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Labor Market

In 2023, number of union members falls to 8.4 million, the lowest since 2012

Section: Social Statistics | Umberlândia Cabral e Carmen Nery | Design: Helena Pontes

June 21, 2024 10h00 AM | Last Updated: June 25, 2024 04h05 PM

  • Highlights

  • In 2023, of the 100.7 million employed persons in the country, 8.4% (8.4 million persons) were members of unions.
  • This was the smallest contingent and the lowest percentage in the series that began in 2012, when there were 14.4 million unionized workers (16.1%).
  • Compared to the previous year, there was a drop of 7.8%, or 713 thousand persons. In 2022, there were 9.1 million union members, 9.2% of the total employed.
  • In relation to 2012, the biggest drops in the unionization rate were in the transportation, storage and mailing groups, with -12.9 pp (from 20.7% to 7.8%), general industry, with -11.0 pp (from 21.3% to 10.3%) and public administration, defense, social security, education, human health and social services, with -10.1 pp (from 24.5% to 14.4%).
  • Among the 29.9 million employers and self-employed workers in the country, 9.9 million (or 33.0%) were in enterprises registered with the National Registry of Legal Entities (CNPJ), showing a drop compared to 2022 (34. 2%), but still the second highest rate in the time series.
  • The decline in the CNPJ coverage in 2023 indicates that it occurred among self-employed workers (from 26.3% to 24.9%). On the other hand, employers maintained their estimate stable (80.9%), increasing the difference between the two groups in terms of formalization.
  • In 2023, of the 29.9 million persons employed as employers or self-employed workers, only 4.5% were members of a work or production cooperative, the lowest percentage in the time series. With 7.7% in 2023, the South Region recorded the highest values, among all Major Regions, throughout the period.
In 2023, the number of union members fell by 7.8%, equivalent to 713 thousand persons - Photo: Paulo Pinto/Agência Brasil

Unionization continues to lose strength among the country's workers. In 2023, only 8.4% of the 100.7 million employed persons were members of a union, equivalent to 8.4 million persons. The number represents a drop of 7.8%, or 713 thousand persons, compared to the previous year, when there were 9.1 million unionized workers (9.2% of the total), and once again it reached the lowest level in the time series, started in 2012 (16.1%). The data released today (21) is part of the Additional characteristics of the labor market module of the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNAD).

In 2012, when the employed population was made up of 89.7 million persons, there were 14.4 million union members, a number that grew 1.4% in the following year. After this increase and a positive change in 2015, unionization faced successive drops, particularly in 2016, when there was also a decline in the number of employed persons. In the following years, even with the recovery of the job market, the number of persons associated with unions continued to fall, which resulted in the lowest unionization rate in the time series (8.4%) in 2023. The survey also shows that in 2023 the employed population reached its highest estimate, with an increase of 1.1% compared to 2022 and 12.3% compared to the 2012 population.

“Between 2012 and 2023, the percentage of persons associated with a union within the employed population went from 16.1% to 8.4%, a drop of almost eight percentage points (pp). At the same time, the employment-population ratio [percentage of employed persons in the population aged 14 or over] kept falling until 2017, a time when Brazil went through an economic crisis. From then on, the employment-population ratio recovered again, but the drop in the percentage of union members increased”, says PNAD Contínua analyst William Kratochwill.

For researchers, one of the factors that may have accelerated this decline over the years was the implementation of the labor reform (Law 13,467/2017), which made union contributions optional. Another point would be the form of entrance into the job market.

“In recent years, more and more workers have entered the occupation independently, whether informally or even through flexible contracts, encouraged by the 2017 labor reform. In addition, activities that traditionally have greater union coverage, such as industry, have been reducing their total participation in the group of workers and, therefore, in the set of union members”, analyzes the IBGE coordinator of Household Sample Surveys, Adriana Beringuy.

The researcher also highlights the decline in unionization in public administration, defense, social security, education, human health and social services. “In this activity, the participation of temporary contracts has been increasing, mainly in the elementary education segment, provided by the municipal administration. All of these factors, whether linked to labor laws, reduced employment in industrial activity, financial services or changes in contractual arrangements in the public sector, may be associated with a drop in worker unionization,” she adds.

