Undertakers and Cemetery Workers

Undertakers and Cemetery Workers

The Undertakers Assistants' Union of Victoria was formed in Melbourne on 26 September 1890 and reformed on 24 August 1900. By November 1914 it was known as the Federated Undertakers' Assistants & Cemetery Employees' Union of Australia and by August 1915 it became the Victorian Branch of the Undertakers' Assistants & Cemetery Employees' Union of Australia.

The Undertakers' Assistants & Cemetery Employees' Union of Australia was registered with the Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Court on 27 March 1916. The federal union was formed from the Undertakers Assistants' Union of Victoria and amalgamation with the New South Wales union was achieved in late 1919 when it became the NSW Branch, followed by the amalgamation of other states.

Industrial action is not often associated with undertakers, however, from the early 1900s, the unions representing undertakers and cemetery assistants agitated for better working conditions. As early as 1902, the union submitted claims relating to their hours of labour, use of apprentices and casual labour, tools of trade, right to refuse to work with non-unionists, wages and holidays. While some of their claims were agreed to, some were refused as simply being impractical. For example, it was argued that the union’s submission for workers to not work on holidays was refused as being impractical when “business is of such an irregular nature and utterly beyond human control and for the further reason that the Public Health Act will not permit of any unreasonable delays in burials” (The Worker 1902). 

In 1934 the union took an application to the Industrial Commission in an effort to have certain clauses retained and introduced to their award such as workers being prohibited from working between the hours of 9pm and 6.30am (except in removing bodies required by the police or 10pm in the cases of removals from trains or hospitals) as well as the right to prohibit funerals on Sunday and union picnic day. 

The Federal Office was conducted from Trades Hall, Melbourne, along with the Victoria Branch. The Union operated until 1988 when it merged into the Australian Workers' Union.

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre holds two deposits of Undertakers’ Assistants and Cemetery Employees’ Union of Australia records relating to the Federal Office and Victorian Branch from the early to late 1900s.


‘No title’, The Worker, 21 June 1902, p.7. <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/16542631>

‘Industrial Commission. (Before Mr Justice Webb). Undertakers’ Award.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1934, p.5. <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/1145170>