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Unions and industrial action

information about joining a union, going on strike, and a workers rights to do this.

What is a union?

A union is a collection of employees who work together for the benefit of their membership. Union representatives bargain with employers to negotiate better wages and conditions, and ensure that the workplaces comply with occupational health and safety requirements.

Union organisations also lobby state and commonwealth governments trying to influence legislation and policy that will benefit workers generally (Remember the 'Your rights at work' campaign after 'work choices law' was introduced?)

Unions are able to represent individual members and groups of employees if there is a dispute with their employer. They may be able to give free legal advice to members about discrimination, harassment or unfair treatment in the workplace. They can also advise an individual employee member who has a dispute with their employer.

See Australian unions—Why join a union?(opens in a new window)

Regulation of unions

Most unions offer membership to people in one or more industries. Both unions and employer organisations (organisations that support the interests of members who are employers) must be registered with the Fair Work Commission.

To find which union covers an area of employment see 'References' (link below)

Joining a union is voluntary

Union membership is voluntary. Union membership costs a certain amount each week, usually about $10, depending on which union is representing the employees and how much an employee earns.

All employees have a right to join a union if they want to. This is called 'freedom of association'. An employer can not discriminate against an employee because of their union membership or lawful union activity. Union membership costs are tax deductable.

Choosing to be in a union is workplace right

Freedom of association is protected under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The law prevents an employer from taking adverse action against an employee who chooses to or not to exercise a workplace right. Independent contractors are protected by similar provisions.

An adverse action includes:

  • discriminating against an employee or prospective employee
  • dismissal
  • injury
  • changing an employee's position resulting in disadvantage to the employee
  • refusing to offer the employee a job
  • an employee (or independent contractor) taking unlawful industrial action against an employer.

See 'Dismissal in breach of general protections' (link below)


Employees or employers who are found to have breached the general protection provisions under the Act face a fine of up to 60 penalty units.

See Value of one penalty unit' (below)

More information


Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

  • Part 2-4 Enterprise agreements

See Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)(opens in a new window)

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth)

  • s. 13—functions of Fair Work Commission
  • Chapter 2 Part 2—provides for registration of associations
  • s. 19—criteria for registration
  • Chapter 5—rules of organisations
  • s. 337F—functions and powers of Fair Work Commission

See Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth)(opens in a new window)


Fair Work Commission

This statutory body has a detailed guide to the procedure for making an enterprise agreement. It includes the steps involved and what kinds of things can be included in the bargain and the way votes are to be conducted.

See Fair Work Commission—Guide—Making an enterprise agreement(opens in a new window)

For information about registration of unions and employer organisations see Fair Work Commission—Registered organisations(opens in a new window)

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

This peak union body can put an employee in touch with their union. A list of unions is in the 'ACTU National directory on-line'.

See Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)(opens in a new window)

Australian Unions

This site directs people to the appropriate union for their job. It also answers frequently asked questions about what unions can and can't do to help employees. It has an online help line, a union directory and a page to explain the benefits of joining a union.

See Australian unions—Why join a union?(opens in a new window)

Value of one Commonwealth penalty unit

The penalty scales under Commonwealth law are different to those under Victorian law. Commonwealth penalty scales are explained in the Crimes Act 1914. The current rate is $222.

This only applies to offences committed after 30 June 2020.


This amount is indexed

This amount is indexed and so increases from time to time to retain the real value of the penalty. Immediately before 1 July 2020, the penalty amount was $210.