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New evidence on the good unions do

Published date
It’s not just better pay (though there is that too)

In October we published a series of reports by two academics, Alex Bryson and John Forth, that give us better evidence on the goods that unions do in the workplace. Not just for workers, but for employers as well.

You might say “TUC says: unions a good thing. What a surprise”. But the important thing about this research is that for the first time when assessing the benefits of unions in the workplace the study took account of the characteristics of the workplace, including size, industry and ownership,  to isolate the impact of unions themselves on what happens at work.

The studies also take account of how strong the union is in the workplace, and whether an individual worker is actually a member of a union or not. They also analysed the impact of collective and workplace bargaining agreements separately.

This means we can say with much more certainty whether unions raise pay for their members, whether they get them more training or improve provision of work/life balance measures. And we can also looks at whether unions reduce staff turnover, or improve innovation.

What did they find?

Here are the biggest findings. If you want to know more, you can find them on our website.

  1. Unions are good for pay. Bryson and Forth found that unions secured a 6.5% increase in pay across like workplaces.
  2. Unions improve training. Union members are up to 5% more likely to have received off-the-job training in the past year.
  3. Unions are better for family life. Workers in unionised workplaces are less likely to say that there is a long hours culture at work, and employers in workplaces with a strong union are less likely to say that it’s up to individual employees to balance their family and work life.
  4. Unions keep the workforce stable. Unions reduce the number of people who voluntarily leave their place of work, reducing turnover.
  5. Unions are good for innovation. Bryson and Forth found that workplaces with collective and workplace bargaining agreements had higher scores for innovation.

Some might say that we knew all this. And in some ways Bryson and Forth’s research in a confirmation of what we have always said about unions. They make sure workers are fairly paid for their labour. They protect them from unfair conditions. But they also ensure that workers are happy at work so they stay where they are, get better trained and become more productive.   

But many people still don’t recognise these benefits. Last year we saw a concerted attack on trade union rights. Though we managed to win concessions which blunted the impact of the act, the Trades Union Act still introduced a slew of restrictions on the right to strike and workers ability to push back against unfair bosses.

The assumption underneath much of it was that trades unions are an obstruction that must be tolerated when they can’t be restrained.

These studies provide fresh evidence for what union members and enlightened employers have always known – a strong union is good for workers and good for business.

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