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Countries with high trade union membership are more equal

Nordic countries have the highest rates of union membership and the lowest income inequality.

By Saywah Mahmood

UK rail workers have rejected the latest Network Rail pay offer and will walk out again this week. The industrial action, organised by the RMT union, has been called due to the long-running dispute over pay and working practices.

There has been growing anger among employees over wages. Analysis of ONS data by the New Statesman found that public sector wages have fallen by 4.4 per cent since 2010, while private sector wages have risen by 4.3 per cent in the same time period.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that, in 2019, nearly a quarter of UK employees were members of a trade union; this is significantly lower than in many other European countries. The UK also has a higher Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality.

By contrast, many Nordic countries have far lower income inequality and higher trade union membership. In Iceland, where 92.2 per cent of workers belong to a union, the Gini coefficient is just 26.1, compared with 35.1 in the UK and 41.5 in the US, where just 10.3 per cent of workers are union members.

This article was originally published on 22 June 2022.

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