Trade unions have shown their resilience, effectiveness and relevance to working people this year, despite facing the enormous challenges of austerity, economic uncertainty and precarious employment across all sectors and industries. Union membership has increased for the second consecutive year, a testament to the hard work of union organising campaigns. While our strength remains in large employers and the public sector, unions continue to make breakthroughs in the private sector and the gig economy.
The TUC continues to demonstrate its value in supporting our unions, officers and reps – providing innovative leadership in digital transformation, capacity building initiatives for young workers, increasing use of a broad range of TUC Education courses and resources, professional development for union officers and supporting a growing number of Trades Councils.
While workplace learning has come under increasing pressure, unionlearn continues to build union capacity, supporting learning reps and bargaining for skills, demonstrated by the fact that workers are still much more likely to have learning opportunities in a unionised workplace.
In Wales and across cities and regions of England, the TUC has shown what can be achieved in partnership with progressive administrations and with committed political leaders. Through promoting social value procurement, employment charters, local industrial strategies and the TUC’s Great Jobs Agenda, we have shown that there is an alternative way to govern local communities and economies to the benefit of working people.
And, of course, the TUC remains part of a global movement, working with our sister unions across the world through global union organisations and the ILO and showing solidarity to unions fighting for workers’ rights and social justice from Brazil to Turkey and beyond.
There is always more that can be done and the TUC will be looking ahead this year to talk to unions, officers and reps to see how we can further adapt and improve our services, resources and support to ensure that we continue to make gains as a trade union movement across the UK. Working people need us now more than ever.
Between 2017 and 2018 trade union membership in the UK increased for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in the last seven years.
The number of trade union members increased by over 100,000 to 6.35 million. This is the largest single-year increase in membership since 2000 and is accounted for by an increase in membership in the public sector from 3.56 million last year to 3.69 million. There was a small fall in membership in the private sector from 2.7 to 2.65 million.
The proportion of workers who belonged to a union also increased both overall (from 23.2 per cent to 23.4 per cent) and in the public sector (from 51.8 per cent to 52.5 per cent). There was a small fall in union density in the private sector (from 13.5 per cent to 13.2 per cent).
Density increased among workers aged 16–19 and 20–24. But just one in ten workers aged 20–24 were in a union.
The number of trade union members increased by over 100,000 to 6.35 million. This is the largest single-year increase in membership since 2000.
The proportion of women workers who are members of a union increased to 26.2 per cent and there are now over 3.5 million women trade union members. Among men, density was 20.7 per cent.
The sectors/industries with the highest density were education (47.6 per cent) and public administration (45.4 per cent). In the private sector the transport and storage industry has the highest density (36.1 per cent).
Collective bargaining coverage across the economy remained unchanged at 26 per cent but there was a small increase in bargaining coverage in the public sector (from 57.6 per cent to 58.9 per cent) and a small fall in private sector bargaining coverage (from 15.2 per cent to 14.7 per cent).
The statistics show that two key challenges remain for the movement: organising young workers and increasing membership in the private sector.
Each new group of workers starting their working lives are less likely to be union members than the preceding generation. Almost 77 per cent of employees who carry a union card are aged over 35. Of employees who are trade union members, less than one in twenty were aged between 16 and 24 whereas almost 40 per cent were aged 50 and over. In the private sector there are over 17.5 million non-members, including approximately three million 16- to 24-years-olds in sectors where union density is particularly low.
During 2019, the TUC has undertaken a comprehensive review of the support that it provides to unions on organising and in the latter part of the year will begin to roll out new education programme for reps, officers and union leaders. This will include a new version of the TUC’s Leading Change programme.
Resolution 73 on winning against atypical employment models called on Ryanair to negotiate good-quality agreements with unions representing all sections of its workforce in all countries in which it operates. The General Council notes that the campaign for union recognition at Ryanair has continued across Europe.
During 2019, the TUC has undertaken a comprehensive review of the support that it provides to unions on organising.
