Ireland: Steady union density decline over last decade

There has been a steady decline in union density in Ireland since 2003, according to a new study by Frank Walsh, School of Economics, University College Dublin (UCD).

In the research on union membership in Ireland since 2003 (536 KB PDF), Walsh uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Quarterly National Household Survey, supplemented with data from the European Social Survey.

The study looks at the contributions of flows of workers into and out of union/non-union employment to the change in density. It finds: 'While the bulk of transitions into and out of union employment are associated with job changes, from the years 2006–2009 the share of employed workers who transitioned into and out of union membership increased dramatically, especially the share of employees who joined unions'.

A 2009 study by the author on recent trends in trade union membership in Ireland (425 KB PDF) also reports a decline in trade union members from 1994 to 2006 and in particular from 2001 to 2006, which shows that 'changes in the composition of observed worker and job characteristics could only explain a very small part of this decline'.

Union density stood at 45.8% in 1994 but by 2003 this rate had fallen to less than 38%, and continued to decline to under 28% in 2014, the new study finds. At the beginning of the recent recession in 2007 the figure was 32%. The recession prompted a recovery in union membership and by 2010 membership was at 33%, the study shows. This appears to have been a temporary change. Since 2011, membership has fallen from 33% to less than 28% in 2014.

Walsh finds that in the private sector, density declined at a steady pace from 27.1% to 16.6% between 2004 and 2014. Conversely, the share of public sector workers rose from 40% to 55% of all union members between 2004 and 2014.

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