What is a union?

Unions are for workers

Unions were started by workers to give them a stronger voice at work and in the community. By working together, union members have improved working conditions and safety in the workplace – for them and all other workers.

Unions have won many important changes for workers like holiday pay, equal pay for women, sick pay, superannuation, workers’ compensation and the 8-hour day.

Unions provide members with information, advice and support so that people can be fairly rewarded for their work.

Every worker – part-time, full-time, casual, temporary, apprentice, trainee or contract – can join a union. Unions represent over 1.6 million workers.

At first there were different unions for each trade (hence the term trade unions). Over time these merged to form larger unions that cover a major industry or group of industries – known as ‘super unions’ or industry unions.

Now there are 46 major unions in Australia – with over 1.6 million members. The biggest union is the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) with over 200,000 members including employees of Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings, Hungry Jacks, Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Another big union is United Voice with over 120,000 members working in hospitality, security, childcare, cleaning and a variety of other essential jobs.

Today most Australian workers are employed with wages and conditions set by a union-negotiated collective agreement (often called employment awards).

Benefit from industry experience

Each union in Australia specialises in providing support and representation for its members according to their occupation, industry, employer and location. This means that there are many unions, each with their own way of best representing their membership.

How much does union membership cost?

Most union fees are around $10 per week – depending on the hours you work and how much you get paid. Union fees are fully tax deductible.


Can I join a union?

Every worker, be it part-time, full-time, casual, temporary, apprentice, trainee or contract, can join a union. Ask a co-worker what the union is for your job. You can talk to the union rep at your workplace and ask them how to join. If you are unsure about what the union is for you, call Australian Unions on 1300 486 466 or visit www.australianunions.org.au

Learn more

Relevant Resources

About Unions
Union achievements
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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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