Election 2024: Union rights

Prospect represents nearly 158,000 members working across the public and private sectors across the UK. Trade unions face a raft of regulations that often fail to encourage better relations with between employers and employees.

Many workers are not made aware of their rights to join a union. 

The problem

  • Trade union membership in the private sector has fallen to just 12% of the workforce. 
  • UK productivity is around 16% below the US and Germany, and productivity has stagnated since the financial crisis. Evidence shows increasing worker voice is key to improving productivity. 
  • Resolution Foundation research found that the decline in worker bargaining power, the result of decades of de-unionisation along with increased market power of employers, costs the average worker around £100 a week in lost wages, and has been a major contributor to income polarisation. 
  • Recent cross-country analysis confirms that the economies with the most workers covered by collective agreements – such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria or Belgium – are also those with the lowest inequality. 
  • Over the past decade new legislation has sought to undermine the power of unions to organise and at the same time has proved unwieldy and unworkable for employers and unions alike.
Private sector trade union membership stands at just 12%
UK productivity is lower the US and Germany by 16%

What we want to see happen

We believe that reforming trade union rights can be key to more productive and engaging workplaces. 

We want the next government to: 

1. Reinstate the ACAS duty to promote collective bargaining 

This was removed in 1993. 

2. Require employers and relevant public bodies to improve awareness of trade union rights 

Evidence shows increasing worker voice is key to improving productivity. 

3. Reform statutory recognition thresholds 

This should be done alongside reforming rules around bargaining units. 

4. Introduce a right of digital and physical access for trade unions  

Unions should be allowed to make their case in new workplaces and effectively represent workers where they are recognised. 

5. Remove restrictive rules on trade unions 

Eespecially the requirement to conduct ballots entirely by post rather than electronically. This requirement provides a barrier to union democracy. 

6. Repeal Trade Union Act 2016 and Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 

This is punitive legislation and leaves the UK behind many of the best-performing economies. 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

As well as the above policies, it is in the best interest of all workers if the government prioritises equality, diversity and inclusion. We would also like the government to commit to:

Give statutory rights to trade union equalities reps, who can play an important part in making workplaces better. 

*Note: This page reflects current Prospect thinking. Prospect National Conference takes place in early June. Relevant new policy agreed at Conference will be reflected here shortly afterwards.

Vote 24: Prospect’s manifesto to make work better

Working with our members, we have developed an agenda to make work better in Prospect sectors and right across the economy.
Learn more

Further reading

Prospect has long been campaigning on these issues with our members. Here’s some of our recent comment and analysis: