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Unionization rates in the first half of 2008 and 2009

Average paid employment (employees) during the first half of 2009 was 14.1 million, a decrease of 317,000 over the same period a year earlier (Table 1). The number of unionized employees also fell, by 72,000 (to 4.2 million). However, since union membership fell slightly less rapidly than employment, the unionization rate edged up from 29.4% in 2008 to 29.5% in 2009.

As men suffered disproportionately more losses in unionized jobs, their unionization rate fell to 28.2%. By contrast, the number of unionized women increased, bringing their rate to 30.8% in 2009. As a result, the gap in the rates between men and women widened further in 2009.

Private-sector employees lost a significant number of unionized jobs between 2008 and 2009. As a result, the unionization rate declined from 16.3% to 16.1% in the private sector, while the rate increased from 71.0% to 71.3% in the public sector.

As with overall job losses, losses in unionized jobs were concentrated among full-time jobs. However, unionization remained relatively stable among full-time workers at 31.0%. The unionization rate of part-time workers rose to 23.3% in 2009.

The unionization rate for permanent employees remained relatively stable at 29.8%, but increased to 27.7% for those in non-permanent jobs. Between 2008 and 2009, the unionization rate also rose in firms of all sizes, except those with 20 to 99 employees where the rate remained stable.

The provincial picture was more mixed (Chart A). Seven provinces recorded increases in their unionization rate, including those that had a relatively high rate to begin with. By contrast, unionization decreased in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Canada's most populous province (Ontario).

Changes in unionization rates varied across industries. Notable declines were observed in utilities, in mining, oil and gas, and in manufacturing. Notable increases occurred in health care and social assistance; information and cultural; management, administrative and support; trade and agriculture (Chart B).

Changes in the unionization rate also varied across 10 major occupational groups (Chart C). Consistent with the industrial picture, unionization declined most in occupations unique to primary industries and among occupations unique to processing, manufacturing and utilities. The unionization rate also declined in social science, education and government occupations. Conversely, it rose in health occupations, and in art, culture, recreation and sport occupations. Changes in the unionization rate were more modest among other major occupational categories.

Finally, the number of employees who were not union members but were covered by a collective agreement averaged 300,000 in the first half of 2009, little changed from last year's total of 301,000.

2008 annual averages

Approximately 4.2 million employees (29.1%) belonged to a union in 2008 and another 304,000 (2.1%) were covered by a collective agreement (Table 2).

The public sector, which consisted of government, Crown corporations, and publicly funded schools or hospitals, had 70.6% of its employees belonging to a union. This was more than four times the rate for the private sector (16.3%).

Approximately one-third of full-time employees belonged to a union, compared with about one-fourth of the part-time. Also, almost 30% permanent employees were union members, compared with about 25% of the non-permanent.

Unionization rates also varied by age group with 37.4% of those aged 45 to 54 being members of a union as compared to 14.0% of those aged 15 to 24. High unionization rates were also found among those with a university degree (33.6%) or a post-secondary certificate or diploma (33.0%); in Newfoundland and Labrador (36.6%) and in Quebec (35.8%); as well as in educational services (67.4%); public administration (67.0%), and utilities (66.6%), and in health care occupations (61.1%). Low unionization rates were recorded in Alberta (21.9%); in agriculture (4.2%) and professional, scientific and technical services (4.0%); and in management occupations (8.4%).

Differences between the sexes

For the fifth year in a row, the unionization rate for women in 2008 surpassed that of men (29.8% vs. 28.5%). The gap widened slightly, by 0.3%, as compared to that in 2007.

Among men, part-time employees had a much lower rate than full-time employees (18.1% versus 29.7%). Among women, the gap was narrower (24.5% versus 31.6%) (data not shown). The unionization rate for women in the public sector (71.9%) exceeded that of men (68.5%), reflecting women's presence in public administration, and in teaching and health positions. However, in the private sector, only 12.2% were unionized, compared with 19.8% of men. The lower rate among women reflected their predominance in sales and several service occupations.

A higher-than-average rate was recorded among men with a post-secondary certificate or diploma (33.0%). For women, the highest rate was among those with a university degree (39.8%), reflecting unionization in occupations like health care and teaching.

Among those in permanent positions, the rate for men (29.2%) was similar to that for women (30.2%). Among those is non-permanent positions, women were more unionized than men (27.2% versus 23.3%).

Average earnings and usual hours

Earnings are generally higher in unionized as compared to non-unionized jobs. Factors other than collective bargaining provisions contribute to this. These include varying distributions of unionized employees by age, sex, job tenure, industry, occupation, firm size, and geographical location. The effects of these factors are not examined here. However, unionized workers and jobs clearly have characteristics associated with higher earnings. For example, unionization is higher for older workers, those with more education, those with long tenure, and those in larger workplaces. Still, a wage premium exists, which, after controlling for employee and workplace characteristics, has been estimated at 7.7% (Fang and Verma 2002).

Average hourly earnings of unionized workers were higher than those of non-unionized workers in 2008 (Table 3). This held true for both full-time employees ($25.06 vs. $21.54) and part-timers ($20.79 vs. $13.16). Unionized part-time employees not only had higher weekly earnings, but they also worked more (19.2 hours vs. 16.8). This led to a larger gap in weekly earnings ($405.97 vs. $225.94).

On average, full-time unionized women earned 94% as much per hour as their male counterparts. In contrast, those working part-time earned 16% more.

Wage settlements, inflation and labour disputes

The wage rate increase in 2008 remained the same as in the previous year at 3.3% (Table 4). This was the fourth consecutive year when the increase in wages surpassed the rate of inflation. For the third year in a row the wage gain in the public sector exceeded that in the private sector (3.5% versus 2.7%). However, there was a reversal of the trend in the first four months of 2009 whereby the gains stood at 2.8% in the private sector and 2.4% in the public sector.

Annual statistics on strikes, lockouts and person-days lost are affected by several factors, including collective bargaining timetables, size of the unions involved, strike or lockout duration, and state of the economy. The number of collective agreements up for renewal in a year determines the potential for industrial disputes. Union size and strike or lockout duration determine the number of person-days lost. The state of the economy influences the likelihood of an industrial dispute, given that one is legally possible. Similar to 2006, in 2008 the proportion of estimated working time lost due to strikes and lockouts was 0.02%.

Data sources

Information on union membership, density and coverage by various socio-demographic characteristics, including earnings, are from the Labour Force Survey. Further details can be obtained from Marc Lévesque, Labour Statistics Division, Statistics Canada at 613-951-4090. Data on strikes, lockouts and workdays lost, and those on major wage settlements were supplied by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). Further information on these statistics may be obtained from Client services, Workplace Information Directorate, HRSDC at 1-800-567-6866.


Fang, Tony and Anil Verma. 2002. “Union wage premium.” Perspectives on Labour and Income. Vol. 3, no. 9. September. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-XIE. p. 13-19. (accessed July 21, 2009)