Surveys reveal just 33% are trade union members

Are Maltese trade union membership figures inflated? Two studies now seem to suggest so

Some 33% of workers in Malta are part of a trade union
Some 33% of workers in Malta are part of a trade union

A scientific survey based on a representative sample of 781 employees has revealed that only one-third of Maltese workers are members of a trade union – a far cry from official figures which suggest that between 53% and 59% of workers in Malta are unionised.

The results of the study published on Xjenza Online by industrial relations expert Manwel Debono, backs earlier studies by his colleague Godfrey Baldacchino who has been questioning official figures since 2007.

Trade union density measurements in Malta are based on the total number of reported trade union members – taken from the annual returns of the Registrar of Trade Unions – as a proportion of the total labour force.

In the survey a third of respondents (33.8%) confirmed that they are trade union members. Slightly less than half of the respondents (47.8%) have never joined a trade union, while 18.4% used to be trade union members.

According to Manwel Debono the discrepancy in trade union density figures deriving from this survey and official administrative data “is too large to be solely attributable to possible errors in the survey” and “indicates that research based on official data might be offering a substantially inflated picture of unionisation in Malta.”

He also calls on trade unions to wake up and face reality.

“Facing and accepting what might be a gloomier reality than what appears on paper, might provide the motivation and ingenuity required for unions to reorganise themselves and improve their operations in order to attract and retain more members”.

The survey results still suggest that trade union membership is higher than the EU average of about 23% and the official statistics suggest that Malta has similar trade union membership as Scandinavia.

This study also indicates that nearly a fifth (18.4%) of all employees in Malta aged between 15 and 64 ceased to be trade union members at some point.

Apart from suggesting a lower trade union membership level than what is officially reported the study also indicates that the likelihood of being a trade union member increases among older employees, those who are in full-time or indefinite contracts, and those employed in the public sector.

On the other hand, contrary to European trends, employees holding tertiary qualifications and higher-level occupations are more likely to be unionised in Malta. Whereas only 26.1% of employees with a secondary or primary level of education claim they are trade union members, the figure rises to 45.1% among employees with a tertiary level of education. According to Debono, workers with a higher education might better appreciate the workplace role of trade unions than lower qualified ones. Trade union membership is particularly higher among female workers. “Lower qualified women are particularly detached from trade unions, while the highly qualified ones are more unionised than their male counterparts”.

This finding can also be attributed to the fact that a substantial percentage of highly qualified women work in education and healthcare, the two most highly unionised sectors in Malta. Debono concludes that the “rather traditionally-oriented trade union movement in Malta”, is not sufficiently effective in attracting and retaining younger workers, part-time workers, workers on definite contracts and those in the private sector, especially in smaller organisations.

“The traditional cadre of union members is set to continue declining in the coming years due to economic, organisational and demographic trends. Thus, unless unions in Malta reorganise themselves and refocus their strategies, trade union density and membership are likely to drop.”



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