History of Unions NSW
Unions NSW began as the Trades and Labor Council of Sydney in 1871. We are proud of our role in making NSW a fairer and more prosperous place for working men and women to live. Early in our history, we were part of the push to make sure the Eight-Hour Day was extended to all workers, not just the skilled tradespeople who had won it in the 1850s. The collective strength of the then Trades and Labor Council of Sydney allowed labourers to organise alongside the skilled trades unions to improve their rights, conditions and wages. In the 1950s, now re-badged as the Labor Council, we 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 and an increase in annual leave. 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.