1788-1850 1851-1900 1901-1925 1926-1950 1951-1975 1976-today
1791 The first organised industrial action is recorded, when in Sydney convicts demand daily instead of weekly rations.
1822 James Straiter, a convict shepherd, is sentenced to five hundred lashes, one month solitary confinement on bread and water, and five years' penal servitude for "inciting his Masters' servants to combine for the purposes of obliging him to raise the wages and increase their rations."
1824 Coopers use pickets for the first time in a strike action. They are eventually arrested and tried.

English Acts which provide for the legislation of trade unions are made effective in all colonies.

1829 Typographers, supported by carpenters, successfully strike for payment in sterling, against currency reform which threatened the value of wages.
1840 The Society of Compositors campaigns to restrict the numbers of apprentices. The government uses convict compositors as strike breakers.
1854 Police and soldiers attack miners in the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat. Thirty miners and five soldiers are killed in the conflict. Peter Lalor and the other leaders are arrested and tried but found not guilty. Within six years the miners have won all their demands.
1855 Following the success of strike action by a small number of Sydney stonemasons, Melbourne stonemasons and their employers agree on an eight-hour day. On the 21 April 1856, when the agreement comes into effect, two contractors refuse to abide by the new conditions, and a day-long strike takes place. By the end of the day, however, the contractors fall into line. This development paves the way for all building workers in Melbourne to gain the forty-eight-hour week.
1859 Australia's first Trades Hall is opened in Melbourne.
1861 Ironworkers at P.N. Russell & Company go on strike in response to a ten percent wage cut, joined a week later by moulders who were refused overtime rates beyond the eight-hour day. Though the ironworkers are willing to accept the cut in exchange for a twenty percent cut in hours, defence against legal action saps their strike-pay fund, and workers are found to replace them. Eventually they return to work after seven months on strike.
1874 Victoria's first Factory Act is passed. However, it only provides regulation of conditions in factories with more than ten employees in "sweated" trades.

In Sydney, two thousand ironworkers go on strike over the threat of the discontinuation of the "two-meal break" system.

1881 The New South Wales Trades Union Act is passed, providing for union rights and registration.
1882-1883 In response to the Melbourne clothing manufacturer Beith Shiess & Co attempting to reduce piece-rate wages, the tailoresses organise themselves into the Melbourne Tailoresses' Society, which is believed to be the first exclusively female trade union in Australia.
1885 The Factories and Shops Act is passed. It provided for the inspection of factories, set limits on hours of work and introduced compensation for injuries in the workplace.
1887 The Adelaide Steamship Co locks out members of the Captains & Officers' Society when it seeks to affiliate with the Maritime Labour Council. Unions interstate fail to support the strike by shortly resuming to allow ships into local ports.
1890s The Victorian Factory Act establishes wages boards in sweated trades.
1890 Maritime workers go on strike from August to November. The Mercantile Marine Officers, through the Trades Hall Council of Melbourne, issue a manifesto of grievances including inadequate salaries and uninterrupted work periods lasting up to thirty hours. Attempts at a peaceful settlement are frustrated by employers. Wage cuts follow the end of the strike.
1891 A New South Wales Royal Commission into strikes recommends the establishment of a Board of Conciliation & Arbitration.

Queensland shearers go on strike for seven months when pastoralists begin employing non-union labour at lower wages. Eventually the Shearers' Union money is exhausted and they agree with pastoralists on a dispute settlement procedure.

