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For 130 years the union movement has fought for the funeral industry

September 29, 2020

For 130 years the union movement has proudly fought for better conditions and pay for workers in the funeral industry.

The AWU recognises that our members who work within the funeral industry are there for all Australians during grief and loss. We know they are asked to perform roles that can be stressful and highly irregular and deserve to be treated with respect.

This ethos was central to the very first funeral industry union, the Undertakers Assistants’ Union of Victoria, which was formed on 26 September 1890 and now drives the Australian Workers’ Union which represents the industry in Victoria and NSW.

For delegate Terry Simmons having a union on your side has transformed his work place in Victoria by providing workers with a sense of security and knowledge that someone in on your side.


Terry Simmons

“We’ve been able to transform the way we work with management and that’s down to having a strong union alongside you. Our management now treat us with respect, because they know we the union behind us – one that is highly organised and gets things done.”

The AWU amalgamated with the Undertakers’ Assistants & Cemetery Employees’ Union in 1988 ending a proud history which began in Melbourne when the unions representing undertakers and cemetery assistants began to campaign for better working conditions.

Undertakers Assistants and Cemetery Employees’ Union of Australia White List

They began with working hours, the use of apprentices and casual labour and holidays. A big win was secured in 1934 when working hours were changed. Workers would no longer have to work through the night apart unless required by the police or if a body needed to be removed from a bus or train. There would also be no more funerals on a Sunday.

Wins like these continued to come after the amalgamation in 1988 which provided members with the added benefits of being part of a larger union.

Ben Davis, AWU Vic Branch Secretary, said: “We were able to provide workers with more access to resources and expertise. We are also more experienced carry more weight when it comes to lobbying state government.

“There’s also been a lot more engagement around industry issues with WorkSafe because of the AWU’s extensive involvement.”

This experience and expertise was put to the test in 2012 when the Altona Cemetery went on strike for a week as part of a campaign to get more full time outdoor workers employed.

Mr Simmons, who is employed at the Fawkner site which also went on strike for one day to show support, said management had lost sight about the rights of workers and were more focused on profit.

“Everyone stood together which I think shook our old management and led to significant change. We are now treated with much more respect and I no longer have to hold delegate meetings off-site. We now work together with our employers and we get things done.”

AWU Vic also secured a new and improved EBA at Springvale Cemetery by running a two month campaign that included not working for a number of hours on Mother’s Day.

Funeral directors at Tobin Bros are now the paid in the country, courtesy of an innovative semi-annualised salary as a result of the AWU amalgamation.

Mr Davis added: “The quality of Enterprise agreements in the sector is something to be proud of. This is testament to the hard work of officials, members and delegates.”

There have also been significant achievements in NSW since the AWU merged with the Funeral and Allied Industries Union (NSW Branch) in June 2018.

A key win was the InvoCare NSW EBA, which resulted in a nine percent pay increase, something which delegate Nicole Wilson from Newcastle says would never have happened before AWU’s involvement.

Ms Wilson said: “For the first time we have a union that came to us, listened to what we had to say and told us that we were entitled to a lot better. We were all gobsmacked by this different energy.”

As well as the pay increase, the Union was able to get employees back paid to when pay increases should have come into effect which led to some staff getting a back pay of up to $7k. The Union was also able to secure 5 x RDO days a year.

Ms Wilson added: “It’s not just about EBA’s though, it’s great to have the security the union gives members to address workplace issues, e.g bullying, skin checks and wearing sunglasses on outside services”.

Ms Wilson was also thrilled to get the opportunity to attend the Women’s Union conference where a wealth of information was shared and was able to take back to her workplace.

AWU Women’s Conference

In Victoria negotiations for a new EBA at Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust start in October.

Mr Simmons said: “It will of course still take time but what’s changed now is that we all want a good result, workers, the union and management and we recognise that’s best done by working together.”

For Mr Simmons and other Victorian funeral workers who have been hit hard by COVID-19, the AWU will go above and beyond to deliver the best possible EBA in recognition of their efforts.

You too can benefit from the expertise and resources of the AWU by joining your union today.

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