Union delegates

In the video above, four union delegates from four different industries share their stories about building better workplaces. 

If that’s inspired you to become a delegate – fantastic. Keep reading to find out more about what it means to be a delegate and how can they improve your workplace. 

But one key thing you should know is that to vote for a delegate, or become a delegate yourself, you must be a union member. You can join your union now if you haven’t already.

What union delegates do

Union delegates can be found in a whole variety of workplaces across the country. Delegates (also known as ‘shop stewards’ or ‘union reps’) are there so you and your workmates are treated fairly and with respect at work. 

As fellow employees, delegates automatically share some common experiences with you. They are in the best position to support you and other union members in the workplace to stand up for your rights.  

When you’re a union member and you encounter a problem or want to talk about making possible changes in your workplace, your delegate is the first person to approach. When you’ve got delegates at work, you never have to push through difficulties alone.

The purpose of having a delegate (or delegates) at work is to:

  • Act as a first point of contact for members 
  • Represent members’ interests to management 
  • Share information from union organisers to members and vice versa 
  • Conduct workplace meetings  
  • Facilitate discussions to resolve issues 
  • Make sure members know their rights at work 
  • Encourage involvement in wider union campaigns 
  • Represent members in meetings or attend as a support person
  • Engage in enterprise bargaining negotiations on your behalf

Any conversation you have with a delegate can be conducted in confidentiality. A delegate won’t pass on anything you’ve said to your employer unless you wish it.

How to become a union delegate

If you’re already a delegate, good on you! Don’t forget you can access delegate training courses from the Australian Trade Union Institute.  

Otherwise, these are the two first steps you need to take towards becoming a delegate: 

  1. Joining your union if you haven’t already.
  1. Contact your union. They will guide you through the process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Definitely. The more employees there are, the more delegates there should be so delegates aren’t overwhelmed while making sure every member’s voice is heard.

Having multiple delegates also means if delegates are sick, on holiday, or leave the job, there are other delegates who can fill in for them. 

Other than being a pillar of support for fellow union members at work, there are additional reasons why you might want to become a delegate.

  1. You are trained in useful and transferable skills like advanced negotiation, public speaking and facilitation. 
  2. You gain experience in ‘soft skills’ like emotional intelligence, leadership, teamwork and critical thinking.  
  3. Even when you change workplaces, you’ll find that your in-depth knowledge of work rights will always serve you well.
  4. You get that warm, glowing feeling of having done some good!

A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is similar to a delegate in that they’re a union member elected by their workmates to represent them.  

The key difference is that HSRs only act on Work Health and Safety issues i.e. anything that affects the physical and/or mental health of workers. As such, HSRs have different powers to delegates.

Learn more about Health and Safety Representatives and what they can do for your workplace.  

A union delegate is an employee elected by other union members in the same workplace to represent their interests. Whereas a union organiser is a union official who works for the union, rather than an employee, who liaises with delegates across multiple workplaces to address union members’ issues.

No, delegates do not get any pay from the union for being a delegate.

Depending on the workplace, delegates can do some union activities on paid work time such as delegate training courses or having conversations with fellow union members.

That said, it’s no coincidence that on average, union members earn 26 per cent more than non-members. Having a unionised workplace with strong delegates makes a difference! 

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Do you want some further information about Union delegates?

The Australian Unions Support Centre provides free and confidential assistance and information for all workplace issues. We’re here to provide support, regardless of your job or industry.

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