5.3 Special feature: a Digital Lab for the union movement
The TUC Digital Lab was launched in February 2019. It is a programme of networking, events and resources aimed at building affiliate unions’ capacity in digital transformation.
What is ‘digital transformation?’
Internet access has reached near-universal levels among working adults in the UK. Large and growing majorities of union members and potential members now have a natural preference to engage initially online, on mobile and at any time of day.
This has raised people’s expectations of how they can interact with companies, government and organisations. It’s also caused an explosion in new services and organisations, many of which now compete with unions on at least some of our activities.
Digital transformation is the process by which unions can adapt the ways they work to better fit people’s expectations from us. It’s about devising new ways to make our historic values more accessible in the modern age.
Eight principles for union digital transformation
The Digital Lab launched with a workshop for senior union leaders in February, with attendees drawn from TUC Executive Committee members and their nominees. The session explored some of the challenges facing unions in meeting member expectations in the digital age.
It also defined some key principles that underpin the success of digital transformation projects, in an environment that is still unfamiliar to many unions.
These principles have formed the approach of the Digital Lab and were published as a resource for unions to use in their strategic planning around digital transformation.
They can be read at bit.ly/8digitalprinciples
Building a network
The Digital Lab has worked to build and support a network of champions for digital transformation across the union movement. Regular mailings have circulated new resources, upcoming event invitations and suggested reading.
To join the mailing list and hear about upcoming events and resources, visit bit.ly/digitallabnetwork
Identifying best practice
Many unions are already doing great work in digital, but the learning has not always been shared around the movement as well as it could be.
A programme of monthly Digital Lab workshops for union staff and leaders has helped identify what good practice looks like in digitising different areas of unions’ work. Learning from the workshops has been written up, to produce helpful resources for other unions starting projects in these areas.
Tools to help the movement come together
The Digital Lab has helped unions come together on digital where it could have a greater impact for the movement.
For example, Megaphone is the TUC’s new digital campaigning platform for affiliates. It was launched in 2019 and has offered free campaign tools and promotion, building a best-of-breed platform to serve the labour movement.
Megaphone has so far enabled over 50,000 people to take action in support of union campaigns. It has aimed to convert online interest in work-related campaigns into helping unions sign up new members or mobilising support towards other campaign goals.
You can start your own campaign on Megaphone at megaphone.org.uk
Piloting new approaches
The Digital Lab has helped answer questions around digital transformation through supporting pilot work. The Digital Lab has worked with affiliates on prototyping and testing new approaches to shared problems and distributing the learning to other unions.
Initial projects have included work on online recruitment in campaigns with BFAWU and testing website recruitment messaging effectiveness with BECTU sector of Prospect.
The Digital Lab has assisted unions to understand progress made on their digital journeys and how they could develop their own digital strategies.
The TUC digital healthcheck tool is an interactive framework that has enabled unions to quickly plot their own progress against different aspects of digital capacity and strategy.
You can test out the digital healthcheck at bit.ly/tuchealthcheck
Find out more
Meeting the expectations of digital is a huge challenge, and there will be many different ways for people in many roles across the movement to get involved during 2019/20.
You can find out more and share your own ideas at digital.tuc.org.uk
Resolution 74 at Congress named 2019 as ‘the year of young workers’, asking the General Council and affiliates to prioritise winning for young workers at work and supporting them through their unions.
We completed the WorkSmart pilot in early summer 2019. The evaluation of this project will help us build new online tools to help young people get on at work.
Harassment and abuse from a third party (such as a customer or other member of the public) is a significant issue facing too many young workers in the UK. The TUC published a report in December 2018 that gave voice to over 400 young workers that had experienced third-party harassment and abuse at work. It found that less than half of young workers who had experienced third-party harassment or abuse reported it to their employer or union, and for those that did, over three-quarters said nothing changed or the situation got worse after reporting. The Report It! campaign was launched in March, with a webpage, video and reps’ resources to help negotiate stronger preventative policies. The General Council also called for the government to change the law, so employers have a duty to prevent harassment at work, as covered in Section 3. The TUC Young Workers Committee continues to campaign on young workers and mental health, in particular the impact of stress on young people’s wellbeing, in line with resolution 33.
