On The Way Up?
Trade Union Membership Increases

The proportion of full time employees who were trade union members increased from 19% to 20% over the year to August 2009, according to figures released on 12 May 2010 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This represents 1.8 million trade union members, a rise of 82,200 from the previous year.

The ABS recorded 8.7 million employees at August 2009, of whom 22% of full-time employees, and 15% of part-time employees were trade union members in their main job.

The ACTU has praised the hard work of union officials and organisers for the membership boost, although the recent outsourcing of union recruitment by some unions to private recruitment agencies might account for a portion of the increase.

Private Sector Participation
The modest nature of the increase from the previous recorded low of 19% union membership is underscored by the fact that there has been no increase in the level of private sector employee participation in unions. As in its previous survey in August 2008, the ABS found that in August 2009 only 14% of private sector employees were trade union members. 46% of public sector employees are trade union members, up from 42% in the previous survey.

Government employees and education sector workers sustain trade union membership in Australia. The industry with the highest proportion of male employees who were trade union members in their main job was Public administration and safety (46%), while for female employees it was the Education and training industry (41%).

Wages and Entitlements
The mean weekly earnings of employees in all jobs in August 2009, was $995, an increase of $37 since August 2008. Mean weekly earnings in all jobs for men was $1,181 compared to $789 for women. The mean weekly earnings in the main job was higher for men than for women in every age group.

Mean weekly earnings in main job , By age-By sex


The centralised nature of wage fixation in Australia may have been eroded in recent decades, but its influence profoundly lingers in the gender pay gap. The discrimination against equal pay encoded in wage fixation by the Commonwealth and State arbitration jurisdictions in the early twentieth century maintains a stubborn influence in the new realm of Fair Work Australia.

Men aged 45-54 years had the highest mean weekly earnings at $1,468, whilst for women, it was those aged 25-34 years at $882. The mean weekly earnings in the main job was higher for men than for women in every age group. The greatest difference in mean weekly earnings, between male and female employees, was for those aged 45-54 years (a difference of $607 per week).

As the ABS graph shows, the mean weekly earnings figures indicate that women's pay rates peak at app.$800 a week in the 25-34 age group, a situation that persists until the 55-59 age group, followed by a sharp decline to below $600 a week for women 65 and over. Men in the 65 and over age bracket are still earning over $900 a week.

Of the 8.7 million employees at August 2009, 76% (6.5 million) had paid leave entitlements, that is, they were entitled to paid sick leave, paid holiday leave, or both in their main job. A higher proportion of employees who were men, had paid leave entitlements (79%) than for women (72%). Paid sick leave and paid holiday leave were the most common paid leave entitlements held by employees.

Published 18 May 2010.

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