Know Your Rights : Union Membership





Union Membership


A union is an organisation of workers or employees who have joined together to achieve common goals.  These goals can include seeking higher pay and better working conditions, fighting for job security and protecting the integrity of a profession or trade.

Unions have won many important changes for workers like annual leave, equal pay for women, paid sick leave, superannuation and workers’ compensation.

There are currently almost one hundred unions in Australia, with over 2 million members.

Every Australian employee, whether part-time, full-time, casual, temporary, trainee or contract – can join a union. It’s illegal for an employer discriminate against you because you are a union member or because you want to join a union.

The most effective protection for members against victimisation or harassment by their employer is a strong and active union presence in the workplace.

However, there are also legal protections enshrined in legislation. This is often called freedom of association.

Under section 210 of the NSW Industrial Relations Act 1996, it is unlawful for an employer to victimise an employee because they:

  • are a member or official of a union (under industrial law, a delegate is deemed to be an official of the union, i.e. they are an elected representative)
  • claim a benefit to which they are entitled under an act, award or agreement
  • lodge a complaint about a breach of an award
  • appear in proceedings regarding an industrial matter (the Industrial Relations Commission)
  • engage in a public or political activity (unless it interferes with their work).


Sections 342, 346 and 347 of the Fair Work Act 2009 combine to provide protection for union members from any ‘adverse action’ by their employer. This includes union delegates representing or advancing the views of the union or encouraging other employees to participate in lawful activities organised by the union.

Prohibited action by the employer includes:

  • dismissal of the employee
  • altering a position to the employee’s detriment
  • discriminating against the employee
  • any action that ‘injures’ the employee in their employment.


Protections are also available to all members under Sections 104–109 of the Work Health and Safety Act (2011). These measures prevent an employer from discriminating against a worker in response to them exercising any function, power or responsibility under the Act. Fines of up to $500,000 can apply in relation to such conduct.

What union should I join?

Union membership is determined by the Rules of the union.

For salaried doctors in the NSW public sector and for many doctors employed in the private sector and non-government organisations the relevant union is ASMOF.

ASMOF has a legal right under State & Federal legislation and under our rules to represent members and actively recruit potential members. This means we can hold discussions in the workplace, investigate suspected contraventions of an Award or Agreement and we can also investigate breaches of workplace laws and WHS laws.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 the union is the automatic bargaining representative of members in enterprise bargaining. We are also entitled to represent members in all relevant tribunals and courts.


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