The role of unions
Important information for the building and construction industry
From 10 November 2022, there are changes to who regulates the commercial building and construction industry. Find out more at Important information for the building and construction industry.
Learn about the role of unions in the workplace and about bargaining with unions.
On this page:
Unions are bodies that represent the interests of workers in particular industries or occupations. Unions play an important role in the workplace.
Some of their key roles include being able to resolve workplace issues by being a voice for employees and acting as a bargaining representative during bargaining negotiations.
Other responsibilities of unions include ensuring employers are meeting their minimum obligations and looking into suspected breaches of:
- workplace laws
- discrimination laws
- workplace safety laws.
Bargaining is a process where employers and employees negotiate the terms and conditions of an enterprise agreement.
Employers and employees can be represented by a bargaining representative during this process. Normally the bargaining representative for employees will be a union.
All bargaining representatives and other parties involved in the process have to bargain in good faith.
They also have to follow rules about disclosing benefits that they or a person related to them might get from a proposed enterprise agreement that they're a bargaining representative for. This means that if unions and employers are bargaining for an enterprise agreement, and either of them (or a related person) will or could get a financial benefit from something in the proposed agreement, they have to make sure that everyone else in the bargaining process knows about it. This includes employees who will be covered by the agreement.
If either the union or employer has to disclose a benefit, they have to create a 'disclosure document' that says:
- which term/s in the proposed agreement is beneficial
- the type of benefit, and as far as possible, how much each benefit will be for each person who will benefit (or if not possible, how that amount will be worked out)
- the name of each person who will benefit.
A union who creates a disclosure document has to give it to the employer, who then has to provide it to the employees. An employer who creates a disclosure document has to give it to their employees.
The Registered Organisations Commission has detailed information and advice about these rules. They are the independent regulator of unions and employer associations. Read more on their corrupting benefits page.
The Fair Work Commission provides information on:
- how to make an enterprise agreement
- the rules on bargaining, including good faith bargaining and resolving disputes about bargaining.