The percentage of unionised workers across both the private and public sectors reached a historic low last August, down to 17%. 56,400 workers left private sector unions, and 36,500 left those serving in the public sector. All the declines occurred in the States, predominately in manufacturing, healthcare and social assistance, but membership increased in the Northern Territory and the ACT.  

The most significant drop in membership was in the manufacturing industry where membership fell from 170,000 members in 2012 to 129,000 in 2013. Professor Peetz, of Griffith University, attributes the losses to the contraction of that industry. 

Nationally, this represents the low watermark of union density, from the most recent peak of 28% in 1998. 93% of the workers who left unions in the period up to last August were employed on a full-time basis. Consequently, the decline has created an important opportunity for employers to restructure their full-time workforce by negotiating individual contracts with their employees (rather than negotiating enterprise agreements with unions) and thereby minimise union involvement in their businesses.

Andrew Berriman