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Australia never had formal slavery, but the convicts transported to the colony were required to work, without pay, either for the administration or could be required to work for private landholders.
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The Act was used against workers organising for better conditions from its inception until well after the first United Kingdom Trade Union Act 1871 was implemented, which secured the legal status of trade unions.
Initially, following British laws, trade unions in Australia were suppressed, particularly under the Combination Laws of 17.
A trade union or other association could also be regarded as illegal because of being a "restraint of trade".
Of those who were a trade union member in relation to their main job, over two thirds (68%) had been members for five years or more.
Trade union membership has steadily declined over recent years, with 2013 being the lowest proportion in the history of the ABS series. The Australian Labor Party at both a federal and state/colony level pre-dates, among others, both the British Labour Party and the New Zealand Labour Party in party formation, government, and policy implementation.
In the Melbourne jurisdiction, between 18, when labour shortages were acute, over 20% of prison inmates were convicted under the New South Wales Master and Servant Act for offences including leaving place of work without permission and being found in hotels.