages, membership levels have been maintained across the UK, with coverage virtually the same now as it was in 2004, WERS showed.
“It’s reassuring to learn that unions have held their own and were able to help working people get through the worst economic storm in living memory,” General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Frances O’Grady said.
“We need to make life fairer at work and ensure that top earners do not leave ordinary families behind. We can only do that if we have a strong and vibrant union movement which gives a voice to the interests of working people,” she added.
Meanwhile, a significant proportion of employers were shown to have been greedy and dishonest over the past few years, using the recession as an excuse to freeze or lower wages when their profit margins were actually unaffected.
As many as one in five companies not adversely impacted by the economic crisis still chose to freeze or cut pay, WERS found.
With further recognition of trade unions and an increase in collective bargaining coverage, such inethical behaviour could become a thing of the past. In our Manifesto for Collective Bargaining, we propose to the next Labour government how this could be achieved.
In the meantime, O’Grady said this latest research shows how important it is for trade unions to continue seeking recognition in new workplaces.
“The challenge in the months ahead will be to take unions into new workplaces and parts of the economy where union membership is rare,” she stated.