Union members earn more money

Numbers don’t lie: Here’s why union membership is good for you.

The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that it pays to belong to a trade union.

The good news

Across all professions and levels, from management to labourers, median weekly earnings for employees who are trade union members in their main job were $1450 per week, compared with $1100 for employees who were not in a union (see table).

These ABS stats also show that the typical trade unionist is female, professional and degree qualified. Women now make up a greater proportion of trade union members (55 percent) than men.

Teaching and education is the mostly highly unionised profession, with membership at 31 percent. Union membership is at its lowest – 10 percent – among people with non-school qualifications.

The greatest proportion of union members is among professionals, who make up 21 percent of union membership. The next two biggest groups are community and personal service workers at 18 percent and machinery operators and drivers at 17 percent.

Of trade union members, only 8 percent are casuals.

The not-so-good news

Since 1992, the proportion of employees who are members of a trade union has fallen from 40 percent to 14 percent.

Trade union membership tends to increase with age. In August 2020, only 5 percent of employees aged 15-19 years and 6 percent of those aged 20-24 were trade union members. This increased to 23 percent for employees aged 55-59 and 25 percent for employees aged 60-64.

With 1.4 million members in Australia overall, trade unions are still a force to be reckoned with. But to ensure a fair future for workers, younger people need to be educated about the union movement and what it has achieved – and still can – for them. We all need to encourage young people to join trade unions.

Sue Osborne