You're a new apprentice and you're excited and proud to start work... but did you know apprentices are more likely to have our wages stolen? Experience sexual harassment? Bullying? Suffer an injury at work?
Let's face it - most of us are just so chuffed to be starting our apprenticeships that we're willing to disregard red flags in a new workplace. We tend to give our boss the benefit of the doubt.
But blindly trusting your boss isn't a good habit to pick up in a new job. As a worker, you have a responsibility to look out not just for yourself but for your workmates and other apprentices - and the way you support them is by joining your union and getting active.
A union is the collective of workers in an industry; it's how the employees discuss issues with the boss and make changes in their workplace and wider industry.
Even if your boss is a pleasure to deal with, your relationship with them is not one of equals - they have power over you because they manage your work. But when you're union, you and your workmates can have a real say over business decisions that affect you - like shift schedules, safety issues, and other working conditions. The basic principle is "touch one, touch all" - you can't punish one of us for speaking up, because we're all speaking up together.
For example, if the boss tells the new boilermaking apprentice to work in a confined space without supervision, the apprentice might be worried, but they'll probably also be afraid of looking "weak" or "lazy" at their first day on the job.
But as a union member, you'll be introduced to your union delegate and Health and Safety Rep on the job - they're workers just like you, who your co-workers have elected to represent them. You can talk to them and get advice about what's normal and what's safe.
Without that peer-to-peer advice, you could be putting yourself in real danger.
Any time your boss calls you in for a meeting you are entitled to union representation - so your delegate, HSR, or a union organiser can come to the meeting with you to take notes and provide advice. That can be invaluable when a boss tries to discipline you for any mistakes, real or imagined.
In addition to your workplace delegate and Health and Safety Rep (HSR), you'll have access to the resources of your union office - this is basically the combined wisdom and experience of generations of workers in your industry, be it manufacturing workers, labourers, hairdressers or florists. There's rarely a workplace problem your union hasn't seen before.
In the case of serious workplace issues, you can get "industrial" or legal advice from your union, and even representation in court.
Plus, while you're hard at work, your union officials are advocating for higher minimum wages, better safety standards, and social policies that benefit the working class. Not bad eh?
When it comes to bargaining, it pays to be union... literally. Union members have median weekly earnings from their main job that are 32% more than for non-members.
But your Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) - that's a workplace negotiated contract governing conditions at your work - is about more than just pay. Union members can negotiate on a whole range of issues from parental leave to anti-discrimination polices to English language lessons at work.
Even if you're in a workplace without an EBA, you'll be benefiting from union negotiations on the "Award" (minimum industry conditions).
But my weird uncle says unionists are lazy?
One of the great things about being union is learning how to tell your uncle to pull his head in.
Look, sometimes bosses don't like unions, because unions cost bosses money by arguing for higher wages, safety equipment, and the general dignity of workers. Unions are also really powerful - which means bosses sometimes don't get their way. Unions put a lot of powerful noses out of joint.
So it's not surprising that the media owned by the bosses is not always friendly to unions and unionists. They've been calling us lazy since we won the world's first 8 hour day. Meh - they don't like us, we don't care.
The bottom line is "the union" is you. A union is democratic - you vote for your workplace reps, you vote on workplace actions, and you vote for your union leaders. So get active in your workplace and make your union everything you want it to be!