The first railway union in the world was created in Melbourne in 1861 when twenty locomotive drivers banded together to form the Locomotive Engine Drivers Association of Victoria. The forerunner to the A.F.U.L.E., the Association continues today and is the oldest continuous railway union in the world.
The Association was formed seven years after the official opening of Victoria’s first railway line in 1854. The first twenty drivers banded together to improve the harsh and dangerous working conditions for the highly skilled enginemen working on the railway.
In 1872, the association expanded to include firemen. The name of the association became the Locomotive Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association to reflect the change in constitution.
In 1902 the constitution of the association expanded to include Locomotive Engine Cleaners. The name changed again to the Victorian Locomotive Engine Drivers', Firemens’ and Cleaners' Association to reflect the new membership.
Locomotive Engine Drivers associations came into existence in other States, including New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian, during the 1880s. At the 1886 State Conference of the Victorian Association the concept of creating one single amalgamated union was raised. This unity was not to be achieved until 1899.
In 1899, the Victorian Association met with representatives from the Railway Locomotive Enginemen's Associations of New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. Each of these associations voted in favour of forming the Federated Railway Locomotive Enginemens’ Association of Australia.
This association convened a yearly conference until 1920, but during this time did not set up a Federal Division.
At the 1919 Conference, held in Adelaide, a decision was made to form a single National Union. At the 1920 Conference, held in Brisbane, New South Wales Association delegate Ben Chifley moved the resolution to form The Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen.
In 1921, a High Court decision gave employees in state instrumentalities access to the Federal Arbitration Court. In February of 1921, the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen became the first union consisting of members employed by state instrumentalities to register as a federal union.
In 1922, the federal union entered into negotiations with the Federated Engine Drivers’ and Firemen’s Union. The FEDFU covered Locomotive Enginemen employed by the Commonwealth Railways. An agreement was reached to amalgamate the two unions by transferring the membership of the FEDFU to the AFULE.
The proposed amalgamation was put to ballot in each depot. The result was in favour of the proposal, and in late 1923 the Commonwealth Division of the AFULE was formed.
In 1924, the AFULE filed a separate log of claims on each of the state employers. However, the Australian Railways Union chose to file a single log of claims on each state employer in an attempt to establish one federal award for all railwaymen. This decision resulted in the A.F.U.L.E. bringing a similar case before the Federal Arbitration Court.
The A.F.U.L.E. took carriage of the proceedings, and presented to the Court a wealth of detailed evidence in support of the claim. In April 1925 the Court ruled in favour of the A.F.U.L.E. The result was the first Federal Award binding state instrumentalities.
In 1926 the union changed its name to the Australian Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Following objections from other unions that used the term “engineers” in their names, the Union reverted to the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen in 1927.
In 1943 the Northern Australian Workers’ Union ceased to operate. In December of that year the A.F.U.L.E. created a Northern Territory Division to cover Locomotive Enginemen employed in the Territory. However, after the end of WWII, there was a significant drop in rail services and consequently in membership of the Northern Territory Division. In 1946 the NT Division was absorbed into the Commonwealth Division.
In 1970 the Commonwealth Division was deregistered, and its membership absorbed into each of the State branches of the Union.
In 1992 ballots were conducted in each of the Australian divisions about a proposed amalgamation with the Australian Tramway & Motor Omnibus Employees' Association, the National Union of Rail Workers of Australia and the Australian Railways Union. The ballot was successful and the Public Transport Union was formed.
In 1993, a legal ruling held that the Queensland State-registered A.F.U.L.E. was a separate union and was required to hold a separate ballot. The members of the State-registered A.F.U.L.E. voted against amalgamation. Queensland is the now only State in Australia where the oldest railway union in the World continues to represent Traincrew.
In March of 2006 the Howard Federal Government introduced changes to the Workplace Relations Act 1996. The changes transferred all employees of constitutional corporations into the legislative jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. As a result, a majority of A.F.U.L.E. members in Queensland became federal employees.
In May of 2006 the A.F.U.L.E became the second state-registered union to be granted transitional Federal Registration under the new laws.
In December of 2006, the A.F.U.L.E. applied to again be registered as a federal union of employees to continue representing its members in the federal industrial relations system. In 2007, that application was granted, and the A.F.U.L.E. briefly held federal registration.
In 2008, the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Union successfully appealed against the registration of the A.F.U.L.E. The essence of the RTBU’s complaint was that the A.F.U.L.E.’s federal body now had coverage across the whole of Australia, rather than just Queensland.
The Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission upheld the RTBU’s appeal and quashed the A.F.U.L.E.’s federal registration. The Full Bench left open the prospect of federal registration for the A.F.U.L.E. if the union rules were amended to restrict the union’s coverage to the State of Queensland.
This amendment was made, and on 6 November 2008, the Full Bench granted Federal Registration.
The A.F.U.L.E. is now a dual registered union, with the right to represent members of the Traincrew grade in the state and federal industrial relations systems.
THE HISTORY OF THE A.F.U.L.E.
1861 - 1872 Locomotive Engine Drivers Association of Victoria
1872 - 1900 Locomotive Engine Drivers & Firemens’ Association of Victoria
1891 - 1900 Queensland Locomotive Enginemen Firemen & Cleaners Association
1900 - 1921 Federated Railway Locomotive Enginemens’ Association of Australasia
1921 - 1926 Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (i)
1926 - 1927 Australian Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
1927 - 1993 Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (ii)
1993 - 1997 Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (ii) (Queensland)
1997 - Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Employees (Queensland)
2006 - 2007 Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Employees, Transitionally Registered Union of Employees (federal)
2008 - Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Employees, Queensland Union of Employees (federally registered)