Industrial action

What is industrial action?

Industrial action or a ‘strike’ occurs when a group of employees decide to stop work to put pressure on an employer about an issue in the workplace.

Disputes about wages and conditions cause most industrial action; other common reasons include disagreements about occupational health and safety, unfair dismissals and environmental issues.

‘Protected industrial action’ is the term used for a legal strike in Australia. It occurs when workers and employers who are in the process of enterprise bargaining cannot agree.

Protested industrial action is legal under Federal law so long as:

  • You don’t already have an unexpired enterprise agreement in place
  • It takes place during bargaining for a single enterprise agreement
  • The employee’s bargaining representatives (usually a union) are genuinely trying to reach agreement about the terms of a new agreement
  • The industrial action has been approved by secret a ballot authorised by the Fair Work Commission and the employer has been notified of it in accordance with the Fair Work Act
  • The industrial action commences within 30 days of the authorised ballot result being declared
  • You don’t injure another person, or damage or destroy property

It is illegal for employers to pay striking workers, however workers who take protected industrial action do have other rights. If you take protected industrial action you cannot:

  • Be dismissed from your job
  • Have your job position altered
  • Lose benefits such as annual leave
  • Or be threatened with any of the above

Picketing occurs when striking workers gather outside their place of work. Striking like this often receives a lot of media attention, which is why it is a well known form of industrial action.

Action can take many other forms, and often depends on the particular needs of the workers’ industry. For example, nurses may close down beds in elective surgery when they take industrial action. They never close all beds, or interrupt emergency services. Likewise, public transport workers often walk-out of their job between 10am and 2pm, but work during peak hours to ensure no one is stranded.

Australian workers have been striking for their rights for over a century. In 1856, striking building workers in Melbourne won the right to work an eight hour day – an achievement we celebrate every year on Labour Day.

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