Union achievements

By working together unions have helped workers to achieve great changes to their working rights.  Here are some of the improvements that unions have helped win for workers.

Shorter working hours

Back in the mid 1800s, it was common to work a 12 or 16 hour day, six days a week. The stonemasons’ union took a stand and won the now famous eight hour day; eight hours work, eight hours rest, and eight hours play. This eight hour day was recognised internationally and over 150 years later is still considered to be a standard working day. Later unions pressed for a shorter working week and won the 38 hour week – which is now the most common working hours for a full-time job.

Fair pay and better pay

There is a fair pay rate for every job thanks to unions. Back in 1907, unions argued that wages needed to be enough to support a family, and won – this was called the Harvester judgement. Since then, unions have helped win increases to the minimum wage and award wages that give everybody a fair go. Overtime, penalty rates, meal allowances or holiday pay are all examples of improvements won by unions.

Holidays with pay

It’s hard to believe, but not so long ago (only about 50 years ago) full-time workers were only given two weeks paid annual leave. In the years since, unions have rallied and worked hard to ensure that all full-time workers receive four weeks paid annual leave. It is because of unions that we also receive sick leave and many receive paid parental leave.

Equal pay for women

Up until 1969, it was the law that women working the same job as men earned 25 per cent less. On top of this, women in many jobs were expected to resign from their jobs once they got married. Since 1969, campaigns by unions have contributed to women being gradually granted equal privileges to men; that is, they are paid an equal pay for an equal amount work.

Superannuation for all

Superannuation is money saved for you to spend after you retire from work. Unions argued that everyone should be able to have superannuation and that most of the money should be paid by the boss. Now it’s the law that employers pay an extra nine per cent above your wages into the super fund of your choice.

Safer work

Unions and union members are a big part of making work safer. Over the years they have won many changes that keep workers safe and healthy. Unions have spearheaded moves to fairly compensate people who are hurt at work or damaged by unhealthy things like asbestos. But with over 300 work-related deaths every year, there’s a lot more to be done.

Just Transition

In 2017 unions worked with employers, state and federal government to create a re-deployment scheme for workers in the coal fire-power industry in the Latrobe Valley. The Latrobe Valley Worker Transfer Scheme is designed to find other opportunities for workers in power plants and mines that are closing, and supporting older workers into early retirement.

Family and Domestic Violence Leave

In 2017 the Fair Work Commission agreed with unions that people who experience domestic and family violence should have access to a new kind of leave. Family and Domestic Violence Leave is designed to help people stay in work while they manage all the logistical, medical and legal issues that arise when trying to get out of an abusive relationship.

Casual Conversion

In 2017 unions won a case in the Fair Work Commission arguing that any worker who had been employed as a casual for 6 months, working regular hours, should have the ability to request that they be made a part-time or full-time employee.

What will be the union achievement of the future?

What improvements would you like? A better deal for low-paid workers? More opportunities for young workers? More flexible training and study?


Relevant Resources

About Unions
Union structure
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About Unions
Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary
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About Unions
Michele O’Neil, ACTU President
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