How to become a Trade Union Official

Trade union officials work to maintain and improve the wages, conditions and employment opportunities of workers in particular occupations or industries. In some unions, trade union officials are elected from the union's membership, but in others they are appointed to paid positions.

Personal requirements of a Trade Union Official

  • Interested in trade union activities
  • Good negotiation and communication skills
  • Able to deal with employers and workers at all levels
  • Able to stay calm in difficult situations and handle controversial and emotional issues objectively and analytically

Education & Training for a Trade Union Official

There are no specific educational requirements to become a trade union official. Unions provide on-the-job and formal training. People often enter this occupation after experience in industry. Entry to this occupation may be improved if you have qualifications. You may like to consider a VET qualification in human resources management, management or work health and safety. As subjects and prerequisites can vary between institutions, you should contact your chosen institution for further information. You can also become a trade union official by studying industrial relations, human resource management or occupational health and safety at university. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English and mathematics are normally required. A number of universities in Australia offer degrees in these areas. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements or offer external study. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information.

Duties & Tasks of a Trade Union Official

Trade union officials may perform the following tasks:

  • represent members in negotiations with management over workplace issues
  • visit places of work where members of the union are employed to check on working conditions and to identify other industrial relations issues
  • handle complaints and disputes on the job
  • check employees’ time and wage records (kept by employers) to ensure employees are being paid the correct wages
  • ensure safety rules and regulations are observed in the workplace and advise employers of possible breaches
  • recruit new members and make sure that current members are up to date with payment of their union fees and kept informed of union activities
  • draft applications for award variations and, through research and inspections, collect evidence and prepare submissions in support of claims
  • represent the union at conferences and in negotiations (may include acting as the union’s representative or advocate before industrial courts or tribunals)
  • assist with managing the finances of the union.

Employment Opportunities for a Trade Union Official

Although there is no formal career structure within trade unions, opportunities exist to move from base-level trade union official positions up to president. Skills and experience gained are transferable to other areas of work, such as industrial relations or politics. The demand for trade union officials is affected by membership numbers, union involvement in enterprise bargaining agreements and amalgamations. The rules of each union determine the number of paid positions available.

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