15 September 2005 Edition

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Union membership in decline

The recent figures from the Central Statistics Office on membership of a trade union make for grim reading. Just over a third of workers in the 26 Counties, 34.6% are now members of trade unions compared with 45.8% in 1994. The decline is greatest in Dublin which had the highest proportion of union members in 1994 but has plummeted over 15 points to 33.1% of the workforce. Only the west and mid-east have lower figures.

Across the various industrial sectors, there are signs that the traditional strongholds of the unions in health, education and the public service, are also in decline. In 1994 two thirds of workers in the transport sector were unionised. Today it is just under 47%. Evidence of a slow but steady decline can also be seen in the health, education and public administration sectors, while the proportion of unionised workers in the hotel and restaurant sector has halved.

Union leaders have argued that while the proportion of employees in unions has decreased, the number of members has increased. They are simply unable to increase their membership at the same dramatic rate as the increase in employment. There is some justification for this with 88,000 more workers carrying union cards today than in 1994, but with the rapidly increasing workforce, and especially poor figures for union membership among young people, these statistics make for worrying reading.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1