While the Health Services Union officially came into existence in 1991, its history traces all the way back to Federation when hospital workers began to organise themselves in the newly established Commonwealth of Australia.


In 1911 two unions were registered as federal organisations, formalising the workings of groups of hospital workers. One of these unions was the Hospital and Asylum Employees’ Union of NSW and the other was the Hospital and Asylum Attendants and Employees Union of Australia, which changed its name only three years later to the Hospital Dispensary and Asylum Employees’ Union of Australia (HDAEA). However, despite its name, HDAEA only covered Victorian workers. Just over a decade later, another Victorian-based union was federally registered as the Hospital Employees Association (HEA) representing workers in Victorian and NSW mental hospitals.

Rivalry between the two Victorian unions soon emerged. However, five years of negotiations took place to resolve the conflict, leading to an amalgamation of the two unions and the creation of the Hospital, Dispensary and Asylum Employees’ and Allied Government Officers’ Federation of Australia in 1930.

Also around this time other branches of the union, including what is now known as the HSU SA/NT branch, came into existence.


In 1959, nearly three decades later, the union changed its name again to the Hospital Employees’ Federation of Australia (HEF). The ranks of the HEF were swelled in 1961 after the establishment of two Tasmanian branches of the federal union along with the South Australian/Northern Territory branch. At the 1986 annual conference a Victorian No.3 branch was established to represent professional staff such as scientists, therapists and pharmacists. Meanwhile, in NSW, the Hospital and Asylum Employees’ Union of NSW was also undergoing changes both to its name and coverage which initially extended to all members working in hospitals, universities and the ambulance service. The union became known as the Hospital Employees’ Association of NSW in 1947, before becoming the Health and Research Employees Association (HREA) in 1965.

An original photograph of the HEF National Executive, circa 1960

An original photograph of the HEF National Executive, circa 1960


The HEF and HREA moved towards amalgamation in the late 1980s. Members officially decided on the merger on 4 July 1990 and the HSU officially began almost a year later with the first meeting of the union’s National Executive on February 7 1991. In 1994, three new branches came into the union. The Hospital Salaried Officers Association from Western Australia and in Victoria the Medical Scientists Association of Victoria and the Victorian Psychologists Association also became members of the federal HSU as part of the Victoria No. 4 branch.


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