A union Essay Example

Unions in Australia

This paper gives the definition of a union and highlights the various types of unions found in Australia today. It also discusses the positive and negative contributions of trade unions in Australia over the past 150 years.

By definition, a union is an association of employees that seeks to improve the economic position of its members primarily by bargaining with the employer within the wide framework of the existing economic system. The purpose of unions is to continually protect or improve, through collective action, the economic status of their members. Unions can also be defined as associations of workers in one or more professions formed for the purpose of protecting and advancing the members’ economic interest with reference to their daily work (Sinha, Sinha & Shekar, 2006).

Unions have been an essential component of the Australian industrial system since its formation more than one hundred years ago. Unions in Australia vary in terms of character and range from small independent associations to very large interstate organisations. There are five basic types of union in Australia: craft unions, occupational unions, industry unions, general unions and enterprise unions. The next discussion focuses on two types of unions: industry unions and general unions.

Industry unions are industry based rather than skill based unions. They bring together people in a given industry or a number of related industries. Examples of industry unions include the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) that brings together players in the meat industry and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union which represents more than 130,000 workers in all fields of manufacturing such as food and confectionary and metal and engineering. Another example under this category is the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union(CFMEU). This union represents workers in the building, construction and allied fields, forestry and forest products as well as mining and energy.

The general unions found in Australia are large and diverse. They represent workers from every industry and company sector rather than just one organisation or area. A good example is the Australian Workers Union, the largest blue-collar union that represents more than 135,000 men and women as well as their families. It was formed in 1886 and has been supporting people from all walks of life since its inception. Another example of general union is the United Voice (formerly known as the Liquor, Hospitality & Miscellaneous Union). The union brings together workers from various fields with a belief in dignity of workers and the right to reasonable and unprejudiced treatment at work. Yet another example is the National Union of Workers (NUW). This union was formed through the merger of several unions in order to combine their expertise and resources so as to offer members with a wider range of services.

Unions have contributed immensely to the relations between workers and employers in Australia over the past 150 years. The positive contributions of unions over the years include decades of wage increases through campaigns in the field and award systems, creation of safer workplaces, equality for women, improvements in working durations, entitlements to better working conditions and holidays, as well as the creation of a universal superannuation system (ACTU, 2002). Unions have also improved the relations between employers and their workers as regards handling of unfair dismissals, redundancies, and industrial disputes. Much of the power of the unions was derived from the centralised arbitration and conciliation system introduced in 1904 after major strikes had been witnessed in Australia in the 1890s. The new system inspired a lot of change as it brought into view issues such as employer recognition and exclusive jurisdiction over a section of the workforce and lawfully enforceable working conditions and minimum wages – all which were highly attractive prizes to a very frail union movement at the time (Svensen, Small and Griffin, not dated). There are also negative contributions of trade unions, key of them being the strikes witnessed in Australia in the 1890s. Also, since employees gain collective bargaining power, they lose their individual voices, implying that individual concerns or benefits may not be recognised. In Australia, many unions still regard industrial issues such as childcare and parental leave as peripheral (Costa & Forum, 1997), implying that employees may not be treated will in this regard. And as unions continue to ignore the interest of an increasing part of their actual or potential membership, the unions themselves have become peripheral over the years, signifying that workers continually lose the bargaining power of unions.

In conclusion, there are many types of unions which people can join depending on the type of work they do. The unions have had significant impacts on the relationship between employers and workers in Australia over the years. Significant improvements to unions came in 1904 after mass strikes were witnessed in the 1890s. The unions have greatly empowered workers, thus helping to improve their working conditions, helping resolve disputes, creating a universal superannuation system and so forth. But unions have also presented challenges such as loss of the individual voice of the worker. As well, the unions themselves have become weaker over the years.


ACTU (2002). “History of the ACTU.” Retrieved 16 August 2011, from http://www.actu.org.au/About/ACTU/default.aspx

Costa, M. & Forum, L. R. (1997). Reforming Australia’s unions: Insights from Southland magazine. Sydney: Federation Press.

New South Wales Government. “Trade unions.” Retrieved 16 August 2011, from http://www.industrialrelations.nsw.gov.au/Workers/My_entitlements/Trade_unions.html

Sinha, P.R.N., Sinha, I.B. & Shekar, S.P. (2006). Industrial Relations, Trade Unions, and Labour Legislation. New Delhi: Pearson Education.

Svensen, S., Small, R. & Griffin, G. (not dated). “Trade Union Innovation, Adaptation and Renewal in Australia: Still Searching for the Holy Membership Grail.” Retrieved 16 August 2011, from http://socserv.socsci.mcmaster.ca/fun/grif2.pdf