Union membership in Australia has been falling steadily over the past four decades. There were just over 1.5 million union members in 2016, compared with just over 2.5 million in 1976. This represents a decline of around 1 million union members, or 38 per cent.
During the same period, union density (the union member share of total employment) has fallen from 51 per cent to 14 per cent.
Union membership has been declining in Australia for a number of reasons, including:
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows union density among employed males has fallen from 43 per cent in 1992 to 13 per cent in 2016 while union density for employed women has fallen from 35 per cent to 16 per cent.
“Employees who are members of a trade union are more likely to be over 40, female, and working full-time.” said Bruce Hockman, Chief Economist at the ABS.
The slightly higher proportion of female union members than men is due partly to their concentration in industries and occupations that are more likely to be unionised, such as nursing and teaching.
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