Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
6105.0 - Australian Labour Market Statistics, July 2010  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/07/2010   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product

TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP


DYNAMICS OF TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP


INTRODUCTION

This article explores characteristics of employees who are trade union members in Australia and changes to the levels of trade union membership over time. It also highlights a range of new information about trade union membership now available from Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).

Trade unions have been part of the Australian industrial relations system since it was established over a century ago. As representative organisations, they campaign on behalf of their members in the negotiation of pay and conditions and represent employees in disputes and negotiations. Trade unions also lobby government in relation to a variety of issues including taxation, superannuation, child care, and social justice matters.

The industrial relations environment in Australia has changed significantly in the last two decades. The move to decentralisation and individual bargaining for all employees coincided with a reduced role for trade unions in the negotiation of pay and conditions. These changes also coincided with a sharp decline in trade union membership between 1990 to 1999, followed by a steady decline through to 2007. The first significant annual increase in the proportion of employees who were trade union members was observed in 2009, when the proportion increased by one percentage point to 20% of all employees. This is the largest percentage point increase in trade union membership in over 30 years.

1. Proportion of employees who were trade union members - 1990-2009
Graph: 1. Proportion of employees who were trade union members—1990–2009



CHARACTERISTICS OF TRADE UNION MEMBERS

In August 2009, the number of employees who were trade union members in relation to their main job was 1.8 million or 20%. This was an increase of 82,200 from the previous year, in line with the one percentage point increase. In 2009 there were an additional 73,100 employees who were members of a trade union, but not in relation to their main job, which represented 4% of all trade union members. There were also 1.5 million employees (or 16%) who had previously been a trade union member, but are not currently a trade union member. Just under two thirds (6 million or 64%) of all employees had never been a trade union member.

In this article, three main groups of trade union members are referred to:
  • Employees who were trade union members in relation to their main job;
  • Employees who were trade union members, but not necessarily in relation to their main job (all trade union members); and
  • Previous trade union members.


AGE

When looking at trade union membership by age of employee, there are a number of trends observed. In 2009, the proportion of all 15 to 24 year old employees with trade union membership in their main job was 10%. This increased steadily until peaking at 27% of 45 to 54 year olds. The proportion then decreased to 25% of all 55 year olds and over, as could be expected when people enter retirement and leave the workforce.

2. Proportion of all employees who were members of a trade union in main job, by age - August 2009
Graph: 2. Proportion of all employees who were members of a trade union in main job, by age—August 2009


In terms of the age distribution of all employees who were trade union members in their main job, the majority of trade union members were aged between 35 to 44 (24%) and 45 to 54 (29%), with relatively few aged between 15 to 24 (9%).

3. Age distribution of employees in main job who were members of a trade union - August 2009
Graph: 3. Age distribution of employees in main job who were members of a trade union—August 2009



DURATION OF TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP

Of all employees who were members of a trade union, the majority (63%) had been a member for 5 years or more. A further 27% had been members between 1 year and less than 5 years and the remaining 10% had been members for less than one year.

There is a strong relationship between age and duration of trade union membership. Within the younger age groups, relatively few had been a trade union member for over 5 years (5% of 15 to 24 year olds). Conversely, the vast majority of employees in the older age groups had been trade union members for five years or more (80% of 45 to 54 year olds and 84% of those aged 55 years). This reflects the likelihood that many would have joined a trade union at a time when trade union membership was more prevalent in Australia.

4. Employees who were members of a trade union in their main job, Duration of membership by Age - August 2009

Duration less than 1 year
Duration 1 to less than 5 years
Duration 5 years or more
All trade union members
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

15 to 24
59.6
35.3
101.2
59.9
8.2
4.9
169.0
100.0
25 to 34
46.5
13.4
161.6
46.8
137.4
39.8
345.5
100.0
35 to 44
40.0
8.9
108.2
24.1
301.0
67.0
449.2
100.0
45 to 54
26.8
5.0
83.1
15.4
429.9
79.7
539.8
100.0
55 and over
11.0
3.3
40.9
12.3
279.7
84.4
331.6
100.0
All Employees
183.9
10.0
495.0
27.0
1 156.3
63.0
1 835.1
100.0

Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).



