What’s a union?

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A union is like a team or club that you can join. Its main purpose is to look after and promote the interests of its members. For a union, this means looking after the rights of workers and their interests at work, within their industries and beyond in the community.

Unions are one of the few ways that workers can have a voice on the job and influence what happens in their society. When people come together with a common goal in mind, they are far more powerful than when they try to reach goals as individuals. When workers act together they have a better chance of getting what they need at work and beyond.

The benefits most workers receive today are largely the result of what unions have gained in improvements to their members' wages, benefits and working conditions over the last 100 years.

Through 'collective bargaining' and by lobbying governments with other members of the community, unions were able to win government support for minimum standards of pay, hours of work, overtime, holiday pay as well as health and safety regulations. This resulted in minimum standards legislation in many areas of work. Unions were also involved in developing human rights gains and legislation.

Minimum Rights Standards

The following standards have become the basic minimum rights within many workplaces and are now required by law:

  • Minimum wage laws
  • Hours of work (daily and weekly)
  • Overtime pay
  • Holiday pay
  • Basic health and safety rules
  • Workers' compensation
  • Basic anti-discriminatory laws in human rights legislation
  • Severance pay
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Maternity leave and paid parental leave
  • Superannuation

Employment Relations Act 2000

The Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA 2000) was passed by the Government to build productive employment relationships by promoting trust and confidence between employers, employees and their unions. It does this by recognising the inequality of bargaining power between employer and employee, promoting collective bargaining, protecting individual choice and requiring good faith behaviour.

Under the ERA 2000, unions must be properly run, democratic and lawful organisations. Unions operate lawfully under the Act by being registered with the Department of Labour. Most unions employ paid officials, called organisers, who have the job of organising workers in the workplace. They help workers get properly organised so they can negotiate more effectively and solve problems on the job better. Commonly, organisers will work with elected job site representatives, called delegates or shop stewards, to help get a company organised.

The ERA 2000 is about promoting and supporting workers, through their unions, to organise and bargain collectively with their employers. The ERA 2000 says there's 'an inherent inequality of bargaining power between workers and employers'. In the workplace, this usually means that an employer has more bargaining power than a single worker does. This could mean the worker is unable to get a fair deal - either when it comes to their employment agreement or conditions at work, or both!

Frequently Asked Questions