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Rising UK union membership: what it means for employers

The UK labour market in 2020 is looking increasingly uncertain – Brexit, automisation, globalisation and changing demographic trends all significantly impact the workplace. Employers who want to optimise their union relations need to ensure they understand and accommodate these changes.

At the same time, companies are trying to minimise disruption to services and production – in the past few months alone, Southern Rail customers have been dealing with major travel problems due to staff walk-outs. Meanwhile, University lecturers in 74 institutions are conducting a 14-day pension strike. The Government is also considering plans to amend the Employment Relations Act to give workers a legal right to be accompanied to disciplinary meetings by an external figure other than a union representative. There are implications to employers who will need to ensure they understand the legal ramifications of current and future proposed changes to the law.

Technology has impacted almost half of all working practises between 2012 and 2017. Many workers are worried for the future of their jobs or that their skills will be obsolete, and employers are challenged with retraining, upskilling and reassuring staff. As well, unions are embracing and harnessing technology to organise and build awareness of their existence among workers, as well as to campaign, share information and ensure worker’s voices are heard.

Along with tech changes, there are signs that unions will become more visible, relevant and powerful. After dropping to an all-time low in 2016, union membership in the UK increased by 100,000 between 2017 and 2018. Also, new kinds of unions are emerging, and they’re on the forefront of tech and automisation – including low paid unions for migrants and self-employed workers.

Smart employers will make sure they are aware of these new unions and ensure they plan accordingly. Due to the uncertainty of the gig economy, activism and organising is now almost equal for blue-collar and white-collar workers; that’s a seismic change for employers to consider and the trends are reflected worldwide. Global employers need to bear these changes in mind.

How to optimise your relationship with trade unions:

  • Register for the '13th Annual Working with Trade Unions Conference' in London on 21st May 2020 
    This year's programme will address all the key issues and explore ways in which employers can engage a worried and disaffected workforce, as well as understand the new landscape that the new decade brings.
  • Attend one of our 'Advanced Effective Negotiations with Trade Unions: A Practical Toolkit Workshop' happening across the UK this year. The next date is Birmingham on 30th April 2020. Check our homepage for more dates.