Australia hit by protests demanding end to new labour laws

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which supports the legislation, said unions had mustered only 10 percent of their members for the protests.

"There’s no doubt that we’ve got the mother of all scare campaigns going on," said chief executive Peter Hendy.

Australian unions have already lost much of the power they once had, with only one in four full-time employees in a union. Nevertheless, a slim majority of Australians appear to oppose the laws.

In a Newspoll survey conducted in December, 38 percent of respondents said the reforms would be good for the economy, compared with 43 percent who thought they would be bad.

Fifteen percent thought they would be better off under the changes, compared with 34 percent who thought they would be worse off.