1892 Miners at Broken Hill strike over cuts to wages and employment of non-union labour.
1899 Fremantle Lumpers go on strike for five weeks in response to cuts in wages and eroded conditions. After several breakdowns in negotiations, the lumpers invade docked ships which have brought "free" labour. Later there is further confrontation with police. The dispute is resolved by the use of arbitrators from a citizens' committee.
1901 The New South Wales Industrial Arbitration Act is passed, providing for compulsory arbitration.
1902 In WA, the government becomes the first to introduce workers compensation legislation. Also established is the principle of the minimum wage, with legislation basing it on the needs of a single twenty-one-year-old male.
1904 The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is passed. This Act provides for the establishment of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration for settling industrial disputes and the federal registration of trade union bodies.
1906 A claim by female laundry workers in New South Wales for a wage increase leads to a dispute in a non-unionised workplace. Statements given by the female workers under examination in court are rejected and the claim is eventually dismissed on a technicality. The Laundry Board does not make an award until 1908.
1907 Justice Higgins' "Harvester Judgement" passes in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration, establishing the concept of the "sufficient wage" for unskilled workers, or as it became known, the "basic wage". The weekly wage decided upon is two pounds and two shillings.
1908 Sydney Rockchoppers go on strike over conditions for two months, ending with employers backing down on every issue, as no strikebreakers can be found. Union members jailed during the dispute have their fines paid by the Public Works Contractors Association of New South Wales and are released.
1912 Tramways Company's refusal to recognise members' right to wear union badges results in a general strike across Brisbane.
1916-17 Trade unions become involved in the conscription debate, and there are some stop works in protest over the conscription referendum.
1917 A general strike takes place in New South Wales in response to a new labour costing system implemented by the New South Wales Department of Railways & Tramways.
1919 Thousands of seamen around Australia go on strike from May to August, on issues relating to wages and conditions. Initially attempting to break away from the arbitration system, strikers are both fined and jailed at times during the dispute, which ends with most of their demands met.
1920 In a series of decisions, shearers in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia gain the forty-four-hour week, a New South Wales Royal Commission recommends the same for building and ironworkers, and the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration follows suit for timberworkers. A special court, established in New South Wales to inquire into the introduction of a forty-four-hour week, goes on to make seventy-eight proclamations, covering most industries statewide.
1923 Melbourne Police go on strike in late October 1923 in reponse to the introduction of a new form of plain clothes beat supervision. About one-third of the 1700 members support the strike, all of whom are ultimately stood down. However, the plain clothes supervision force is also disbanded. Melbourne Police are later awarded a pension for the first time since 1902.
1927 At the South Johnstone Mill in Queensland, sugar workers go on strike when the mill's ownership changes and they are not given preference for jobs. After a resolute and sometimes violent standoff, local railway workers become involved, refusing to handle the "black" sugar. An Arbitration Court eventually orders a return to work, under threat of the deregistration of the Australian Rialways Union.
1929 In February, New South Wales Miners are locked out after refusing to accept a reduction in wage-rates. The New South Wales Government attempts to re-open the mine in December with non-union labour, prompting a conflict between police and demonstrating miners at Rothbury. The stand-off lasts fifteen months, when the onset of the Depression and the exhaustion of the miners' funds forces them back to work on the owner's terms.
1930 The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration approves the forty-four-hour week.
1931 Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration announces its ten percent wage cut decision, resulting in a national congress of unions which comes close to voting for a general strike.
1934 In response Depression-era setbacks, miners at the Wonthaggi Coal Mines go on strike. After five months the Menzies government eventually succumbs to the Miners' Federation's demands and in so doing, helps to pave the way for the gradual nationwide restoration of conditions and wages lost during the Depression.
1936 A week of annual leave is included in an award for the first time. A principle is established that leave should be granted in reasonably prosperous industries.
1937 The Fremantle Lumpers' Union refuses to load goods onto a Japanese whaling ship, in response to Japanese aggression in China.
1938 At Port Kembla, Waterside Workers' Federation members refuse to load scrap iron for shipment to Japan. The "Dog Collar Act" is applied to break the strike. In response to this and the laying off of men by BHP, loading is eventually resumed in 1939.
1939 World War Two sees women replace male workers in a wide range of industries. Work-based child-care facilities are provided and most women received ninety percent of male rates.
1940 In the interests of industrial peace and national security, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration is empowered to hear a wider range of disputes during World War Two.
1941 Annual leave of one week becomes standard.
1944 Five hundred Balmain ironworkers strike when their own union suspends and refuses to recognise their shop delegate. The executive struggles to maintain its authority but is eventually overwhelmed. A new executive is elected and despite opposition from the National Office, is in 1947 finally admitted as a sub-branch of the Sydney Metropolitan Branch.
1945 The New South Wales Annual Holidays Act comes into force, providing two weeks' paid leave for workers not covered by a federal award. Later in the year the Commonwealth Arbitration Court makes an award of two weeks to the metal trades.
1946-1947 The Engineer's strike covers all unions involved in the metal trade, and seeks a reduction in working hours, and an increase in wages, which have been frozen throughout the war. The six-month dispute, which involves overtime bans, a lockout by metal trade employers and a full-scale strike by the Amalgamated Engineering Union with support from other unions, is eventually resolved when the Arbitration Court gives a decision favourable to the unions.
1947 The forty-hour week is introduced by a ruling of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration, taking effect from 1 Jan 1948.

In response to a request from Indonesian trade unions, the Waterside Workers' Federation black-bans all Dutch ships, supported by the ACTU and 30 other unions. This continues for four years, spurring the Chifley government in its support for the Indonesian people.

