Trade unions have a layed a key role in the history of Australia. The list below highlights some of the key dates and events in Australia's union story.
1804 - Castle Hill Rebellion: protest on conditions and rations.?1828 - Masters and Servants Act of NSW provided that . "servants could be imprisoned and have their wages forfeited for refusal to work or for destruction of property, and that Masters found guilty of ill-usage should be liable to pay damages up to 6 months wages".
1829 - Typographers, supported by carpenters, successfully strike for payment in sterling, against currency reform, which threatened the value of wages.
1830 - Shipwrights union formed.
1831 - Boatbuilders union formed.
1833 - Cabinetmakers union formed.
1838 - Society of Compositors strike and win wage increase of 5s5d per week.
1840 - Society of Compositors campaign to restrict the number of apprentices. The government uses convict compositors as strike- breakers.
1843 - Economic depression leads to the formation of the Mutual Protection Society to protect the interests of the middle and working classes of N.S.W
1844 - The Early Closing Movement seeks the reduction of working hours from 14 to 12 per day.
1848 - Political activity of the working class leads to the formation of the Anti-Transportation League.
1850-1900 - This period saw the early development of Australian trade unions. Legislation had existed in Britain that outlawed unions, similar in intent to the Masters and Servants Act, until the passing of the Trade Union Act in 1871. The English and Irish anti-union legislation was not particularly successful in those countries, nor did it prevent union activity in Australia. Transportation ended in the eastern states in 1853, in Western Australia in 1868. Various craft unions were formed.
1850 - Stonemasons union formed.
1854 - The Eureka Stockade results in the deaths of 10 Irish, 2 Scots, 2 Canadians, 2 English, 2 Germans and 1 Australian.
1856 - The 8 Hour Day Movement is formed by the Stonemasons in Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne Trades Hall Committee helps unions to co-operate with each other.
1869 - Men of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station Victoria demand wage payments for their labour and official tenure of the station.
1870 - The Sydney Trades and Labor Council formed.
1873 - The Amalgamated Miners Association formed.
1873 - The first Seamans Unions formed in Sydney and Melbourne.
1878 - The Seamans Union organises the maritime strike against the use of cheap Chinese labour by the Australian United Steam Navigation Company.
1879 - The Inter-Colonial Trade Union Congress - the forerunner of the ACTU - is formed. Congress unanimously opposes Chinese immigration.
1881 - The N.S.W. Trade Union Act is passed giving union rights and registration.
1881 - Australia's First Communication Workers Union formed. The NSW Electrical Telegraph Committee of Seven established, subsequently reformed as the NSW Electrical Telegraph Society and then NSW Post and Telegraph Association (1891). These would go on to form the Australia's first federal trade union in 1900.
1882 - The Victorian Tailoresses Union is formed, as is the Waterside Workers Union.
1884 - The Intercolonial Trade Union Congress is attended by women delegates.
1885 - The first Board of Arbitration resolves the dispute in favour of the workers.
1886 - The Shearers Union formed.
1890 - Employers form the employers unions - the Pastoralists Union the Chamber of Manufacturers and the Steamship Owners Association.
1891 - The Shearers Union strike over freedom of contract.
1892 - Miners strike in Broken Hill over wage cuts and employment of scabs.
1894 - The Shearers Union strikes again on same issues. The Masters and Servants Act is used against the union - 23 years after England proclaimed the Trade Union Act. Women win the right to vote - for the first time in the world - in South Australia.
1896 - Intercolonial Trade Union Congress resolves to extend the restrictions on Chinese immigration to all non-European peoples.
1900 - Australian Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Officers Association (ACPTOA) formed from the joining together of 7 state associations - the first federal trade union in Australia's history. This trade union would go on to amalgamate with other future communication industry unions to form the Communication Workers Union of today.
1901 - NSW Industrial Arbitration Act. A lot of people talk about `enterprise bargaining' - this Act was the 1901 version. The aim was to make workplaces more productive by making them better places to work. It made arbitration compulsory, so, if a worker or an employer had a problem, it could be settled by having to go before the Industrial Relations Commission. The new Labor Party leader, William Lyne was behind the bill being made law. (Hagan 1981: p. 10, Yerbury et al 1992: p. 166)
1902 - Votes for women and the Commonwealth. Imagine not being allowed to vote, not because you weren't old enough but just because you were a woman! That's how it was up until 1902 when the Commonwealth Parliament first gave women the chance to vote at federal elections. Some states had already let women vote in their elections but this new law gave the ones that hadn't - Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania - a big push.
1907 - Tariffs Act links protectionist policy to payment of `fair and reasonable wages'. Employers were protected from the competition of imports so long as they were paying their employees `fair and reasonable wages'.
After 1907, that meant employers had to prove they were paying their workers what was set down as the minimum wage in the `Harvester Judgement'. That was how Australian industries were encouraged to succeed - employers were protected if their workers were too. The Customs Tariff Act, the Excise Tariff Act and the Australian Industries Preservation Act were the legal lynchpins behind making this happen. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 119)
1908 - Workers in the food industry band together and two new unions are formed. The workers that ground our wheat into flour and processed our raw products into consumable food formed the Federated Millers and Manufacturing Grocers Union in 1908.
