Union Delegates

What is a delegate and what do they do?

Union delegates (also known as shop stewards or union reps) are employees who are representatives of the union.

The Fair Work Act defines a delegate as: “a person appointed or elected, in accordance with the rules of an employee organisation, to be a delegate or representative (however described) for members of the organisation who work in a particular enterprise.”

As fellow employees (and members), 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 changes in your workplace, your delegate is the first person to approach. Any conversation you have with a delegate is confidential.

Being part of a union gives you collective power, and that means working with delegates who can help negotiate better terms and conditions.

If you’d like to become a delegate, contact your union; they will guide you through the process.

The purpose of having a delegate (or more than one) 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

If you’re already a delegate, you can access delegate training courses from the Australian Trade Union Institute.

The Institute also offers education on the new delegates’ rights that became law on 15 December 2023, thanks to union campaigning. See more details below.

New laws that affect delegates

The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Act 2023 amended the Fair Work Act 2009 which included changes to delegates’ rights.

These changes were effective from 15 December 2023.

How have the changes strengthened the role of the delegate?

Delegates now have the right to represent the interests of potential members. Delegates have also been given the right to reasonable communication with members and potential members when it comes to work matters.

Additionally, delegates now have reasonable access to paid time off during normal working hours to make sure they have the skills they need to better represent the needs of the workforce.

Have the changes given any instructions to employers?

They have. Under this new act, a delegate’s employer must not unreasonably fail or refuse to deal with a delegate on a workplace matter. The employer must not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading representation to the delegate or unreasonably hinder, obstruct, or prevent the delegate’s duties.  

In a nutshell, employers should be engaging with the union in good faith to help address workplace issues.

How will the changes better embed delegates’ rights at work?

Under the changes, modern awards and enterprise agreements must include delegates’ rights terms from 1 July 2024 onwards.

The Fair Work Commission will be required to vary Awards to include a delegates’ rights term. An enterprise agreement that’s voted on after this date must include a delegates’ rights term and if it includes a term less favourable than the relevant award, the award term will be taken to apply.

FAQ

Definitely. The more employees (and members) there are, the more delegates you should aim to have in your workplace!

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.

A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is similar to a delegate in that they’re 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.

A union delegate is an employee in the workplace that represent workers’ interests. A union Organiser works for the union, and liaises with delegates across multiple workplaces to address union members’ issues.

Enter your email to access our expert workplace information

Almost two million union members have contributed to us providing this free workplace factsheet. Because you’ve read a few of our factsheets, we’re asking for your email address to keep reading. This is so we can keep you updated with the latest news and workplace advice.

Don’t worry: our factsheets will always remain free, thanks to the solidarity of the union movement.

View our Privacy Policy

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.

All Support Centre enquiries are 100% confidential.

Contact Australian Unions

Ready to join a union?


The best way to make sure your rights at work are protected is to join a union.

Join your union