An Incomplete and Unfinished History


History predominantly sourced from the ACTU History page. MASSIVE thanks!

1804 Castle Hill Rebellion: protest on conditions and rations.


1822 James Straighter, convict shepherd sentenced to 500 lashes, one month solitary confinement on bread and water, and five years penal servitude for ... "inciting his Masters' servants to combine for the purposes of obliging him to raise the wages and increase their rations".

1844 The Early Closing Movement seeks the reduction of working hours from 14 to 12 per day.


1856 The 8 Hour Day Movement is formed by the Stonemasons in Melbourne and Sydney.


1881 The N.S.W. Trade Union Act is passed giving union rights and registration.

1904 Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission established.


1920 44 hour week awarded to timberworkers and engineers. Others follow suit.


1927 ACTU is formed.


1948 Queensland Railways strike runs for 9 weeks. Queensland meat dispute - following a campaign organised by the ACTU. 40 hour week is gained.

1949 The Coal Strike for 35 hour week and Long Service Leave result in the use of troops under the "National Emergency (Coal Strike) Act".

1963 Annual Leave of 3 weeks becomes standard.

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1973 Four weeks annual leave.


1981 38 hour week is achieved in federal Metal Industry and other awards. ACTU expands after the merger of the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisation (CAGEO).

1984 Job Protection Case. National Occupational Health & Safety Commission is established.

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1995 ACTU wins Personal Carers' Leave Test case.

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1996 Howard Government elected - introduces Workplace Relations Act, reducing workers entitlements under awards and severely limiting unions' capacity to organise and pursue members' interests.

1998 MUA dispute - union movement stands together and, with community support, wins a great victory against employer and Government attacks on the right to organise and be a union member.



2001 ACTU takes landmark Reasonable Hours Test Case to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

2002 ACTU holds Working Hours Summit. Unions in the construction industry begin securing 36 hour week for members.

2004 A union-led campaign for fair compensation for asbestos victims of James Hardie culminates in the largest personal injury settlement in Australian history.

2005 Unions launch the Your Rights at Work community campaign against the Howard Government’s proposed new workplace laws. On November 15, more than half-a-million Australians, many linked by a Sky Channel broadcast, gathered in capital cities and towns in a national day of protest.

2012 Labor Government passes legislation to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

2016 Malcolm Turnbull’s Government re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The CFMEU, alongside other unions, arguesThe CFMEU, alongside other unions, argues it severely threatens workers’ rights and makes workplaces less safe.

Photo courtesy CFMEU Construction and General

2017 While deeming 10 days of unpaid Domestic Violence Leave “necessary” and that it should be inserted into modern awards as a mandatory entitlement, the Fair Work Commission rejects unions’ claims that this leave needs to be paid.

The We Won’t Wait campaign continues to push for paid leave, so people experiencing domestic violence can take time to go to hospital, a court, solicitors etc. without suffering a financial impact. continues to push for paid leave, so people experiencing domestic violence can take time to go to hospital, a court, solicitors etc. without suffering a financial impact.

we wont wait


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