Trade Unions

Do you have a question about work? For free and confidential legal advice, you can ask us a question here or contact us on 1800 953 673 (9 am-5 pm, Monday to Friday).

Trade unions can help you with issues relating to your employment, however it is up to you whether you join one or not. If you do join one, it is against the law for your boss to treat you differently or fire you because of your membership.  

Navigate this page

What are trade unions?

Trade unions are organisations that 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 questions 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. 

Membership fees

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 can contact your trade union. If you need to find out the right union for your job, contact the Australian Unions Support Centre on 1300 486 466 (Monday – Friday 9am-7pm AEST) 

For more information, you can visit 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. 

For more information about full-time, part-time and casual employment, check out our info page here. 

For more information about discrimination in the workplace, check out our info page here. 

What does right of entry mean?

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

  • speak to employees4 during work hours 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 Australian Unions Support Centre on 1300 486 466 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm AEST) or check enquire through their website.  You can also ring the Trades Hall or Labor Council in your State or Territory: 

State or Territory  Union  Contact number 
New South Wales  Unions NSW  (02) 9881 5999 
Victoria  Victorian Trades Hall Council  (03) 9659 3511 
Australian Capital Territory  Unions ACT  (02) 6225 8116 
Northern Territory  Unions NT  (08) 8941 0001 
Queensland  Queensland Unions  (07) 3010 2555 
South Australia  SA Unions 
Tasmania  Unions Tasmania  (03) 6216 7600 
Western Australia  Unions WA  (08) 6313 6000 


Where can I get further help?

Employees can test their knowledge about pay in the Fair Work Ombudsman’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, their help page or call the Fair Work Info line on 13 13 94. 

If you have a question about work, you can contact Youth Law Australia here. 

YLA would like to express thanks to Hall & Wilcox and the Fair Work Ombudsman for assisting us with the preparation of this material. 
This page was last updated in March 2022  

Got a question you can't get answered?

If you have a problem or a question, you can send it to us today and we can provide you with free advice, information and referrals to help solve your problem. Just click on the button below.

Get help now

Select Your State or Territory

The law is different in each state and territory. Please select your state or territory to view legal information that applies to you.