‘Union promotion’ agreement gets Full Bench OK

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‘Union promotion’ agreement gets Full Bench OK

A bid by employers to overturn a workplace agreement that demands contractor labour be paid the same rates as direct employees, and requires the company to promote union membership, has been rejected by a FWA Full Bench.

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A bid by employers to overturn a workplace agreement that demands contractor labour be paid the same rates as direct employees, and requires the company to promote union membership, has been rejected by a FWA Full Bench.

The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) had appealed an earlier ruling by FWA that approved the ADJ Contracting agreement, which has been used as a template by the ETU in Victoria.

One of the contentious clauses in the agreement allowed for union right of entry to allow a union member to be represented in a dispute.

The Full Bench said such a clause could only be used when a dispute had arisen and only when the member had asked to be represented.

Majority decision

The agreement was approved in a majority decision of the Full Bench, with Senior Deputy President Anne Harrison and Commissioner Julius Roe in support and with Senior Deputy President Peter Richards in the minority.

Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the decision highlighted the need for the Fair Work Act 2009 to be amended to prevent clauses in union pattern agreements restricting legitimate commercial arrangements between contractors and subcontractors.

She said the decision was ‘disappointing’.

‘In the proceedings, Ai Group argued that a number of clauses in the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union’s pattern agreement for the Victorian electrical contracting agreement were unlawful,’ Ridout said.

‘The clauses dealt with restrictions on the engagement of contractors, union right of entry, and the promotion of union membership by employers.’

Damaging practices

‘In the construction industry, what these clauses mean in reality is a return to the damaging practices of the past whereby unions had undue control over building sites. This includes stopping contractors coming on to a site unless they have an enterprise agreement with the relevant union.’

‘The Australian Government needs to move quickly to introduce amendments to the Fair Work Act to address the consequences of the decision.’

‘Also, the Australian Government and State Governments need to use their purchasing power to ensure that contractors which carry out Government work, have industrial instruments and work practices which promote productivity growth.’

‘Decisive action is needed to preserve the construction industry workplace relations reforms which have been so successful.’

‘Fair go’
 
The Vic secretary of the ETU, Dean Mighell, said the ruling upheld the ‘old adage of a fair go’.

‘All the AIG [Ai Group] ever wanted to do was open the door for big business to use contractors to avoid paying superannuation, penalty rates, public holidays and annual leave,’ he said.

‘These are rights enshrined in Australian life over the past 100 years.’

Thankfully, Fair Work (Australia) has stopped a cartel of greedy employers from trashing these rights.’
 
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