BRITISH trade union membership has risen for the first time since 2003, according to government figures released yesterday.
The department of Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that 6.5m people were members of unions at the end of 2012, an increase of 59,000 on the same period last year.
The report also finds that members still tend to earn more than their non-union counterparts, with unionised workers in the public sector enjoying a wage premium of around 17 per cent.
However, unionised workers in the private sector see smaller benefits from membership, enjoying an average wage premium of just four per cent.
Most of the headline rise in membership numbers can be attributed to the increased number of people in work, with the proportion of British workers who pay a union subscription remaining steady at 26 per cent.
This is well down on the peak in 1979 when more than 13m Britons were members of some sort of union.
The figures also reveal the effect of the coalition’s attempt to rebalance the UK economy.
Since the 2010 general election the number of private sector union members has risen, while public sector union membership has entered a period of decline.
Union membership remains skewed towards women, the UK-born, and older workers.
“We are pleased that membership has increased over the last year, especially given high unemployment and swingeing government cuts,” said Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“This shows that staff, both in the public and private sector, know that a union membership card is still the best guarantee of skills training, job security and fairness at work.”