15 May 2019 15:33

A pessimistic picture for trade unions in Europe since 2000

European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) published a new report that details shifts in trade union membership and density in 32 European countries since 2000.

ETUI logo.



European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) published a new report that evaluates shifts in trade union membership and density rates in Europe.

According to the report, prepared by Kurt Vandaele, a senior researcher at the ETUI, membership and density rates are heading downwards in most countries, and very drastically in Central and Eastern Europe.

While the decline averaging 13.9 per cent in European countries covered by the survey, Turkey is listed as one of the countries that experienced a decrease (-24.9 per cent) above averaging rate.

The highlights of the report are as follows:

* Trade unions are not only struggling to keep membership developments in line with growing employment rates but are also ‘greying’. The average age of union members is increasing and is higher than the average age of wage - and salary - earners in general.

* With the loss in membership going hand in hand with a decrease in revenues, it remains to be seen to what extent and how trade unions will address the membership and generational challenges.

* A fall in union membership occurred in 24 of the 32 European countries surveyed between the membership averages in the periods 2000-2009 and 2010-2017, with the decline averaging 13.9 per cent. Countries with a decrease above this average are: Netherlands (-14.8%), Ireland (-15.8%), Portugal (-16.5%), Greece (-17.4%), Croatia (-22.0%), Turkey (-24.9%), Lithuania (-25.4%), Bulgaria (-26.4%), Czechia (-32.1%), Latvia (-32.8%), Slovenia (-35.2%), Romania (-37.0%), Hungary (-39.6%), Estonia (-43.0%) and Slovakia (-43.7%).

* Countries with an increase in membership are Spain (+0.2%), France (+2.5%), Luxembourg (+5.4%), Belgium (+6.7%), Malta (+7.9%), Norway (+9.6%), Italy (+10.7%) and Iceland (+10.9%).

* While, on average, more than one in four wage-earners were unionised in Europe in 2000, this proportion had declined to 21.4 per cent in 2016, a drop of 6.4 percentage points. The continual decline in union density is not only the result of falling union membership but also of higher labour market participation.

* Union density ranges from a very low 4.2 per cent in Estonia to 90.4 per cent in Iceland. Apart from Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Italy have a density rate above the European average; density lies below the average in 22 European countries.

* Comparing the 2000s and the period 2010-2017, it is clear that density has declined in the majority of countries. Exceptions are Iceland, Italy, Spain and France – the latter countries at a low level of union density.

* The average age of a union member increased significantly in eight countries between 2006 and 2016: Belgium, Czechia, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

Full report is here.