Australia has had the SPAM Act since 2003. The Act is very clear:
Under the Spam Act 2003 it is illegal to send, or cause to be sent, unsolicited commercial electronic messages. The Act covers email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS (text and image-based mobile phone messaging) of a commercial nature. It does not cover faxes, internet pop-ups or voice telemarketing.
Sending unsolicited commercial emails is against the law in Australia, and many other countries. Getting consent of the recipient, providing identification of who is sending the email, and include an unsubscribe option are essential.
However, unions should not just aim to comply with the law. We, as a movement, should adopt best practice.
Best practice anti-spam behaviour
Why should unions go above and beyond the minimum standards? Because we don’t just send emails to our members. Unions regularly contact people who are not members, such as supporters, non-members in our industries, former members and others. We want to make sure we are only sending our emails to people who actually want to receive them, and are interested in what we’ve got to say.
Who can my union send email to?
People who have specifically signed up through your website
For example, by ticking a checkbox (not checked by default) on your signup or membership form
People who completed offline forms & indicated they wanted to be emailed
Eg: By filling in a petition or survey form where they specifically agree to receive email
People who gave you their business card and asked to receive email
If someone gives you their business card and you have also explained to them that you will be in touch by email, you can contact them.
They purchased something off you or joined your union in the last 2 years
By making a purchase from you (such as union merchandise) they have provided their permission implicitly, although it is much better to explicitly ask them. This could include someone who joined the union in the last 2 years – although getting specific permission is best.
Avoid the spam trap: Who you should not send email to
Anybody that is not covered by the list above! Here are some examples:
Lists or email addresses received from a third party
Includes any list you bought or rented, got from a partner or membership organisation. No matter the claims of the source of this list, you cannot send email to them. This includes lists of emails provided to you by employers!
Addresses you collected or “copy & pasted” from the Internet
Even if they are potential members or their employer puts their email address on their public website, you can’t email someone just because you found their address.
Addresses you haven’t emailed in the last 2 years
Permission doesn’t age well. Even if you got their permission legitimately, they won’t remember giving it to you. If you haven’t sent something to that address in the last 2 years, you can’t start now.
In Australia, “purely factual” emails are permitted. This could include notifications to non-members of bargaining or voting for collective agreements. However, why risk it? Why not seek permission?
Using external lists
What if you’ve spent ages bargaining to get access to all staff records? Your union has just won hard fought access to potentially hundreds of future members’ contact details. Isn’t there a way to use those emails?
Ideally, you should still seek permission. For example, the employer (or other third party) could send an email to their staff (or list) inviting them to sign up to your email list. While your union may only get a small number of people signing up to getting emails from the union, these people are obviously the ones who are interested in the union – far better to have a smaller list of engaged people than a large one of people who never open or read your emails and delete them straight away.