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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.Under the Master and Servant Acts enacted in the Australian colonies in the 1840s, employees who left their employment without permission were subject to being hunted down under the Bushrangers Act.Craft unions in Australia began in the early 19th century as craft associations of highly skilled urban workers who sought to organise (form a labour union), to increase their low wages and decrease their high number of hours.By 1902, the Master and Servant Act 1823 had been modified to include forfeit of wages if the written or unwritten contract for work was unfulfilled.Trade unions in Australia may be organised (i.e., formed) on the basis of craft unionism, general unionism, or industrial unionism.
Almost all unions in Australia are affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), many of which have undergone a significant process of amalgamations, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The colony of New South Wales came into existence in 1788 as a penal colony.
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.
A trade union or other association could also be regarded as illegal because of being a "restraint of trade".
The British Master and Servant Act 1823, and subsequent updates, were generally regarded as heavily biased towards employers, and designed to discipline employees and repress the "combination" of workers in trade unions.
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