Sally McManus

Sally McManus (born 31 July 1971) is an Australian trade unionist, feminist and political activist who has served as the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) since 2017. She is the first woman to hold the position of Secretary in the ACTU’s 90-year history. Prior to becoming Secretary she served as a Vice President and Campaigns Director.

Sally McManus
Sally McManus 2022.jpg
McManus in March 2022
10th Secretary of the ACTU
Assumed office
15 March 2017
PresidentMichele O'Neil
Preceded byDave Oliver
Branch Secretary, NSW/ACT Branch, ASU
In office
Preceded byKristyn Crossfield
Succeeded byNatalie Lang
Assistant Secretary, NSW/ACT Branch, ASU
In office
Preceded byGeorge Panageris
Succeeded byNaomi Arrowsmith
Personal details
Born (1971-07-31) 31 July 1971 (age 51)
Sydney, Australia
Political partyLabor[1]
EducationCarlingford High School
Alma materMacquarie University (BA)

Before joining the ACTU, McManus was the Branch Secretary and an organiser with the Australian Services Union (ASU) in NSW and the ACT.

She has led many campaigns in the private, public and community sectors, including the first collective agreement for IBM workers[2] anywhere in the world, the anti-privatisation campaign at Sydney Water,[2] as well as the equal pay campaign for community workers.[3] This was a seven-year campaign that delivered pay increases of between 18 and 40 per cent for all workers, the vast majority of whom were women.[4]

Early life and backgroundEdit

McManus grew up in Carlingford, New South Wales, Australia. She has two younger brothers. At the age of 16, McManus was first involved in union activity when she joined with other students supporting a teachers' strike protest against mass teacher lay-offs by the Greiner Liberal state government in 1988.[citation needed]


McManus went to Carlingford High School and studied for a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy at Macquarie University.[5] At 19, McManus was elected president of the Macquarie University Union. She instituted a ban on smoking in the university bar and banned single-use plastics on campus.[6] Former Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek knew McManus during their time at University.[7]


McManus started work when she was 14 and worked as a shop assistant, Pizza Hut driver, cleaner and call centre worker prior to joining the ACTU’s Trainee Organisers Program in 1994, its first year. From there, she became an Organiser for the Australian Services Union, focusing on workers in call centres and the IT sector. In 2004 she became Branch Secretary of the ASU in NSW and the ACT and oversaw membership grow from 9500 to 12,000.[6]

In 2012, McManus founded the Destroy The Joint campaign formed in response to radio broadcaster Alan Jones' criticism of then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other prominent women.[8] Her activism was recognised in 2015 when she received an Edna Ryan Award in the Grand Stirrer category.[9]

In 2015, McManus moved to the ACTU as Vice-President and Campaigns Director and was ultimately elected ACTU Secretary two years later.

Her first television interview as Secretary sparked controversy, when McManus refused to back down from the use of illegal industrial action as a method of union campaigning. Asked by presenter Leigh Sales, on the ABC’s news and current affairs program 7.30, if the ACTU would distance itself from such action, McManus responded “There is no way we’ll be doing that,” later adding “I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right, but when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”[10] The statement was widely condemned by business and industry groups, as well as then Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said he was unlikely to work with her.[11]

In February 2019, her book 'On Fairness' was published by Melbourne University Publishing.[12]

In June 2019, McManus called for the resignation of CFMMEU Victorian state secretary John Setka,[13] after he stated he was pleading guilty to domestic violence charges.[14]

Prior to the 2019 federal election, McManus led the union movement's "Change the Rules" campaign, which pushed for workplace rights.[15] Rallies were held across the country, with worker and supporter turn-outs reaching over 200,000 across the country.[16]

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia McManus led the successful ACTU campaign for a national wage subsidy scheme, negotiating with the conservative Morrison government to secure the JobKeeper wage subsidy,[17] and campaigned for paid pandemic leave.[18]

Other activitiesEdit

McManus has a third share in UComms, a market research and opinion polling company, being a non-beneficiary shareholder of the company on behalf of the union.[19]

Personal lifeEdit

McManus is an enthusiastic player of computer games, and describes herself as "the definition of a total gamer", who has been playing since the DOS era. She particularly enjoys Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation, and says her favourite of all is Civilization.[20] McManus has a black belt in kung-fu and taekwondo.[6] She is also a keen bird watcher and photographer. [6]

McManus is a foundation member of both the Western Sydney Wanderers and Greater Western Sydney Giants as well as being a long-term supporter of the Parramatta Eels.[6]

Her portrait titled McManusstan by Joanna Braithwaite was a finalist in the 2022 Archibald Prize.[21]


  1. ^ Alcorn, Gay (1 July 2017). "The power and passion of union boss Sally McManus". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b Hannan, Ewin (17 March 2017). "'I'm a unionist first, second and third'". The Australian. Retrieved 5 August 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ "sacs_sidebar at Australian Services Union NSW & ACT Branch". Australian Services Union NSW & ACT Branch. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  4. ^ Alcorn, Gay (21 July 2017). "The power and passion of union boss Sally McManus". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  5. ^ Patty, Anna (15 March 2017). "Sally McManus becomes the first female ACTU secretary". Sydney Morning Herald.
  6. ^ a b c d e Hannan, Ewin (16 November 2018). "Who's afraid of Sally?". The Australian. Retrieved 5 August 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Is Sally McManus the woman the Coalition fears most?". 12 October 2018.
  8. ^ Fife-Yeomans, Janet (9 October 2012). "Labor link to anti-Jones campaigners". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Grand Stirrer Award" (PDF). Edna Ryan Awards. 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ Sales, Leigh (15 March 2017), New ACTU boss says it's ok for workers to break 'unjust laws', Australian Broadcasting Corporation, retrieved 5 August 2020
  11. ^ "Malcolm Turnbull says he can't work with new ACTU boss Sally McManus". Australian Financial Review. 16 March 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Review: On Fairness, by Sally McManus". The Socialist. 7 February 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  13. ^ "Statement from ACTU Secretary Sally McManus on John Setka". Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  14. ^ Lucas, Adam Cooper, Clay (23 May 2019). "Union boss John Setka to plead guilty to harassing woman". The Age. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  15. ^ Forsyth, Anthony. "Where to now for unions and 'change the rules'?". The Conversation. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  16. ^ "Tens of thousands shut down Melbourne streets to call for better pay". ABC News. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  17. ^ "Historic win for working people as $130 billion wage subsidy passes". Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  18. ^ Gailberger, Jade (8 July 2020). "ACTU reignites paid pandemic leave push". — Australia's Leading News Site. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  19. ^ Goot, Murray (15 May 2019). "Who controls opinion polling in Australia, what else we need to know about the polls, and why it matters". Inside Story. Archived from the original on 11 February 2022. Retrieved 11 February 2022.
  20. ^ "What makes a gamer? Sally McManus, Jordan Raskopoulos and more on why they play". the Guardian. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  21. ^ "Archibald Prize Archibald 2022 work: McManusstan by Joanna Braithwaite". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 6 May 2022.

External linksEdit