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The Role of Unions in Achieving Superannuation in Australia: A Legacy of Advocacy and Progress

Superannuation in Australia is a testament to the relentless advocacy and campaigning by the Australian union movement. Over the decades, union members have played a pivotal role in securing and enhancing superannuation benefits for Australian workers, ensuring financial security in retirement. This blog will explore the history of union-led superannuation campaigns, the evolution of superannuation policies, and the current entitlements for workers, underscoring the importance of union membership in achieving and safeguarding these vital benefits.

A Brief History of Union Campaigns for Superannuation

The journey towards universal superannuation in Australia began in the early 1980s, when the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) spearheaded a national campaign to secure retirement benefits for all workers. At that time, only a small fraction of the workforce had access to superannuation, primarily those in higher-paying jobs or public sector roles. Recognising the need for a more equitable system, union members fought tirelessly to extend superannuation to all employees.

In 1985, the ACTU's efforts culminated in the Accord agreement with the federal government, which included a commitment to introduce award-based superannuation. This landmark achievement paved the way for the introduction of the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) in 1992, mandating that employers contribute a percentage of an employee's earnings into a superannuation fund. Initially set at 3%, the SG rate has progressively increased over the years, reflecting the union movement's ongoing advocacy for better retirement outcomes.

Evolution of Superannuation Policies

Since the introduction of the Superannuation Guarantee, the union movement has continued to play a critical role in shaping superannuation policies. Unions have been at the forefront of campaigns to increase the SG rate, improve fund governance, and ensure transparency and fairness in the superannuation system.

In recent years, unions have successfully campaigned for the SG rate to rise to 12%, a goal that is set to be fully realised by 2025. This increase will significantly boost retirement savings for millions of Australians, particularly benefiting low-income earners and those with interrupted work histories, such as women and part-time workers.

Unions have also been instrumental in advocating for reforms to address unpaid superannuation, ensuring that employers meet their obligations and that workers receive their rightful entitlements. These efforts have led to stronger regulatory oversight and enforcement measures, protecting workers' hard-earned retirement savings.

Current Entitlements and the Importance of Union Membership

Today, Australian workers are entitled to a range of superannuation benefits, thanks to the tireless work of unions. The current SG rate is 11%, which will rise to 11.5% on 1 July 2024 and 12% on 1 July 2025. In addition to mandatory employer contributions, workers can make voluntary contributions to further boost their retirement savings, often with the added benefit of government co-contributions and tax incentives.

Union membership remains crucial in ensuring the continued success of the superannuation system. As collective organisations, unions have the power to negotiate better conditions, advocate for policy changes, and hold employers accountable. Union members benefit from the support and resources that collective power offers, including better superannuation options and representation in disputes.

By standing together, union members amplify their voices, driving positive changes that benefit all workers. The achievements in superannuation are a testament to the strength and solidarity of the union movement, demonstrating that collective action can lead to significant and lasting improvements in workers' lives.