1949 A general coal strike for a thirty-five-hour week and long service leave results in the enactment of the National Emergency (Coal Strike) Act. Troops are used to break the strike in New South Wales and stay on to work as miners. Combined mining unions protest over the arbitration system and related causes.
1950 After a long campaign, the female wage rate is lifted from fifty-four to seventy-five percent of the male wage rate.

Some unions hold stop-work meetings over the introduction of a bill to ban the Communist Party.

1951 New South Wales legislation for long-service leave is enacted, believed to be a world first. Other states follow.
1956 Shearers refuse to work at the new rates set by the Industrial Court of Queensland. With the support of the Trades & Labour Council of Queensland and the Australian Workers' Union, the strike lasts ten months, despite the use of non-union labour.
1964-1965 The Mount Isa copper smelter is closed over dispute with miners. Amidst escalating conflict, the Queensland Government declares a state of emergency and martial law in the town. The strike is eventually resolved in February 1965, with many miners re-employed, but despite a management promise of no victimisation, ninety-six of the most militant are not employed. The strikers are not supported by the Australian Workers' Union.
1965 The Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Commission awards equal pay to Aboriginal stockmen.
1969 The jailing of Clarrie O'Shea, Secretary of the Tramway & Motor Omnibus Employees' Association, for refusing to pay into court $8100 in fines owed by his union, leads to four days of national strikes. On the fifth day, however, O'Shea is released when the fines are paid by a man who claims to have won the New South Wales lottery.
1969-1975 The Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Commission establishes a principle of equal pay for equal work, specifically excepting female work, which evolves slowly to become "equal pay for work of equal value" in 1972. The ACTU Equal Pay Case wins equal pay for men and women performing the same duties, introduced in 1975.
1974 Edna Ryan of the Women's Electoral Lobby succeeds in having the Commonwealth Minister for Labour and Industry agree that the Commonwealth would support the ACTU's National Wage Case, if the ACTU would seek the extension of the male minimum wage to women. The ACTU does so and in February 1974, WEL Australia's case is presented to the National Wage Bench.
1975-1981 The Federal Arbitration Commission introduces wage indexation. In the six years before its abolishment in 1981, eighteen increases of between 1.3% and 6.4% are made.
1976 A one-day general strike against Medibank changes is a failure, despite almost unanimous opposition to the proposed changes. Some unions oppose the strike, whilst others allow their members to choose whether or not to attend. The government's only reaction to the strike is to break off negotiations with the ACTU.
1979 Unpaid maternity leave of up to twelve months is granted by the Federal Arbitration Commission.
1981-1982 Metal trades gain the thirty-eight-hour week. It is then negotiated into many awards in New South Wales and interstate.
1983 A dispute over the width of combs used to shear sheep evolves into a ten-week national strike and ongoing conflict between the National Farmers' Federation and the Australian Workers' Union. By the dispute's end sixty percent of the AWU's pastoral membership leave the union.
1983-1997 The Accord is introduced and renegotiated eight times before its discontinuation. It consists of wages, prices and other policies upon which the ACTU and federal government agree in ongoing discussions. Medicare is introduced under the Accord, as are child-care subsidies, superannuation for all workers (not just executives) and improved job protection and security.
1984 The Australian Conciliation & Arbitration Commission introduces award provisions regarding redundancy pay and dismissal.
1985-1986 Victorian nurses strike for fifty days in response to lack of action by the government in securing their award conditions. It is the longest strike by women in Australia since the nineteenth-century tailoresses' strike. Threatened with dismissal, criminal charges, the use of the Essential Services Act, and even police action to disrupt picket lines, the nurses remain on strike and achieve "career structure" reforms.
1990 The Australian Industrial Relations Commission extends parental leave rights to men.
1996 The Workplace Relations Act 1996 is passed. Amongst its objectives are a reduced role for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, particularly as regards arbitral powers, a strongly-increased emphasis on direct agreements on employment matters between employers and employees at the workplace level, and a decreased role for trade unions in the industrial relations system. A significant change is "award stripping", the restriction of the AIRC to decisions on a maximum twenty "allowable matters" in their determinating of awards.
1998 The Maritime Union of Australia members strike when Patrick stevedoring, it is later found, unlawfully conspires to sack an entire workforce for being members of a union. Plans had been made to replace the workers with serving and former soldiers, trained in advance in Dubai. After two months an agreement is reached between the Union and Patrick, involving the dropping of all legal action against the company and their paying the expenses; Patrick also agrees not to seek to change key award conditions and to withdraw an application to the Industrial Relations Commission to reduce overtime and penalty rates.
2001 The Australian Industrial Relations Commission extends parental leave to casuals.