CORRECTION: Public Sector Trade Union Rich List 2022

Please note:

The original research referred to UNISON's current general secretary. This has been corrected to refer to both the current and former general secretaries, and all entries for individuals have been removed.




Membership of trade unions – for both public and private sector workers – has been declining for many years: 23.1 per cent of employees were members in 2021.[1] In the public sector, trade union membership is at the lowest level since records began in 1995, at 50.1 per cent. Most male public sector employees are no longer unionised and the number of unionised female public sector employees is at its lowest level since records began.[2] Even so, at least 30 bosses of trade unions with a high concentration of public sector workers were in receipt of total remuneration in excess of £100,000 in 2021.

Closed-shop workplaces are now illegal, and self-organising in a trade union is an individual’s decision. Nevertheless, unions receive significant taxpayer subsidies. In 2020-21, staff across the public sector received £98 million for trade union facility time duties.[3] Facility time is paid time-off during working hours for trade union representatives to carry out their duties. Direct grants are also given by government departments, police forces, NHS trusts and councils to trade unions.

During the cost of living crisis, unions have opposed restraint in pay increases for public sector workers.[4] When average regular pay is higher in the public sector than the private sector,[5] and the tax burden is at a 70-year high, the focus should be on reducing the size of this pressure on taxpayers.



Key findings

  • The average total remuneration of the 30 senior union roles on more than £100,000 was £152,272 in 2021.

  • There were six public sector trade unions with two senior staff on total remuneration of more than £100,000. These were; the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen; the National Education Union; the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers; the Prison Officers’ Association; the Royal College of Nursing; and the Fire Brigades Union.

  • Nine senior staff at education unions shared £1,404,252 between them.[6]





[1] Office for National Statistics, Trade union membership statistics 2021: table 2.2, 25 May 2022,, (accessed 6 September 2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cabinet Office, Public-sector trade union facility time data 20/21, 21 October 2021,, (accessed 6 September 2022).

[4] Thomas, D., UK’s biggest unions propose co-ordinated strikes this autumn, 28 August 2022, BBC,, (accessed 6 September 2022).

[5] Office for National Statistics, EARN01: Average Weekly Earnings – regular pay, Great Britain, 16 August 2022,, (accessed 9 September 2022).

[6] Unions included are the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the National Education Union, the University & College Union, the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association and the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland.

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