There has been a recent push in NSW by the United Services Union (USU) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) to expand into the real estate industry – an industry that has traditionally seen low levels of union activities.

Spokespersons from both unions have raised concerns about harassment and unsafe practices within the industry, and have been working with a real estate training organisation to raise awareness of workers’ rights.

For registered unions, their rules govern where a union can geographically operate, the industries the union can operate in and the types of workers that are eligible for membership. At this stage, the current registered rules of both the USU and SDA may limit any significant expansion into the real estate industry as a whole. However, the USU’s rules allow for membership by persons engaged in any clerical capacity, while the SDA’s rules allow for membership in certain parts of New South Wales for the following types of work:

“…persons employed as salespersons in connection with the sale of land and/or buildings of any kind, salespersons employed by business agents or sub-agents in the sale of business of any kind, salespersons employed by auctioneers, salespersons employed by stock and station agents …”

If there is enough interest from workers, the USU and SDA may make an application to the Fair Work Commission to formally expand their coverage to include other workers in the real estate industry.

Regardless, union membership drives are more likely to gain traction where there is widespread employee dissatisfaction due poor working conditions, significant health and safety risks or where pay conditions are not meeting expectations.

If the push in NSW gains enough traction, other states are likely to follow. In light of this push by the USU and the SDA, the fact that it is unlawful to take action against an employee because of their industrial activity (which includes union membership) and the recent announcement by the Albanese government of its intention to pursue multi-employer industry wide bargaining, this is a good time for businesses that engage real estate employees to consider their overall employee satisfaction and the business’ compliance with workplace laws generally.

The Workplace Advisory and Disputes team at Gadens regularly provides advice about workplace health and safety and as well as compliance and entitlements and is able to assist you with any queries.