Trade Unions Worldwide

Comparing trade union density and collective bargaining coverage rates worldwide

Trade union density rates

Trade unions are organizations that represent the collective interests of workers and negotiate with employers on their behalf. They play a crucial role in advocating for the rights and benefits of workers, and in many countries, they are a key component of the labour market.

Trade union density rate, also known as unionization rate, is a measure of the proportion of workers who are members of a trade union. It is often used as an indicator of the strength and influence of trade unions in a given country.

The trade union density rate varies widely across different countries. In some countries, a high proportion of workers are members of trade unions, while in other countries, union membership is much lower. In general, trade union density rates tend to be higher in countries with strong protections for workers’ rights and a tradition of unionization. However, there are many other factors that can affect trade union density rates, including economic conditions, cultural attitudes towards unions, and government policies.

The latest data for the ILO shows that the trade union density rate is highest in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. These countries have a long history of strong labour movements and have implemented policies that support collective bargaining and workers’ rights. As a result, trade union membership is often high in these countries, and unions play an important role in shaping labour policies and working conditions.

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Collective bargaining coverage

One important function of trade unions is collective bargaining, which is the process of negotiating the terms and conditions of employment between a group of workers and their employer. Collective bargaining can cover a wide range of issues, including wages, working hours, benefits, and working conditions.

The coverage rate of collective bargaining, or the percentage of workers who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, varies widely across different countries. In some countries, the coverage rate is relatively high, with a large proportion of workers being represented by trade unions and benefiting from collective bargaining agreements. In other countries, the coverage rate is much lower, with fewer workers being covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Overall, the coverage rate of collective bargaining is an important indicator of the strength and influence of trade unions in a given country. It is also an important factor in determining the overall well-being of workers, as collective bargaining agreements can provide workers with improved wages and working conditions.

The latest data from the ILO shows that there are many countries with collective bargaining coverage reaching above 90%. In many cases, the collective bargaining coverage is higher than the trade union density rate.

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There are several reasons why the collective bargaining coverage may be higher than the trade union density rate in a particular country, as outlined in this article by the European Trade Union Institute.

One reason is that the legal framework for collective bargaining in the country may require employers to negotiate with employee representatives, even if those employees are not members of a trade union. For example, in Austria, the negotiators on the employers' side include the chambers of commerce and industry to which all employers must belong, resulting in almost all employees being covered by collective bargaining. In Belgium, agreements signed at the industry level automatically extend to all employees in that industry.

Another reason is that the government may extend collective agreements to non-signatory employers, as is the case in France and the Netherlands. This can increase the coverage of collective bargaining beyond the membership of trade unions.

Finally, in some countries, such as Italy, courts have traditionally interpreted industry-level agreements as being generally binding, even if there is no legislation that specifically requires this. This can also result in higher collective bargaining coverage than trade union density.

About the data

The data on this page is from The International Labour Organization (ILO), with the latest data from the ILOSTAT database.


  • First release December 2022.

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