Organising and recruiting young workers are core priorities for the trade union movement. In June, TUC Yorkshire and the Humber brought together 25 young trade unionists from across the movement to run the Summer Patrol project, reaching out to non-unionised young people in their workplace. The project blends tried and tested methods of face-to-face organising with the newest digital campaigning technology, to turn conversations with young workers into a commitment to mobilise their friends and attend an organising meeting. Activists had 150 in-depth conversations with non-unionised young people over two days, achieving press coverage and introducing concepts of rights and dignity at work and how unions can help them. In line with resolution 72, the General Council continues to highlight the great value young workers are bringing to unions’ organising activities, such as those in global fast food chains McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s. We completed the WorkSmart pilot in early summer 2019. The evaluation of this project will help us build new online tools to help young people get on at work.
The TUC is delivering some Future Leaders courses in 2019, with the aim of developing campaigning, organising and leadership skills and establishing networks of young activists in the area. A number of the courses include residential learning components both in the UK and with sister unions in Europe, such as a visit to Auschwitz as part of the movement’s priority to tackle the far right. All courses will include participants putting their skills and learning into action by developing and delivering a campaign for Young Workers’ Month in November.
TUC South West and TUC Northern are both running apprentice rights campaigns, with particular focus on the underpayment of apprentices. An online Apprentice Pay Calculator has been developed, allowing apprentices to check they are getting the correct level of pay, as well as materials on workplace rights and Know Your Rights briefings delivered in some local colleges. TUC Yorkshire and the Humber are developing a programme on trade unions aimed at school leavers to complement this.
The TUC Young Workers Committee will continue with the priority campaigns chosen by Young Workers Conference in 2020. This year, Committee members are participating in workshops to complement the Committee’s work and the Future Leaders courses in the regions, including better understanding the challenges of organising young workers, campaign planning, using digital campaigning tools and working with the media.
TUC Education provides high-quality education and training for workplace reps. Unions representing major public and private sector employers send reps for training. Almost all unions take part in the programme, which is recognised for integrity, quality and innovation.
During 2018 there was a rise in the number of reps trained to 29,694, an increase of 27 per cent on the 2017 figure. With a further 8,934 reps using webinars and e-learning, the total number of reps accessing training was 38,628. This indicates that our strategy to increase support and flexible training opportunities for reps is resulting in improved access to our programmes.
The TUC programme of training for union reps is delivered UK-wide and the same qualifications are accessed and delivered to union reps in England, Scotland and Wales. In recognition of the wider benefits for the economy, the government has provided a 50 per cent co-funding contribution for TUC Education union training courses and this is manged nationally and administered directly by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to partner FE providers.
From August 2019, mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) are taking on responsibility for the adult education budget (AEB) for their areas. This will leave the TUC attempting to access each of the different MCAs or the GLA as well as non-devolved areas to fund its trade union education training programmes.
Recruitment to college-based programmes is not geographically based. Union reps are often recruited through union networks or by workplace. As a result, our own internal enquiries show that 50–60 per cent of reps attending a college-based course are from outside of the geographic catchment of those colleges, potentially excluding them from area-based funded programmes in the future.
The TUC is lobbying government to provide equal access for union reps to our national programme in England, with an ESFA national funding stream alongside the devolved AEB. Otherwise there is a major risk that skills devolution will lead to a significant reduction in the training of union reps.
Our strategy for supporting and enabling union reps to access trade union education continues. Ensuring that as many reps as possible have access to flexible training opportunities continues to be a focus of TUC Education work. Developing materials to support face-to-face training opportunities for reps, and further developing our online, blended and e-learning offer, is a priority. We are seeking to ensure as many reps as practicable are accessing trade union education and securing appropriate paid release to do so.
