Trade Unions

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What are trade unions?

Trade unions are organisations which represent the interests of workers or employees who work in the same or similar industries or jobs. For example, shop assistants are all eligible to be members of the same union.

Your trade union can help you with various employment-related queries and issues including:

  • advice on work issues;
  • health and safety in your workplace;
  • protection from discrimination and harassment;
  • proper pay and leave entitlements;
  • equal opportunity and equal pay for men and women;
  • advice and help with workplace bargaining; and
  • making sure your rights are protected.

Improve your job security

Membership fees to belong to a trade union are generally based on how many hours you work in a week or how much you earn. For more information you should contact your trade union. If you need to find out the right union for your job, contact the ACTU Workers’ Line on 1300 362 223.

For more information, check out the Australian Council of Trade Union’s website.

What is freedom of association?

‘Freedom of association’ means the right of any worker to choose whether or not to join a trade union. Your boss cannot discriminate against you or treat you badly for being a trade union member. It is also against the law for your employer to fire you for belonging to a trade union.

Your employer cannot stop you from joining a trade union. Remember, you can join a union if you are a full-time, part-time or casual employee.

What does right of entry mean?

‘Right of entry’ is the right of a union official to come to your workplace. A union official can only enter your workplace to:

speak to employees in any lunch break or other time when you are not working; or

investigate a suspected breach of industrial relations laws, an award or enterprise agreement.

There are rules about what a union official can and can’t do while in the workplace. Depending on whether the employees are covered by federal or State laws, the union official may have to tell your employer that they intend to enter your workplace before they come or otherwise get a permit from the relevant industrial body.

You can read more about Right of entry here.

How do I find out which union is the right one for me?

There are many trade unions in Australia which cover just about every type of job: from electricians, nurses and actors to shop assistants, labourers and football players.

To find out which union is the right one for your job, you can contact the ACTU Workers’ Line on 1300 362 223 or check out their website: http://www.actu.org.au/.  You can also ring the Trades Hall or Labor Council in your State or Territory:

New South Wales Labor Council of New South Wales (02) 9264 1691

Where can I get further help?

Employees can test their knowledge about pay in the FWO’s Workplace Basics Quiz, available here.

  • For information and advice about the Fair Work System including your rights, entitlements and obligations, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website or call the Fair Work Info line on 13 13 94.

If you’re under 25 and have a question about trade unions that we haven’t answered here, please contact us here and we can give you free information and advice.


Youth Law Australia would like to express thanks to Hall & Wilcox and the Fair Work Ombudsman for assisting us with the preparation of this material.

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