There is evidence beginning to emerge that the implementation of Tribunal fees may have contributed to an increase in trade union membership.
Trade union membership both as a number of members and as a percentage of the UK workforce has been slowly reducing, as illustrated in our trade union graph, taken from ONS data. Despite the benefits described by unions for employees of collectivising, numbers have been falling during the recession. A time of increased economic uncertainty and the labour market’s move away from traditional working relationships to more fluid arrangements such as zero hours has not translated into an increase to trade union membership.
Early indications, however, are that the government’s implementation of Tribunal fees may have done more to increase trade union membership than either the trade union movement or the recession achieved.
Many employers who recognise trade unions operate a check off system; the employer deducts the union dues from salary on behalf of the union. Ten of the larger organisations we know have seen check off requests rise by between 4 and 11% when comparing 1 June last year (pre fees) with 1 June of this year. While the sample of employers is small, the employers are in the food, manufacturing, logistics and the public sector. Set against the historic reduction in union membership, such an increase appears to be correlated to the implementation of Tribunal fees.
Tribunal fees have now been with us for nearly a year. Many employees face having to pay £1,200 to progress their claim to a Tribunal. Previously it was free. Trade unions are currently meeting the cost of those fees for their members. For employees genuinely worried about their future, it appears therefore that the implementation of Tribunal fees has given being a member of a union a new benefit.