Women in unions

Just as women are playing a greater role in the workplace than ever before, women are joining and being active in their unions

Ged Kearney is the President of the ACTU

A recent survey of women’s participation in unions shows that women are active in their unions, especially at the workplace level.

A 2011 survey commission by the ACTU Women’s committee found that women made up almost half of the total union membership. But most interestingly, women made up a high proportion of local workplace union officials.

The survey found that 45 per cent of delegates (union representatives in the workplace) were women, 65 per cent of deputy delegates were women and over 60 per cent of branch committees were women.

These workplace positions are an important part of the way unions work because unions are membership organisations.

But the report found that women were less represented at the higher levels of unions, including the crucial leadership positions of major unions.

Almost 30 per cent of union secretary positions were held by women. (In unions, the secretary is like the chief executive officer or managing director in a business – although in unions the secretary is generally an elected position).

In all leadership roles, the survey found that just over 30% of positions were held by women.

Many unions have training programs that help both men and women to be active in their unions, usually starting by being effective workplace delegates.

Most of today’s female union leaders started their involvement as workplace delegates. For example, current ACTU President Ged Kearney became a member of the Australian Nursing Federation when she was working as a registered nurse.

Unions with many women members also play a very important and powerful role in the ACTU. This includes the unions for nurses, teachers, finance, retail and service industries.

Read the Women in Unions report in full

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