Union membership

A union is a body that represents the interests of workers in a particular industry or occupation.

Membership of a union

All employees and independent contractors are free to join or not join a union. This is also known as freedom of association.

It's illegal for a person to pressure another person about their choice to join or not join a union. For example:

  • an employer can't pressure an employee
  • a business can't pressure an independent contractor working with them.

It’s also illegal to take or threaten to take adverse action against a person for:

  • being or not being a union member
  • taking part or not taking part in industrial activity, or
  • choosing to be represented, or not to be represented, by a union.

An adverse action against a person includes:

  • dismissing them
  • refusing to employ them
  • changing their role to put them in a worse position
  • changing their terms and conditions to put them in a worse position
  • discriminating between them and other employees.

Freedom of association also extends to employers. They can choose whether to join an employer association or not.

Adverse action can breach general protections laws in the Fair Work Act. Visit Protections at work for more information.

Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.342, 346, 350 and 772

Tools and resources

Related information

Resolving general protections issues

For employees:

Contact the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) first if you've lost your job and you think you were fired because of:

You have 21 days starting from the day after you were dismissed to lodge an application with the Commission. Check the information at the Commission's website to find out if you can apply for:

  • a general protections dismissal
  • unfair dismissal (not available if you lost your job because of a genuine Redundancy)
  • unlawful termination.

For other general protections issues, consider whether the action taken against you was unlawful after reading the information on this page.

See our Fixing a workplace problem section for practical advice on:

  • talking to your employer about fixing a workplace problem
  • getting help from us if you still can’t resolve the problem.

For employers:

Take general protections issues seriously. After you’ve read the information on this page, speak with your employee to address the problem.

We have resources to help you:

Help for small business