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Working with unions

Working with unions

Unions are ubiquitous for all sizes of businesses, particularly in the trades. Find out what you need to know about working with unions and union leaders and get some resources to help you navigate a successful relationship with them.


Unions act on behalf of members in order to represent their rights around pay, safety and working conditions and are registered with the Fair Work Commission. While historically unions have sometimes been perceived as disruptive to business, working positively with them can help your operation run more smoothly.

Work together

Unions don’t have to be your enemy. Working with them can help you build a stronger workforce and more satisfied employees. For example, briefing union leaders in advance of any staff changes you’re considering may mean they can help you come up with solutions that could save someone’s job and also benefit your business.

You can also work with unions to address a poorly performing employee’s behaviour before it reaches a point of termination. For example, an underperforming employee may be stressed about childcare issues. A union could help the employee find a solution, which could in turn help improve the employee’s performance. 

As long as a union is informed in advance, it could save you the costly task of having to replace an employee.

Promote a positive relationship

Having a more open and honest relationship with unions can help your business run more smoothly.

One objective of unions is to ensure the safety of their members. You could invite union leaders to have an open discussion with you about how to improve safety in the workplace. This could potentially have a positive impact on your business and build trust in your relationship with unions.

Understand obligations

Employers and unions have to abide by certain laws and regulations. For example, unions can only meet with employees during non-paid hours, such as break times. Employers can also speak to the Fair Work Commission if they disagree with the frequency of union visits to the workplace. 

Unions don’t have to be a negative influence on your business. Fostering a more collaborative and honest relationship with them can ultimately help you get the most out of your staff.


Engaging proactively with unions can help minimise workplace tensions, but it’s important to be aware of Fair Work legislation – especially in relation to disgruntled employees. Learn more about your obligations if a complaint is made.

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