Trade union membership rates down

In 2001, one quarter of employees with a paid job of at least twelve hours a week were members of a trade union. Trade union membership rates have been falling in recent years. Older employees are more likely to have joined a union. In trade, hotels and restaurants, and business services, relatively few workers are members.

Trends in union membership

Trade union membership rates have decreased substantially in the course of time. In the period 1950-1980 more than 35 percent of employees were members. Subsequently the rate started to decrease. At the beginning of the nineties there was a slight rise, but after 1995 the rate fell further from 28 to 25 percent.

Union membership of employees, 15-64 yrs

Number of employees rising faster than trade union members

The number of trade union members is rising steadily. In 2001 there were more than 1.5 million, 100 thousand more than in 1992. However, the percentage of employees who are members fell, as the number of employees rose faster than the number of members: from 5.3 million in 1992 to 6.3 million in 2001.

Relatively few young members

Relatively few young workers are members of a trade union. In 2001, 11 percent of 15-24 year-olds had joined a union. The membership rate of the over-45s was more than three times as high at 36 percent. Old people are therefore over-represented. 22 percent of workers in the age group 25-44 years were members of a trade union.

Trade union members by age, 1992 and 2001

Members ageing

The proportion of older trade union members rose from 31 percent in 1992 to 44 percent in 2001. In the same period, the share of younger members fell from 10 to 6 percent. There was also a fall in the age group 25-44 years.

Trade union membership by sector of industry, 2001

High membership among government employees

There are large differences in membership rates between the sectors of industry. In energy and water companies and the government sector a large proportion of employees are union members; in public administration 41 percent and in education 36 percent. In construction, too, relatively many people are members (39 percent). In trade, hotels and restaurants, and business services on the other hand, fewer than 15 percent of workers join a trade union.

Jo van Cruchten en Rob Kuijpers