Several approaches have been developed to enable union reps to access informal opportunities for education and development, both online and face to face. TUC national and regional offices continue to organise various demand-led briefings, including health and safety training days, supporting learners’ events, tackling the far-right briefings, and anti-austerity campaigns.
Flexible fully online programmes sit alongside classroom courses, providing up-to-date resources for reps. Programmes and resources can be accessed by reps as soon as they take office and can be used by experienced reps to refresh their skills and knowledge.
eNotes continue to be a great resource to help reps keep up to date on key workplace issues. These self-contained e-learning modules include a mixture of text, video and quizzes, and can be accessed from PCs, tablets or smart phones as many times as and when required.
The use of webinars to reach union reps with interactive briefings remains popular. Over thirty are available from the TUC Education website tuceducation.org.uk including:
A TUC priority for 2018–19 was reviewing support to reps and officers and union organising. TUC and unionlearn deliver a range of activities and actions that support reps and officers. This includes both our formal classroom-based training and more informal learning opportunities, including e-learning, events and briefings.
TUC Education is undertaking research to inform a more strategic approach to the wide range of services and support that the TUC and unionlearn offers to union reps, including union learning reps. The research will help us understand the behaviours of union reps in the modern workforce and get an up-to-date picture of the demographic of our rep base, their current challenges and experiences and how they are carrying out their role in today’s workforce. This will help us develop a progressive and sustainable education solution that meets the needs of union reps in the future.
Our strategy for supporting and enabling union reps to access trade union education continues. Ensuring that as many reps as possible have access to flexible training opportunities continues to be a focus of TUC Education work.
The research will include surveying reps that have engaged directly with trade union education as well as those reps that have not undertaken any union-led learning. This will ensure that the full landscape of training and support and its impact is determined. The research will evaluate the effectiveness of traditional formal training methods and assess the impact of informal learning approaches, including events, websites and fully online e-learning opportunities.
This work will map and research our current learning offer against TUC and union priorities and ensure that TUC and unionlearn resources and development capacity are deployed efficiently and strategically. The University of Exeter has been appointed to undertake this research.
The review also includes work to research and restructure the Organising Academy and union professionals offer. This work is being informed by a survey of union professionals and an organising survey of affiliates. New programmes will be available in early 2020.
2018 saw a rise to 669 union officials trained through the union professional development programme. During the year, the Organising Academy was managed by TUC Education together with the union professionals programme. This presented an opportunity to examine the entire TUC offer for union officers and staff and consider closer integration. The introduction of TUC digital badges during 2019 allows us to plan a clear route linking the union reps’ training to the union staff programme and develop a stronger emphasis on organising activity.
The new programme will include a sharper focus on developing reps and union capacity while retaining and expanding the specialist subject courses. Over time, it is our intention to create easier access to the TUC’s vast stock of research and policy materials for learners to supplement their learning or simply to pursue an interest.
New courses for officers and staff in health and safety, pensions and using company accounts will also be added.
TUC Education continues to be involved in transnational work reflecting TUC priorities. Tutors attend and teach on courses organised through the European Trade Union Institute.
The TUC Educational Trust supports trade union education through:
This year we celebrated the 42nd TUC Trade Union Communications Awards. Twenty unions took part in the competition with a total of 78 entries – showcasing a variety of high-quality communications from across the union movement.
The judges were: Alex Lloyd Hunter, co-executive director, Forward Action; James Moore, chief business commentator, The Independent; Phil Pemberton, head of brand and communications at Equity; Baroness Wheeler of Blackfriars; and Becky Wright, executive director of Unions21.
At the awards ceremony on 8 July, hosted by the TUC president, union communications professionals and members of the General Council celebrated the competition entries. The TUC general secretary awarded the certificates.
The winners were:
Best membership communication (print journal)
National Education Union
Best membership communication (digital)
Best communication for reps and activists
Best recruitment/new member communication
Best campaign communication
National Education Union
Best designed communication
Trades councils continue to actively and effectively support key trade union and TUC campaigns, providing a visible presence in towns and communities throughout England and Wales. Trades councils organised street stalls to support HeartUnions week and promote trade unionism and have provided practical support for union industrial campaigns, challenged precarious employment models and supported union organising campaigns.
