Unions, enterprise agreements and your company

Q&A

Unions, enterprise agreements and your company

If a company has previously had no union members in its workforce, what right does a union have to involve itself in enterprise agreement negotiations?

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If a company has previously had no union members in its workforce, what right does a union have to involve itself in enterprise agreement negotiations?
 
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Q  Our company is considering making an enterprise agreement to cover a workforce of approximately 75 employees. The Chief Executive is concerned that seeking approval of the enterprise agreement may attract the interest of a union. The company does not have a history of union activity. It seems that the Fair Work Act 2009 gives a right to a union to be represented in the approval process? The Fair Work Act, however, seems complex in this respect. We are not aware of any of our employees being a member of a union. Because there has been no previous union activity at our company, what right does a union have to represent employees in enterprise agreement negotiations if it wishes to become involved?

A  Under s174 of the Fair Work Act, a union is automatically a bargaining representative for an enterprise agreement if it has a member in the workplace whose industrial interests it is entitled to represent, and the member does not appoint another person. Employees can revoke the automatic appointment of the union, or appoint a different bargaining representative in its place, provided this is done in writing. The employer can also appoint their own bargaining representative.

Consequently, under the Fair Work Act, an enterprise agreement with no union involvement is only possible where there are no union members and the employees do not (or cannot) appoint a union as their bargaining representative, and where all union members at the company choose to appoint a bargaining representative other than their union.
 
If there is more than one union that is automatically a bargaining representative, the company is not able to bargain with one union in preference to another.
 


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