Unions face ignorance amongst young workers but may harvest too

The younger generation is less covered by collective agreements. This is one of the outcomes of an analysis of WageIndicator data in which 8 EU-states are compared. The study reveals sharp differences between countries. When bargaining coverage is low, this is particularly disadvantageous for the young. In Poland, where trade unions are marginalized, only 7 per cent of the young say they are covered by a collective agreement, compared to 35 per cent of those over 50.  In the UK the respective figures are 21 and 37 per cent. On the other hand, in countries with a high bargaining coverage, the age differences in coverage are low. Especially in countries with low union density, union members turn out to be much more covered by collective agreements than non-members.

Importance of being covered by a collective agreement
How important is being covered by a collective agreement according to employees? This question was asked in 6 countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, the UK and Spain. Marked differences show up between these countries. In Spain for example 90 per cent agrees that it is important to be covered by a collective agreement, while in the UK this is only 46 per cent. Yet, these differences become less marked if one only looks at those working for companies covered by an agreement. From this perspective at least  75 per cent or more say to attach importance to collective agreements. In companies that are not covered the shares of those attaching importance to agreements are much lower, for example only 22 per cent in the UK and 30 per cent in the Netherlands. The exception is Spain where even in non-covered companies 85 per cent agrees that collective agreements are important. This extreme wish to be covered by a collective agreement amongst employees who are presently not, may be related to the fact that Spain also holds the EU-record in terms of job insecurity.

Breakdown per  industry
In most countries support for coverage is highest in the public sector, in health care, education, and utilities. It is the lowest in real estate, renting and business services.
Finally the researchers compared the support for coverage with the actual coverage in the countries and the 13 industries selected. This support is considerably higher than the actual coverage in Spain and the UK, but lower in the Netherlands. The industry patterns follow the national outcomes. In all 13 Spanish industries the share of those agreeing that it is important to be covered was higher than actual coverage. While in the Netherlands this was only the case in two industries.
One may conclude that workers all over Europe massively value the importance of one of the most important trade union products, the collective agreement, although many of them are not unionised. This clearly points to recruiting potential for the unions, notably among young workers, waiting to be harvested.
Dribbusch, H, Bispinck, R., Klaveren, M. van & Tijdens, K.G. (2007) Exploring collective bargaining coverage in eight EU member states. 


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