INDUSTRY

The Education and training industry had the highest proportion of employees who were trade union members in their main job (42%), followed by Electricity, gas, water and waste services (41%) and Public administration and safety (38%). Industry groups with a low proportion of trade union members were Professional, scientific and technical services (4%), Accommodation and food services (5%) and Administrative and support services (9%).

The duration of trade union membership of employees who were currently members in their main job is interesting when cross classified by industry groupings. In the Electricity, gas, water and waste services industry, 81% of employees had been members for 5 years or more, indicating that membership among these employees is well established. The Accommodation and food services and Retail trade industries had the highest proportions of members with a duration of less than 1 year (24% and 21% respectively). This indicates that many employees working in these industries have only recently become trade union members.

5. Current employees who are trade union members in main job, Duration of membership and proportion of all employees - by Selected industries - August 2009

Duration of current trade union membership
Less than
1 year
1 to less
than 5 years
5 years
or more
Total trade
union members
Trade union members as a proportion of all employees
Selected industries
%
%
%
'000
%

Mining
*14.5
31.2
54.4
32.2
20.4
Manufacturing
7.5
22.7
69.8
196.1
21.0
Electricity, gas, water and waste services
**2.8
*15.8
81.4
49.0
40.6
Construction
12.7
33.1
54.2
120.3
18.1
Retail trade
21.0
41.9
37.1
160.0
15.2
Accommodation and food services
*23.9
38.2
37.9
32.8
4.8
Transport, postal and warehousing
9.2
27.0
63.7
152.5
31.9
Professional, scientific and technical services
**5.8
*34.4
59.8
23.1
3.7
Administrative and support services
*16.5
*33.3
50.3
24.1
8.6
Public administration and safety
7.1
22.5
70.4
244.0
38.1
Education and training
7.8
20.9
71.4
321.2
41.6
Health care and social assistance
8.9
29.4
61.8
311.7
27.3

* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).



OCCUPATION

In terms of occupation, Machinery operators and drivers had the highest proportion of employees who were trade union members in their main job (30%), followed by Professionals at 27%. Managers had the lowest proportion at 10%. Looking at duration of membership, Sales workers had the highest proportion of employees who had been trade union members for less than 1 year (19%). For membership with a duration of 5 years or more, Managers had the highest proportion at 81%, followed by Professionals at 69%.

6. Current employees who are trade union members in main job, Duration of membership and proportion of all employees - by Occupation - August 2009

Duration of current trade union membership
Less than
1 year
1 to less
than 5 years
5 years
or more
Total trade
union members
Trade union members as a proportion of all employees
All occupations
%
%
%
'000
%

Managers
*5.5
13.9
80.6
105.2
9.9
Professionals
7.0
23.7
69.2
549.5
26.9
Technicians and trades workers
13.0
23.4
63.7
249.8
20.2
Community and personal service workers
7.7
31.2
61.2
215.6
23.4
Clerical and administrative workers
11.5
24.2
64.4
197.5
13.1
Sales workers
19.3
41.2
39.5
131.5
13.7
Machinery operators and drivers
9.7
25.2
65.2
177.8
29.8
Labourers
12.2
37.4
50.4
208.2
20.9

* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).



STATE AND SECTOR

Tasmania had the highest proportion of employees who were trade union members in their main job (26%), followed by 21% in New South Wales. The state or territory with the lowest proportion of employee trade union members was the Australian Capital Territory at 13%.

Of all employees in the Public sector, 46% were trade union members, compared with 14% in the Private sector. Within the Public sector, the Australian Capital Territory, which has a high proportion of public sector employees, had only 20% of trade union members, compared with 53% in both New South Wales and Queensland. In the private sector, where trade union membership is lower among employees, most states and territories had membership rates similar to the Australia total, however the Australian Capital Territory private sector had the lowest proportion of employees who were members of a trade union (8%).


