The slight gain in members to more than 1.9 million people reflected increases in union density rates in both the public and private sectors, said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

“We are particularly heartened by the increase in both net membership and density rates in key growth areas of the economy like accommodation, cafes, restaurants, transport, storage and communications and recreation, cultural and personal services,” Ms Burrow said.

“Significant growth in both membership and density rates has also been achieved among the growing proportion of casual and part-time employees in the workforce. A welcome increase is also recorded in the number of women union members.

“The long term trend of declining union membership appears to have stabilised, with two years of net growth for the first time in more than a decade and increases in union density in key sectors of the economy,” Ms Burrow said.

The membership growth follows an increased focus by the ACTU and many unions on grass roots workplace activity and organisation in accordance with the unions@work strategy launched by ACTU Secretary Greg Combet in 1999.

Today’s ABS data showed the number of union members rose marginally to 1,902,700 from 1,901,800, with an overall union density rate of 24.5%.

“The increase in union numbers comes despite major job losses in some strongly unionised industries, the slowdown in the economy and the failure of the Federal Government to develop an industry and employment strategy,” Ms Burrow said.