Significant drop in trade union membership
A study recently published by the Ministry for Qualification and Employment reveals that between 1974 and 1995 there was a sharp drop in union membership in Portugal.
A recently published study by Portugal's Ministry for Qualification and Employment (Ministério para a Qualificação e o Emprego) - Union membership trends from 1974 to 1995 (A evolução da sindicalização portuguesa de 1974 a 1995) (1997) - analyses the development of sectoral and overall trade union membership rates over more than two decades. The relevance of the study is unquestionable, since there is a serious lack of analytical data regarding trends within the Portuguese labour movement. (Incidentally, since the end of November 1997, the Ministry concerned has been renamed the Ministry of Labour and Solidarity - Ministério do Trabalho e da Solidariedade).
The study shows that trade union membership since 1974 has been characterised by two contradictory movements: growth until the 1980s, when union membership reached 1,600,000; followed by a steady decrease, especially after the second half of the 1980s. The current number of union members (1995) is estimated at 1,150,000.
The trade union movement has therefore lost more than half a million members, which points to a drop of more than 40% in the density rate over the last decade. The weighted average density rate, which was around 59% between 1979 and 1984, went down to 36% between 1991 and 1995. If self-employed workers are included in the labour force figures, the current rate of union membership can be put at 30%.
Manufacturing industries and the secondary sector have undergone the greatest drop in union membership. The study shows that there has been a significant shift in the sociological make-up of the union movement, which is no longer predominantly "manual worker driven."
On the other hand, the number of union organisations has increased, with 49 new unions and three new confederations being established between 1987 and 1995. Currently, the picture is made up of:
- 388 trade unions;
- 29 industry-based federations;
- 42 regional federations; and
- five confederations.
This rise is due largely to the creation of unions representing highly qualified technicians, and independent unions not belonging to the sphere of influence of either of the two major confederations - the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). These nearly 186 independent unions have a combined membership of less than 140,000 and they represent no more than 12% of all union members.
The study seeks to determine the causes behind the decline in union membership. It focuses in particular on the weakening of the influence of the unions themselves and the changing conditions which have shaped workers' decisions to join unions.