What is a union, what can they do for me, and do I have to join one?

A union is an organisation set up to look after the rights of people who work in certain jobs. Unions are based on the idea that workers are more likely to have their rights respected and get paid a fair amount if they all join together.

Unions can give you information, advice and support about your rights at work. The main questions and problems that unions can help you with are:

  • Your rights to fair pay for your work.
  • Unfair treatment or bullying at work.
  • If you injure yourself or get sick at work.
  • Getting your employer to give you better working conditions at work (for example safety at work).
  • Your right to superannuation. Superannuation is money that your employer has to give to a money fund for when you are older and stop working.

Each union can give information, advice and help based on special knowledge of your industry. There is a union for each main industry. An industry is a group of jobs that are related to the same thing. For example, jobs that are about selling things in shops are part of the retail industry. This industry is part of a union called the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.

Every employee over the age of fifteen can join a union. This includes employed employees who are part-time, full-time, casual, temporary, an apprentice, trainee or contract worker. You are usually charged a small amount of money to join a union. You do not have to join a union if you do not want to. It is your choice. But you usually have to be a union member to get advice and support from that union.

For more information on unions, including which union is for people in your job, you can contact Unions Australia.