PREVIOUS TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP

In November 2009, of all employees, 1.5 million (16%) were previously trade union members. It is interesting to examine the period of time elapsed since these employees were last members of a trade union. Just over three quarters (1.1 million or 76%) of employees who were previously trade union members were members more than five years ago. This decreased sharply with 50,000 or 3% being a member of a trade union less than one year ago. This reflects the higher overall levels of trade union membership in the 1990s as shown in graph 1.

7. Employees who were previously members of a trade union in their main job, Duration since previously a member - August 2009

Previously a trade union member
Proportion of all previous trade union members
'000
%

Total previously a trade union member
1 452.7
100.0
Less than one year ago
49.6
3.4
1 year ago
58.1
4.0
2 years ago
89.1
6.1
3-5 years ago
156.8
10.8
More than five years ago
1 099.1
75.7

Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).



Industry

When looking at the current industry of previous trade union members, the Mining industry had the highest proportion of previous trade union members (22%), followed by Transport, postal and warehousing at 20%. The lowest proportion of previous trade union members was found in Accommodation and food services (10%). Looking at the duration since last a trade union member, Professional, scientific and technical services had the highest proportion of previous trade union members who had been members more than five years ago (84%), followed by Mining and Transport, postal and warehousing (both 80%). Electricity, gas, water and waste services had the highest proportion of previous members who were members less than one year ago (9%).

8. Employees who were previously trade union members, Duration since was last a member - by selected industries - August 2009

Time since was last a trade union member
Less than
1 year ago
One year to
five years
More than five
years ago
Total previous trade
union members
Previous trade union members as a proportion of all employees
Selected industries
%
%
%
'000
%

Mining
**2.3
*17.6
80.1
34.7
22.0
Manufacturing
*2.8
19.3
78.0
164.9
17.7
Electricity, gas, water and waste services
**8.5
*22.6
68.9
18.7
15.5
Construction
*3.4
26.4
70.2
124.2
18.7
Retail trade
*3.3
23.4
73.4
113.7
10.8
Accommodation and food services
*6.5
23.0
70.4
67.0
9.8
Transport, postal and warehousing
*3.4
*16.6
80.0
92.9
19.5
Professional, scientific and technical services
**1.3
14.5
84.2
80.4
12.7
Administrative and support services
**3.2
28.6
68.3
52.3
18.7
Public administration and safety
*5.7
20.8
73.5
109.5
17.1
Education and training
**3.8
25.2
71.0
113.7
14.7
Health care and social assistance
5.4
24.1
70.6
199.5
17.5

* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).



Occupation

When looking at current occupation, Machinery operators and drivers had the highest proportion of previous trade union members (22%), followed by Managers at 20%. In terms of duration, Managers also held the highest proportion of previous members more than five years ago (81%), followed by Clerical and administrative workers at 80%.

9. Employees who were previously trade union members, Duration since was last a member - by Occupation - August 2009

Time since was last a trade union member
All occupations
Less than
1 year ago
One year to
five years
More than five
years ago
Total previous trade
union members
Previous trade union members as a proportion of all employees

Managers
**1.3
17.5
81.2
207.6
19.5
Professionals
4.3
20.3
75.4
296.6
14.5
Technicians and trades workers
*3.2
25.7
71.0
182.4
14.7
Community and personal service workers
*6.8
23.6
69.6
124.1
13.5
Clerical and administrative workers
*2.6
17.0
80.4
264.2
17.6
Sales workers
**2.2
20.4
77.5
104.9
10.9
Machinery operators and drivers
*2.4
23.3
74.3
129.6
21.7
Labourers
*5.4
24.2
70.4
143.5
14.4

* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat.no.6310.0).



FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information about the information presented in this article, please contact Kathy Buck on (02) 6252 5981 or email kathy.buck@abs.gov.au. For further information about the Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership survey, see Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0). This publication is available free of charge on the ABS website <www.abs.gov.au>.


Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window

Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.