Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke has strongly endorsed the role of unions in Australia’s economic and political life. As reported on ABC radio today, the former Labor leader made it clear what he thinks of Labor Party moves to distance itself from the union movement. Download his soundbite below.

What the ACTU has won for workers

Key Achievements 1927-2004*


The 40 hour week adopted in January 1948. The 1983 national wage case reduced this to 38 hours and in 2002 an ACTU test case won the right for workers to refuse unreasonable overtime.


Indexed to inflation during the 1970s. The Accord from 1983 to 1996 improved the social wage by raising the living standards of working people through Medicare, welfare, family payments and housing. In 1997, the Living Wage determined award minimum rates of pay. Since that time the ACTU has won a $100 increase in the minimum wage a 10 per cent increase in real terms. In May 2004 the ACTU won a $19 a week increase and is seeking a $26.60 a week pay rise in 2005.

Annual leave

The right to one week paid annual leave was granted in 1941, along with sick leave. By 1970, annual leave had been extended to four weeks. Long service leave was adopted in 1953.

Maternity leave

Unpaid maternity leave was granted in 1971 and now stands at one year. A long-standing ACTU campaign for 14 weeks paid maternity leave has finally paid off with the Federal Government now providing all new mothers with a payment of up to $5000 on the birth of a child. The Work and Family Test Case is also currently considering an ACTU claim to double unpaid maternity leave from one year to two, as well as right to return to part-time work if desired.

Equal pay

By 1974 all women were finally entitled to equal pay for work of equal value, although women still earn less than men statistically.


The 1986 National Wage Case won 3 per cent universal super for all award workers. Compulsory super has since risen to 9 per cent through the Super Guarantee charge.


A 1984 test case established eight weeks severance pay as an award right for sacked workers. A 2004 test case achieved a doubling of this entitlement to 16 weeks redundancy pay and the extension of redundancy pay to small business employees.

*Sourced from M Denholm, DTE, 27/11/2002 – updated 26/11/2004

More achievements

For more ACTU achievements go to the Worksite factsheets on History of unions key achievements –