The group of public administration, defense, social security, education, human health and social services was the third group that most reduced its unionization rate since the beginning of the survey's time series, with a drop of 10.1 percentage points (from 24.5% to 14.4%). In this comparison, it was only behind the transportation, storage and mailing sectors, with -12.9 pp (from 20.7% to 7.8%) and general industry, with -11.0 pp (from 21.3% to 10.3%).

The researchers analyze that the drop in the unionization rate in the transportation and storage activity may be related to the growth of informal work in this activity, with the increase in the number of persons employed in passenger transportation, such as, for example, ride-share drivers.

The unionization rate also fell in agriculture, livestock, forestry, fishing and aquaculture, an activity that historically has had a large share of rural workers' unions, falling from 22.8% in 2012 to 15.0% in 2023.

On the other hand, trade, a sector that accounts for 18.9% of the country's total number of employed persons, has a unionization rate of 5.1%, below the national average (8.4%). According to the publication, this result shows that this association does not always follow the number of workers in an activity, but is also related to the way they organize themselves and the role unions play in labor relations.

Unionization of workers with a forma contract and in the public sector falls compared to 2022

In the analysis by employment type and employment category, those employed in the public sector (18.3%) had the highest unionization rate, followed by contributing family workers (10.4%) and workers with a formal contract in the private sector ( 10.1%). The researchers relate the high percentage of family workers to the concentration of this category in the agricultural sector.

On the other hand, the lowest union coverage was among those employed in the private sector without a formal contract (3.7%) and domestic workers (2.0%).

Compared to the previous year, the unionization rate fell in two groups that have had, throughout the time series, higher percentages of unionized workers: those employed in the private sector with a formal employment contract, whose rate went from 11.0% to 10.1%, and those employed in the public sector (including statutory and military employees), from 19.9% ​​to 18.3%. For researchers, this indicates that the drop in unionization affects all segments of the occupation, whether public or private.

Unionization rate (%) 2012 2014 2019 2022 2023
Total 16.1 15.7 11.0 9.2 8.4
Activity groups in the main job
Agriculture, livestock, forestry, fishing and aquaculture 22.8 23.1 18.9 16.5 15.0
General industry 21.3 19.8 13.5 11.5 10.3
Construction 9.0 7.9 4.2 3.4 3.5
Trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles 10.5 10.0 7.4 5.6 5.1
Transportation, storage and mailing 20.7 20.8 11.8 8.2 7.8
Lodging and food 7.7 8.2 5.6 4.0 4.2
Information, communication and financial, real estate, professional and administrative activities 18.7 18.4 11.9 9.5 8.8
Public administration. defense and social security. education. human health and social services 24.5 24.4 18.1 15.8 14.4
Other services 6.0 6.2 4.7 3.0 3.2
Domestic services 2.7 3.3 2.8 2.8 2.0
Employment type and category in the main job
Employed in the private sector with a formal contract 20.9 19.9 13.9 11 10.1
Employed in the private sector without a formal contract 5.3 5.3 4.3 3.5 3.7
Domestic worker 2.7 3.3 2.8 2.8 2
Worker in the public sector (including statutory and military servants) 28.1 29 22.1 19.9 18.3
Employer 18.4 15.8 10.2 8.2 7.4
Self-employed worker 11.1 10.2 7.1 6.2 5
Contributing family worker 14.4 14.6 11.5 10.3 10.4

Northeast and South continue to have higher unionization rates

Despite having recorded the biggest drops compared to 2022, the regions of the country with the highest percentages of union members continue to be the Northeast (9.5%) and South (9.4%). It was the first time in the survey's time series that these percentages were below 10%. These two Major Regions also differ in the fact that they are the only ones in which the percentage of women union members exceeded that of men: 10.1% of women versus 9.1% of men in the Northeast and 9.5% of women versus 9.3% of men in the South. In the country, while 8.5% of employed men were members of unions, among women this proportion was 8.2%.

Unionization falls more among those employed with higher education

The survey also investigates the level of schooling of unionized workers. Of the 8.4 million union members, 37.3%, or 3.1 million, hd complete higher education and 36.1% (3.0 million) had at least complete secondary education. The highest rate of unionization was among those with a higher education degree (13.5%) and the lowest among those with complete primary and incomplete secondary education (5.4%).

There was a drop in all levels of schooling compared to 2022. The biggest declines were recorded among workers who had complete higher education (from 14.5% to 13.5%) and those uneducated or with incomplete primary education (from 8.3 % to 7.3%). When compared to the beginning of the time series, in 2012 (28.3%), the unionization rate in the first group fell 14.8 percentage points, the biggest decline among the groups analyzed.

