Since its formation in 1927, the ACTU has been the peak trade union body in Australia. It has played the leading role in advocating for, and winning the improvement of working conditions, including on almost every Commonwealth legislative measure concerning employment conditions and trade union regulation. The ACTU has also appeared regularly before the Fair Work Commission and its statutory predecessors, in numerous high-profile test cases, as well as annual national minimum and award wage reviews.
The ACTU is Australia’s sole peak body of trade unions, consisting of affiliated unions and State and regional trades and labour councils. There are currently 43 ACTU affiliates who together have over 1.7 million members who are engaged across a broad spectrum of industries and occupations in the public and private sector.
Reflecting the diversity of the Australian workforce, the union movement includes people from all backgrounds and walks of life, including young people, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, First Nations workers, people with disability, and workers from religiously, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Over 50% of Australian union members are women. Australian unions have a long and proud history of fighting for workplaces free from racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination and prejudice, and standing up for justice, safety, respect and equality for all workers.
The Australian union movement has a significant interest in the effectiveness of Australia’s anti- discrimination and human rights framework. Since the commencement of anti-discrimination laws, the majority of complaints have related to employment.1 This is because work is absolutely central to human dignity and our ability to live a decent life. The significant power imbalance between employers and workers means that workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination and other human rights abuses. In particular, the Australian union movement made a significant contribution to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and has advocated for the implementation of all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work Report since it was published in 2020.