Michele O'Neil is calling for more diversity in union leadership as the new ACTU president tries to arrest dwindling numbers of union members in Australia.
Members make up just 15 per cent of Australia's workforce and Ms O'Neil, who was elected president at the Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress on Tuesday, says that's not enough, noting unions aren't diverse enough at the top.
"I will bring to this role a very clear view that we need to make sure our movement is accessible and diverse," Ms O'Neil told AAP.
The former national secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union has risen to ACTU president after almost 30 years in the union movement.
The TCFUA was part of the high-profile merger between the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia.
Ms O'Neil has worked closely with migrant workers and wants to see them better represented in union leadership.
"If you only appear to represent part of the population, I don't think you're as effective," she said.
Growing unions is critical to Ms O'Neil, as is boosting the number of government procurement contracts going to Australian businesses and workers.
She also backed ACTU secretary Sally McManus' view that it's acceptable to break laws if they're unjust.
"There's been circumstances where the safety and the treatment of a group of workers has led me to enter a site where technically I haven't followed every element of industrial relations law," Ms O'Neil said.
Militant unions such as the CFMEU had a role to play, she said.
"It is part of Australia's history that militant unions have led the way in winning some important changes," Ms O'Neil said.
The new ACTU president replaces Labor MP Ged Kearney, who entered federal politics in March with her upset by-election victory over the Greens in the Melbourne seat of Batman.
An emotional Ms Kearney received a standing ovation after addressing union delegates.
Ms O'Neil told delegates Australia's "warped" industrial relations system needed to be changed, including restoring the "basic human right" to strike.
"When all else fails, we simply need the right to strike," she said.