About Unions NSW

Unions NSW (formerly The Labor Council of NSW and the Trades and Labor Council of Sydney) represents over 600,000 union members and has been fighting for the rights of working people in Australia since 1871.

Today Unions NSW is the voice for working people across the state.

As the peak body for the state’s trade unions, we campaign in workplaces to ensure union members get a fair go, with decent wages and conditions.

We argue publicly for policies and laws that support the right of working people to live with dignity.

Unlike unions, which have workers as their members, Unions NSW has affiliated unions and Regional Trades & Labor Councils as its members. Unions NSW is an organisation funded by its members and is not funded through government.

Unions NSW Annual Reports
About Unions

History of Unions NSW

Unions NSW has been fighting for the rights of working people in Australia since 1871.

The push for the Eight Hour Day had begun with skilled tradespeople in the 1850s, but other workers were missing out.

The collective strength of the Trades and Labor Council of Sydney, as Unions NSW was known until 1908, allowed labourers to organise alongside the skilled trades unions to improve their rights, conditions and wages.

In the 1950s, the Labor Council led a campaign for equal wages for women. This was slow in coming, with women’s pay gradually moving from half to two-thirds of the male rate. It wasn’t until 1972 that the right to equal pay was enshrined by the Whitlam Labor government.

In the postwar years the Labor Council fought and won battles for other major improvements in the lives of workers, including the introduction of long service leave, expansion of sick leave entitlements, an increase in annual leave (from one week pre-WWII to four weeks from the early 1970s) and a reduction in working hours (from 44 per week to 40 per week by 1947).

Later, the Labor Council led campaigns for a 35-hour week, which were largely unsuccessful, but the 38 hour week did become the norm from the 1980s.

The Labor Council was also instrumental in establishing the first work-based childcare centre in Australia. Following on from this, Unions NSW was able to prosecute the case for family and carers leave, cultural leave for those from various religious and cultural backgrounds, breastfeeding rights at work and drug and alcohol programs.

With the onset of recession from the mid-1980s Unions NSW played a key role in ensuring decent standards of redundancy payments for workers forced out by technological change and restructuring. The NSW standard became the benchmark for Australia.