I have always believed in the power of the collective, the solidarity of a union, as the greatest force for change not only in workplaces but in society. Alone, we can feel powerless, but together and united – and organised - we can achieve great things.”
Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU and member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is the peak body for Australian unions, made up of 38 affiliated unions who together represent about 1.8 million workers and their families.
Since its creation in 1927, the ACTU has spearheaded some of the most fundamental workplace struggles in Australia’s history.
The industrial gains are many: decades of wage increases through the award system and campaigns in the field, safer workplaces, greater equality for women, improvements in working hours, entitlements to paid holidays and better employment conditions, and the establishment of a universal superannuation system.
The ACTU has played a role in all of these achievements. It has contributed to fairness and justice in the community as well – contributing to Australia’s post-war development and immigration program, the social security system, Medicare and education - to name just a few.
In the mid-2000s, the ACTU led a broad coalition of unions, churches and community groups to oppose the Howard Government’s unfair and radical industrial relations changes.
The ultimate goal of the Your Rights at Work campaign was to see the Howard Government's so-called "WorkChoices" legislation torn up and fairer laws put in their place. This objective was achieved with the passage of the new Fair Work Act, which came into operation in July 2009.
Other recent achievements by unions have included the introduction of a universal Paid Parental Leave scheme for all Australian workers in 2010, and the increase in the superannuation guarantee to 12%, beginning in 2013.
In 2011, the ACTU launched a new focus on insecure work, which has grown to 40% of the Australian workforce over the past two decades and is having a detrimental effect on families and communities. A national inquiry into insecure work, headed by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, produced a landmark report, Lives On Hold: Unlocking the Potential of Australia's Workforce.
Unions are active every day campaigning in workplaces and communities around Australia for better job security, pay and conditions, rights at work, healthier and safer workplaces, and a fairer and more equal society.
The ACTU's role as peak body is to co-ordinate union campaigns, represent workers at a range of government and non-government forums in Australia and overseas, and to provide industrial, policy and other support to affiliates.
The ACTU has four elected officers, and an elected Executive of representatives from affiliates and state and territory trades and labour councils. The peak decision making body, ACTU Congress, meets every three years.
Its head office is in Melbourne, with smaller offices in other state capitals.