1915 - BHP's Newcastle blast furnace begins production. Things really hotted up in Newcastle when the first blast furnace started up at BHP's ironworks. On 9 April 1915 the first steel ingots were produced; the first steel rails were manufactured on 24 April 1915. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 127)
1915 - Miners' Federation Formed. The origins of the CFMEU can be traced to 1915 when a national mining federation began to take shape. Representatives from the miners' associations of Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW gathered in Sydney to found a Miners' Federation. ?Unions of coal and mineworkers had existed periodically since the 1850s, but were usually destroyed by employer hostility, economic collapses in the industry or internal fighting. National unionism in the mining industry has continued to this day and in places where the CFMEU is the principle union, membership rates are close to 100 percent. Today's CFMEU members know that they are part of one of the most effective unions in Australia.
1916 - General coal strike wins better conditions for workers. The quest for higher wages, including payment for the time it took to travel to work, were at the heart of the 1 November 1916 coal strike in eastern Australia. The striking miners held out until 4 December 1916, when their demands were eventually met. Future Prime Minister Ben Chifley, a railway union Shop Steward, was jailed during the strike. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 129)
1920 - Piddington Royal Commission finds the œ4 basic wage inadequate. Led by Albert Bathurst Piddington, this Royal Commission reported on the cost of living and the basic wage. Four pounds a week was thought to be too little to live on so the Federal Arbitration Court decided there should be automatic wage rises each quarter linked to the cost of living. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 134)
1923 - Victorian police strike. Almost a third of Victoria's police force - 640 men - went on strike on 31 October 1923. The inspiration for the strike was low wages and an `internal supervisory system' which the policemen felt was spying on them. On 3 and 4 November, (the weekend before the Melbourne Cup), large crowds looted and rioted in the city. The Government put together a force of special constables to deal with the crisis. What's more, the policemen on strike were not reinstated. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 136)
1924 - Petrol refining began in Sydney and Melbourne. Clyde in New South Wales was home to the Shell Refining Company's first petrol refining operation. In the same year, Commonwealth Oil Refineries began production in Laverton, Victoria. Much of our manufactured goods were still imported from the United Kingdom and this continued until after World War I. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 137)
1925 - NSW Widows Pension scheme begins. One pound a week and 10 shillings for each additional child was what widows in New South Wales were paid to help them raise their children. The legislation to get the scheme up and running was passed the year before in 1925. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 138)
1927 - ACTU established. Organisation was the name of the game for Australia's trade union movement in 1927. On 3 May 1927 it became a reality at the Interstate Trade Union Congress held Melbourne Trades Hall Council. The Sydney Trades and Labor Council, Melbourne Trades Hall Council and United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia put forward the concept of an `all Australian Council of Trade Unions.' The result? They decided to set up the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). They elected a committee of seven to set out the Council's goals and structure.
1930 - Aborigines specifically excluded from the Federal Pastoral Industry awards. In the 1930s Aborigines in the Northern Territory were in high demand as station hands. Not only did they cope much better with Australia's hot outback conditions but they cost much less to employ.
1930 - Female wage set at 54 per cent of the male rate. Between œ2 9 shillings and œ4 11 shillings a week is not much these days, in fact it's less than $10.
1936 - Arbitration Court grants printing workers one week paid annual leave. A week of annual leave was awarded to printers on 31 December 1936, following arguments from their unions. Paid holiday leave had already been included in some state awards - printers got it because theirs was viewed as a prosperous industry. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 150)
1939 - Arbitration Court decides working week should not exceed 44 hours.
1941 - Silk Stocking Dispute led by Hal Lashwood (Actors Equity). Those in George Sorlie's entertainment company had it tough before 1941 - low pay, fines for coming to rehearsals late, arriving on stage late or talking loudly backstage and worst of all, the eight ballet girls were fined if they laddered their `management owned' silk stockings.
1944 - Unemployment and sickness benefits introduced by Federal Government. Proposals for unemployment and sickness benefits were first put before Federal Parliament in March 1944. Both benefits were passed and were to be paid out of government revenue. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 160)
1947 - Arbitration Court establishes principle of penalty rates for weekend work. A penalty rate might sound like something you have to pay but it's actually what your employer pays you for working outside of normal hours. On 31 March 1947 the Commonwealth Arbitration Court decided to introduce the principle of penalty rates for weekend work. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 163)
1950 - Basic wage judgment sets female rate at 75 per cent of male rate. In January 1949, the ACTU started a campaign to raise the Basic Wage to œ7 and 18 shillings. `Not big enough,' said the metal unions, `we're going for 10 pounds for both men and women.'
1953 - A national union for nurses. In 1953, the Australian United Nurses Association amalgamated with the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF), established in 1924, to become one of the largest unions in Australia.
