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Trade Union membership soars by tens of thousands during coronavirus hardships

TENS of thousands of workers are joining trade unions as they endure increased job insecurity, redundancy and the threat of a catastrophic recession after coronavirus, it was revealed today.

The surge comes on top of a 91,000 increase in membership in 2019 announced today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Public-service union Unison said that 65,000 new members had joined since January — a net increase of 16,000 after retirements, people changing jobs and leaving for other reasons are deducted.

Teachers’ unions battling the government over much-criticised plans to reopen schools on June 1 have also seen a surge in membership.

National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Covid-19 has further thrown a spotlight on the demands employers and government can put on employees with little regard to the individual or their families’ safety and welfare.

“The NEU has gained over 20,000 new members over the past few months, and it is a testament to the work of our reps and organisers that the union’s message about safety first before a wider reopening of schools has resonated throughout the teaching profession.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that many thousands of new members had joined since the lockdown, and he urged the government to involve trade unions’ “army of safety reps to get people back to work safely.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “During the pandemic, thousands of public-service workers have been joining Unison. 

“They realise it makes sense in uncertain times to have somewhere to turn that has their best interests at heart.

“Everyone in work should be in a union.”

GMB acting general secretary John Phillips said: “GMB is seeing thousands of new members every week, and tens of thousands since the start of the year.

“People are rightly worried about bosses forcing them back to workplaces with no social distancing and about what kind of sick pay they will receive if they catch coronavirus.

“Meanwhile key workers are looking at their pay packets knowing they deserve more.”

The TUC said that the number of people visiting its online “joining a union” page this month was up 500 per cent on May last year.

At the end of last year, membership of TUC-affiliated unions stood at 5.6 million, and 6.44m when non-affiliated unions were added, up 211,000 in the last three years.

Women make up the majority of new members. Female membership of unions is currently at 3.69 million, the highest since 1995, said the TUC.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The hard work and dedication of millions of workers has brought us through this crisis. 

“And together, in our unions, we can work our way out of recession.”


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