This year 154 trades councils and 24 county associations registered with the TUC. This is an increase on the 147 trades councils that were registered in 2018 and reflects the efforts of the regional TUCJCC representatives who have prioritised establishing trades councils in areas where none is operating.
60 delegates attended this year’s Trades Councils Conference in Bournemouth where guest speakers included Jennifer McCarey from the STUC, Harsev Bains and Sonia Kullar of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Campaign and TUC President Mark Serwotka.
Wales TUC has used its unique role and status as a devolved entity within the TUC to build a social partnership approach in Wales. This has had benefits for Welsh workers such as the two-tier code, the ethical employment code and legislation to stop significant parts of the UK Trade Union Act applying in Wales.
Wales TUC has now agreed with the new Welsh Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford that it is time to move to the next stage in order to deliver the shared goal of making Wales a fair work nation through effective and robust tripartite social partnership.
The Welsh government will legislate for a Social Partnership Act to be on the statute book by May 2021. This will provide statutory underpinning to our approach, establishing a public sector legal duty to deliver fair work through social partnership; placing statutory fair work and social partnership requirements on procurement and business support; and establishing strong enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.
Central to all of this will be making the extension of collective bargaining and access to unions the core, measurable business of Welsh Government as the most effective method of delivering true fair work outcomes for workers in Wales.
TUC regional councils continued to develop relationships with local authority leaders and metro mayors, promoting trade union partnership and inclusive economic growth.
In Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Greater London and the North of Tyne combined authorities, the TUC worked with metro mayors to develop employment charters as a way of engaging businesses in the promotion of good employment standards.
A number of local authorities have also signed up to the TUC’s Great Jobs Agenda, passing council motions that required councils to commit to tackling zero-hours contracts, union voice and insecure work in its own workforce and supply chains. In areas such as Bristol, the TUC has formed an active partnership with the mayor in order to promote the living wage across the city.
The TUC is working across each region to inform the development and implementation of local industrial strategies by metro mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships. We are calling for strategies that strengthen worker voice, invest in public infrastructure, promote social value procurement, bring employers and unions together in different sectors to promote productivity and decent jobs, increase employer engagement in learning and skills and embed equality and diversity.
TUC regions have staged a range of festivals promoting trade unions past, present and future, with Tolpuddle, Chainmakers and Durham Miners Gala going from strength to strength.
We have been instrumental in supporting health and wellbeing in workplaces across different regions. The Dying to Work campaign has grown from its roots in TUC Midlands to a high-profile national campaign, with thousands of endorsements and businesses engaged. TUC Northern continues to support hundreds of workplaces across the north-east with its Better Health at Work project
The TUC belongs to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the OECD’s Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC).
TUC representatives on the ETUC Executive Committee are Frances O’Grady (also on the Steering Committee), General Council Europe spokesperson Steve Turner, Mary Bousted and Dave Prentis. The Pan-European Regional Council executive met in March: Steve Turner, Tim Roache and Frances O’Grady are the TUC members. In May a TUC delegation attended the ETUC 14th Congress that re-elected Luca Visentini as general secretary for a second term and Esther Lynch as deputy general secretary with the support of the TUC.
The TUC is represented on the European Economic and Social Committee by Nick Crook (UNISON), Brian Curtis (WTUC), Diane Kelly (UNISON), Martin Mayer (Unite), Judy McKnight (convenor), Amarjite Singh (CWU), Agnes Tolmie (STUC) and Kathleen Walker-Shaw (GMB).
The ITUC General Council met in Copenhagen on 2 and 6 December during the ITUC 4th World Congress (2–7 December). A TUC delegation attended the congress that elected Sharan Burrow as general secretary for a third term and Owen Tudor of the TUC as a deputy general secretary. ITUC General Council titular members are Frances O’Grady and Tim Roache. Mariela Kohon is Frances’ first alternate, and Gloria Mills is her second alternate. The ICTU’s Jack O’Connor is Tim’s first alternate and Gail Cartmail his second alternate. ITUC Executive Bureau titular members are Frances O’Grady, Mariela Kohon her first alternate and Tim Roache her second alternate.
