Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods
Sefydliad Ymchwil Gymdeithasol ac Economaidd, Data a Dulliau Cymru

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Making Sense of Official Estimates of Trade Union Membership

25th November 2016

Rhys Davies presented his work at the Labour Force and Annual Population Surveys User Conference 2016 today, at the Royal Statistical Society in London. Data producers and data users came together to share updates on the development of these surveys and to showcase research that is being carried out using the data.

Rhys Davies’ presentation explored how declining levels of trade union membership are often cited as evidence that trade unions have become less relevant within the modern UK economy. The recent development and passage of the Trade Union Bill through parliament has again raised interest in understanding levels of trade union membership and coverage within the UK.

He argued that comparisons across nationally representative surveys raise cause for concern as official estimates derived from the Labour Force Survey underestimate the true extent to which unions are both present in the workplace and recognised by employers in negotiations over the pay and conditions of employees.

Analysis of the Labour Force Survey, the Workplace Employment Relations Survey, the British Household Panel Survey and the Skills and Employment Survey reveal that the wording, ordering and the routeing of survey questions, combined with the treatment of missing data in the calculation of aggregate statistics, can have significant effects on the different measures of membership derived from these sources.

He concluded that whilst the presence of downward trends in union membership is not open to debate, there are many more workers affected by unionisation than one might think based upon a casual glance at the official statistics.

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