1953 - Union membership peaks at 63 per cent of workforce. Union membership reached its peak in the 1950s when a hefty 63 per cent of the workforce were union members in 1953. This was hot on the heels of World War II and following some years of Robert Menzies hard line `anti-union' views. Newspaper headlines told of great unrest over strikes and wage demands.
1956 - Trouble on the waterfront. The `Hursey case' began at Hobart's waterfront in October 1956 when three members of the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) refused to pay a small amount of money towards the Labor Government's election campaign. In doing so, these men broke two golden rules of unionism - everyone acts collectively and decisions made by the majority of members apply to all members.
1960 - ACTU President RJ Hawke. So just how does someone end up being the Prime Minister of Australia? Well for ex-PM Bob Hawke it all started at the ACTU. Mr Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and started as a Research Officer at the ACTU in 1958.
1960 - Equal pay for work of equal value awarded (specifically female work not included).
1970 - Annual leave loading of 17.5 per cent in Metal Trades Award. Getting a bonus in your pay for going on holidays probably sounds like a good lurk but it resulted from some pretty sound 1970s logic.
1973 - Maternity leave awarded. `Maybe baby' or maybe not.
1975 - Medibank, Australia's new national health scheme is introduced. On 1 July 1975, Medibank was born. The new national public health scheme offered free medical treatment and basic hospital care in public hospitals. Every state had signed an agreement by 1 October to give them their piece of the Medibank pie. On a state level, the Federal Government agreed to meet 50 per cent of the net operating costs in the State public hospitals. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 198)
1975 - Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, sacks Whitlam Government. Before the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam could advise the Governor General Sir John Kerr that he wanted a half-senate election, Sir John had sent Gough and his Labor Government on their way and asked Malcolm Fraser to be PM in a caretaker government. Australians often refer to this as `the dismissal.' When Fraser took the job on, both houses of parliament were dissolved and an election was held. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 199)
1980 - 38 hour week introduced. During the 1980s, a 38 hour working week became a national standard across Australia. This followed union and ACTU campaigns.
1980 - A healthy union ahead of its time. All through the 1980s and early 1990s most of Australia's old trade unions joined to form industry unions. But not the HSUA! Why not, we hear you say? The HSUA has operated as an industry union (not a trade union) since its formation in 1911. It means the HSUA represents workers throughout the entire health and community services industry, not just workers doing certain types of work, or trades, within that industry.
1982 - BHP announces retrenchment of up to 10,000 steelworkers. BHP reduced its steelmaking workforce by approximately 30 per cent when 10,000 steelworkers lost their jobs on 27 August 1982.
1983 - ACTU / ALP Accord. How do you reduce unemployment and inflation at the same time, reduce industrial disputes and provide an approach to developing policies which suit the majority of Australians on both an economic and social level? Get the ACTU and the Hawke/Keating Labor Party - the government of the time - to develop a framework for looking at Australia's big picture economic issues and call it the Price and Incomes Accord or just `The Accord.'
1986 National wage case decision awards superannuation. What do you call the money you put away during your working life to live on when you retire? Superannuation - and prior to 1986 only a select group of workers received it - mostly public servants and middle and senior managers. Superannuation became universal for workers following the National Wage Case in 1986.
1990 - LHMU develops first federal award for `supported employees'. The Supported Employment Business Enterprise Award was the first federal award for workers in sheltered workshops or `supported employees'. Flagstaff Industries is a factory that produces canvas and leisure goods. It employs about 100 disabled people.
In 1990, the FMWU became very aware of the needs of disabled workers as part of developing the first award to represent them. The Award - based on the Metal Trade Standard - covered all Flagstaff's disabled workers, except managers. It was a big step in recognising the needs and rights of this special `industry.' (LHMU 1990: p. 1)
1994 - Abolition of the award system in Victoria. An `award' is what is `awarded' to a group (of occupations, industries or enterprises) by an Industrial Tribunal, it sets out their working conditions and rates of pay.
In 1994, all Victorian state awards which had existed at 1 March 1993 were abolished by the Coalition State Government. To stop employees being forced into individual or collective contracts, many unions worked to create federal awards for members who had previously been covered by Victorian state awards. (Yerbury 1992: p. 30)
1995 - Weipa dispute. The then Federal Opposition (and current Federal Coalition Government) push for employees to be on individual workplace agreements instead of awards was put to the test during the Weipa dispute.
1996 - First female President of the ACTU - Jennie George. Jennie George made the news again when she became the first woman President of the ACTU. Jennie didn't just sit and wait for the presidency to fall in her lap - she was President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation from 1986-1989, Vice-President of the ACTU in 1987 and the Assistant National Director of the Trade Union Training Authority from 1989-1991. (Information Australia 1992: p. 342-343)
1996 - End of Accord era. The `Accord' was an agreement between the ACTU and the former Federal Labor Government. They used it to develop a joint approach to economic issues.
1996 - Living Wage Case. A fair and reasonable wage for all Australian workers - that's what the ACTU Living Wage claim is all about.