“This significant drop in the number of union members with higher education shows a gap with the significant increase in the level of schooling of workers, which does not match the expansion of union membership”, explains Ms. Beringuy.

Around a third of employers and self-employed workers have a CNPJ

Another point addressed by the survey was the number of employers and self-employed workers whose businesses were registered in the National Register of Legal Entities (CNPJ). The two categories, combined, registered 29.9 million workers, a number that was considered stable in 2023 compared to the previous year. Around a third (33.0%) of them, or 9.9 million, were in businesses registered with the CNPJ, a drop compared to the previous year, when they were 34.2% (10.3 million). Still, this was the second highest rate in the time series.

The researchers highlight that this reduction in coverage was driven by self-employed workers, as the proportion of those registered in this category went from 26.3% to 24.9% in one year. Employers kept the estimate stable at 80.9%. It is noteworthy that, in 2023, the total number of self-employed workers in the country totaled 25.6 million, six times more than the total number of employers (4.3 million).

CNPJ coverage between these categories increases as the level of schooling advances. Among self-employed workers, the rate was 11.2% for those who had no education or complete primary school and reached almost half (48.4%) of those who had complete higher education. For employers, these percentages were significantly higher, reaching 91.5% of those with a higher education degree.

“This shows that the level of schooling is important to make the worker register with the CNPJ, but, among self-employed workers, this percentage is still much lower than among employers”, says Mr. Kratochwill.

There are also differences when the numbers are analyzed by sex. Around 84.6% of female employers were registered with the CNPJ, while this proportion was 79.3% among men. The percentage, however, was much lower among self-employed workers: 27.0% for women and 23.9% for men.

Services and Trade have greater coverage with CNPJ

The majority of self-employed workers, in enterprises registered with the CNPJ, were employed in services (55.2%) and trade (24.9%), sectors that registered a drop in registration coverage in relation to the previous year, from 33.0% to 30.9% and from 35.6% to 33.3%, respectively. Despite the reduction, these activities continue to have the highest rates in this category of employment.

Services (42.1%) and trade (39.7%) also concentrated the majority of employers in enterprises registered with the CNPJ and were among the sectors with the highest registration rates: 86.4% and 87.2%, respectively. Industry was one of the only activities that advanced in this coverage, reaching the second highest rate (86.7%), despite accounting for only 9.1% of those employed in this category.

North and Northeast have lower percentages of CNPJ registration

In 2023, the regions with the lowest proportions of self-employed workers and employers registered with the CNPJ were the North (17.3%) and the Northeast (18.6%), which historically have a greater share of informal work. The highest percentages were in the South (45.2%) and Southeast (39.0%). In the comparison with the previous year, the only region that advanced was the North (from 15.1% to 17.3%).

The South Region has the highest proportion of workers associated with cooperatives

In 2023, of the 29.9 million employed population as an employer or self-employed person in their main job, only 4.4% (1.3 million persons) were members of a work or production cooperative. This is the lowest percentage in the time series, which shows the low adherence of workers to this type of production arrangement in Brazil.

The South Region (7.7%) recorded the highest values ​​throughout the period, followed by the North Region (5.0%) and the Northeast (4.5%); while the Southeast (3.3%) and Central-West (3.7%) presented values ​​below the national average.

Most of the employed worked in their own business establishment

The survey also investigated the place where the work was carried out. The category own business establishment increased in 2023, registering 59.1% (48.7 million) of workers, after falling between 2015 (64.3%) and 2022 (57.9%). Another 13.8% worked in a place designated by the employer, boss or customer; 9.0% on farms, ranches, etc.; 4.8% in a motor vehicle and 2.3% on a public road or area. The household of residence, which had grown from 3.6% to 8.5% between 2012 and 2022, remained stable in 2023, at 8.3%.

More about the survey

The Continuous PNAD Additional Characteristics of the Labor Market 2023 investigates a set of information on the workforce and addresses data on union membership, membership in work and production cooperatives, CNPJ coverage between employers and self-employed workers and place of work, with differences by sex and level of schooling. The indicators are presented for the Country as a whole, Major Regions and Federation Units. The tables are available at Sidra. You can access the support material and the full publication for more information.



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