When the band 'Strawbs' sang "Part of the
Union" in 1973, it enjoyed considerable commercial
It was a time of turmoil in the workplace in England and was
characterised as involving radical industrial action, walking off
the job, or in American parlance "wild cat
The song may well have been somewhat tongue in cheek.
In part the lyrics provide:
"I say what I think
That the company stinks
Yes, I'm a Union man"
In modern Australian law, whilst a union member enjoys certain
protections, which have been more traditionally referred to as
freedom of association and freedom from victimisation and recently
referred to as a union member shall not be the subject of
"adverse action", the reality is that neither a union
member nor a union delegate can say anything that comes into their
In the workplace, you remain an employee and you also need to be
cautious of what you say outside the workplace.
There is case law that has clearly developed that an employee
should not engage in conduct which may do damage to the reputation
of the employer including on social media.
In the song there is a refrain:
"Oh you don't get me
I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
Till the day I die, till the day I die"
If that is meant to convey you can't get me because I am
part of the union, and presumably is a reference to the
relationship between the employee as a union member and the
employer, then again in modern Australia, this is completely
There are protections for union members. However, being a union
member or a delegate is not a shield against reasonable management
action, which is not motivated, in whole or in part, by you being a
member of the union or a delegate.
Further lyrics from the song also do not reflect Modern
Australia such as:
"The sight of my card
Makes me some kind of superman"
It is not so much you are a superman, but rather you have
exercised your right of freedom of association which is protected
by law in Australia.
Protections include in the NSW Industrial Relations Act
in s 210 which states in part:
Freedom from victimisation
An employer or industrial organisation must not victimise an
employee or prospective employee because the person:
is or was a member or an official of an industrial organisation
of employees or otherwise an elected representative of
The Fair Work Act provides protections for freedom of
association, i.e. your right to be a member of your union and a
union member exercising a workplace right.
Again these protections are not without limit and recent the
High Court decision of CFMEU and BHP Coal established the union
member was not protected from disciplinary action when the member,
during a stoppage of work, which was protected industrial action,
participated in roadside protests. More specifically signs were
held up stating "No Principles Scabs No guts."
The employee was terminated for the manner in which he
participated in the protests. The High Court found the termination
did not breach the Act.
Whilst any union member or delegate may well be suspicious of an
employer's motivation when it comes time for enterprise
bargaining, there is a requirement for bargaining in good faith.
Further, at times there can be a requirement for an employer to
produce information and documentation to support contentions they
advance in good faith bargaining.
There needs to be an insight, that propositions such as:
"As Union man I am wise to
the lies of the company spies
And I don't get fooled
By the factory rules
Because I always read between the lines"
Do not reflect the industrial reality. Such reality includes
bargaining in good faith and this can include robust
negotiation and further accessing employers' information
Complying with workplace safety directions
Complying with reasonable and lawful directions.
In conclusion whilst there are legislative protections for union
members with assurances of freedom of association, such protections
do not exist in isolation. As to the song, by all means enjoy it
but do not think it represents the law in Australia. The more
accurate lyric may well be 'You can't get me because I
choose to be part of a Union.'
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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