What is a union?

Unions are organisations that workers create when they come together to improve their wages and conditions. The workplace rights we have today were won by unions, like:

  • Weekends
  • Sick leave
  • Annual Leave
  • Parental Leave
  • Meal breaks
  • Workplace health and safety laws

As well as schemes we now take for granted:

  • Medicare
  • Superannuation
  • Minimum wage

Trade union history  

Union members have been instrumental in winning proper pay and conditions for all workers.  

In 1969 after decades of campaigning, union women won a decision from the Arbitration Commission that women should get “equal pay for equal work”.  

This ensured that women who performed the same job as a man could no longer be underpaid, just because she is a woman.  

But undervalued, female dominated industries were not covered by this decision.  


The Australian Social Welfare Union, one of the predecessor unions of the ASU, was formed in 1976 and immediately began campaigning for an Award for social and community sector workers nationally.  

The case went all the way to the High Court and made headlines for changing the face of Australian law.  

This case paved the way for the community sector (and many other human services) to be recognised as “industries” that could have Awards made, overturning decades of precedent.  

ASU Life Member Fran Hayes was instrumental as the first organiser for the ASWU, and has written a book about the campaign for the CYSS Award in 1977-1985, called Struggle, Hope and Victory.  

Watch her story here:

The history of the Australian Services Union reflects the ambitious nature of the union today. 

ASU members gained equal pay for women in the community services sector, delivering the first ever workplace agreement to provide domestic violence leave and protecting hard won conditions and entitlements. 

We stood by our members for almost a decade after they were stood down after the collapse of ANSETT, and our members received 96 cents in the dollar, when many thought that their entitlements had been lost forever. 

We were the first to organise white collar workers known as clerks during the early years of Federation, the first to organise today’s digital economy (then known as the computing industry) and responsible for defining a recognised ‘industry’ in social and community services which had previously not been recognised. 

We continue to extend on the role the union has played over more than a century, taking on issues others see as too hard, or too ambitious. See what achievements we made in our last decade, as we look forward to what we can achieve together in the decade to come.

Equal Pay

"Today is a day in a generation – a day for all women to celebrate" Former ASU Secretary Sally McManus

ASU members campaigned for Equal Pay for years. We rallied, we danced, we had flash mobs, we spoke to the media and met with politicians. Union members made a lot of noise because we needed to make a difference.

We love the work we do, but we deserve to be paid a fair amount.

Lots of people told us that we were fighting for the impossible. But on February 1, 2012 we won.

The ASU and the Gillard Government had reached an agreement and on February 1, now known as Equal Pay Day, the Fair Work Commission awarded all ASU members equal pay.

The case and campaign has resulted in real wage increases of between 23% – 45% over eight years.

On 1 December 2012 all NSW and ACT SACS workers began receiving their first ASU Equal Pay increase. This was the first of eight equal pay increases coming to workers because of the ASU's successful Equal Pay case and campaign.

Former ASU Secretary Sally McManus said on February 1, 2012 that “today is a day in a generation – a day for all women to celebrate”.

The ASU’s Equal Pay campaign was a historic victory won by active, strong and united members.
Recent history of the ASU

  • 2010: Portable Long Service Leave Commences: Portable Long Service Leave Commences in the ACT for Social and Community Services workers. This historic achievement is used to successfully argue for the same conditions in other states, with Victoria commencing their leave programs in 2019 and Queensland in 2020.
  • 2010: Australia-first, Domestic Violence Leave: ASU reaches first agreement to gain victims of domestic violence 20 days of paid leave. This Australia-first deal between the Surf Coast Shire Council and the Australian Services Union, was the world's most progressive workplace agreement on family violence at that time. Since then millions of workers across many industries have been covered by similar agreements supported by their unions, using the ASU template.
  • 2010: Former Ansett staff final payment: The ASU stood by former ANSETT staff after the airline collapsed in the early 2000’s. The tenacity of our union saw members receive 96 cents in the dollar of their entitlements. In total, employees received $727.5 million. At the time of the ANSETT collapse many thought they would not receive anything. The ASU will always be by your side.
  • 2010: Torres Strait Islanders gain ceremonial leave: ASU advocacy through the Fair Work Commission changes modern awards to include Torres Strait Islanders access to 10 days ceremonial leave - a clear oversight that was acted upon by the ASU.
  • 2012: Victory on Equal Pay: "Today is a day in a generation – a day for all women to celebrate" said then ASU Secretary Sally McManus. ASU members campaigned for Equal Pay. Many said it couldn’t be achieved. The ASU and the Gillard Government reached agreement on February 1, and the Fair Work Commission awarded a real wage increase of 23% – 45% over eight years. We love the work we do, and we deserved to be paid a fair amount.
  • 2014: Use Your Power: Between 2014 and 2017 we stopped the proposed privatisation of Western Power in WA. Privatisation, first pitched up in the 2014 State Budget, uniting ASU members, ETU members and the community in their opposition. Western Power privatisation became a major election issue for undecided voters, and the threat ended when the Barnett Government lost office in 2017.
  • 2017: Federal Government Abandoned Changes to Paid Parental Leave: ASU members working together stared down the threat by the Federal Government to remove the hard won Paid Parental Leave rights in over 420 ASU agreements. We are ambitious to see our members with good pay and leave entitlements.
  • 2020: We saved Equal Pay funding! 
  • 2022: Paid domestic violence leave 

I joined because I wanted someone to be by my side, someone that would actually have my back if anything went wrong
Clifford Out of Home Care Support Worker

Pay rise for community and disability workers

We're calling for a wage increase for workers in the community and disability sector in the Annual Wage Review in the Fair Work Commission. 28/03/2024