Frances O’Grady represents the TUC on TUAC, which met in December and June. The TUC participated in TUAC’s work on OECD policies on macro-economics, skills, digitalisation, business and human rights, and the G7 and G20.
The TUC continues to show solidarity with unions internationally. Solidarity actions were taken to support trade unionists in several countries including Iran and the Philippines, as well as those set out in more detail below. At the ILO Conference, the TUC spoke in support of the workers of Egypt, Fiji, Turkey and Zimbabwe. The TUC has also established a new network of international officers, to help develop our international strategy.
The TUC worked with the Brazilian CUT to support the campaign to release former President Lula and to oppose the far-right and anti-worker policies of President Bolsonaro. We joined Brazilian activists based in London at several protests outside their embassy and have had several meetings with Brazilian CUT representatives.
In line with emergency resolution 2, the TUC continued to support the work of Justice for Colombia to highlight the killings of trade unionists and other social leaders, implementation of the peace agreement, and the campaign to release framed FARC peace negotiator, Congressman Jesús Santrich. The general secretary signed a public letter to the British government calling for his release, and briefed MPs on the situation in Colombia. Mr Santrich’s freedom was secured in May.
Members of the TUC Women’s Committee and other union women went to Palestine in May. The TUC provided funding for a film of the visit and sent a solidarity statement. The TUC met with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign trade union network to discuss future collaboration in line with emergency resolution 4, and promoted the demonstration held in London in May in support of Palestinian rights.
The TUC worked closely with the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) and the National Union of Somali Journalists to promote respect for human and trade union rights and to promote media freedom, including writing to the new UK ambassador to Somalia.
In line with composite 14, the TUC wrote letters to the Turkish Ambassador in January and October, highlighting workers’ rights’ issues and the ongoing imprisonment of Abdullah Öcalan. The TUC met with solidarity campaigns Support for the People of Turkey (SPOT) and Freedom for Öcalan to further solidarity work.
The TUC wrote to President Mnangagwa, the UK’s Minister for Africa, the UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, and the High Commissioner of Zimbabwe, raising concerns about the blocking of a peaceful demonstration by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), resulting in violent repression that left at least 12 people dead and the arrest of trade union members, who were subsequently released on strict bail conditions. In February we organised a protest outside the Zimbabwe High Commission.
In line with resolution 76 on supporting the work of the ILO, the deputy general secretary, Paul Nowak, addressed the centennial ILC at the United Nations, welcoming the ILO’s commitment to strengthening its role in protecting and promoting workers’ rights. Paul Nowak was also a member of the trade union reference group for the ILO Commission on the Future of Work.
The TUC played a key role helping to secure a new ILO Convention and guiding recommendation to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace.
The TUC played a key role helping to secure a new ILO Convention and guiding recommendation to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace, adopted at the ILO centennial conference. The Convention, when ratified into national law, will compel governments to ensure their equality and discrimination legislation protects the employment rights of all vulnerable groups.
The TUC remained a prominent advocate of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and the importance of decent work in meeting the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The TUC International Development Group, chaired by Gail Cartmail, met in November, March and July.
The TUC has increased its advocacy on the SDGs, targeted at the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Treasury, including contributing to a cross-sector report by Bond on the UK’s progress in meeting the SDGs. It also continues to seek to influence the CDC Group, so that UK aid is better used to deliver decent jobs and promote respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining.
TUC Aid continues to support our international development objectives. Trustees met in December, April and July. The Trade Union Unit Trust Charitable Trust is supporting several TUC Aid projects and agreed to co-fund a capacity-building project for East African trade unions to advocate for trade deals that deliver decent work and support the UN SDGs.
Recent and current projects include:
The TUC remained a prominent advocate of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and the importance of decent work in meeting the UN sustainable
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