New IR Bill: more rights for unions, no prohibited content

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New IR Bill: more rights for unions, no prohibited content

More rights for unions, a kind of pattern bargaining, and no prohibited content in workplace agreements are some of the major factors in the new IR legislation tabled in Federal Parliament today by IR Minister Julia Gillard.

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More rights for unions, a kind of pattern bargaining, and no prohibited content in workplace agreements are some of the major factors in the new IR legislation tabled in Federal Parliament today by IR Minister Julia Gillard.
 
Gillard said in her second reading speech that all aspects of the new Fair Work Australia (FWA) system will come into operation on 1 July 2009, except for the National Employment Standards (NES) and modernised awards, which will begin on 1 January 2010. The new awards will be reviewed every four years.
 
Under the legislation, unions will have the right to enter workplaces and meet with members, but only after giving 24 hours notice, and the meeting must be outside work hours.
 
Unions can look at non-member records
 
Union officials will also be able to look at and copy records of non-members, but only where they are relevant to the suspected breach being investigated.
 
The prohibited content clause for workplace agreements that was in WorkChoices has been junked. The Fair Work Bill allows for any matter pertaining to the relationship between the employer and employees, or between the employer and a union, to be in the agreement, to be negotiated.
 
However, there is no right to protected industrial action for matters not pertaining to the relations between employer and employee.
 
National Employment Standards
 
The 10 National Employment Standards are included in the legislation.
 
These include such provisions as a 38-hour week, four weeks annual leave, a right to request flexible working arrangements and the right of pregnant workers to request transfer to a safe job during their pregnancy.
 
Voluntary pattern bargaining
 
The Bill explicitly allows for a kind of voluntary pattern bargaining. It says that where employers and employees genuinely wish to barraging on a multi-employer basis they will be free to do so. However, it will be unlawful to coerce an employer to do so.
 
Under the legislation modern awards must have a flexibility term to allow for individual arrangements, but these must not disadvantage employees.
 
The new enterprise bargaining system will not have a concept of union or non-union awards. However, a union that was part of the negotiations can apply to be covered by the agreement.
 
Attempt at ‘good faith’ bargaining
 
The Bill says the parties must make a reasonable attempt at ‘good faith’ bargaining. This will include attending meetings and responding to proposals, but employers will not be required to make concessions or come to an agreement.
 
However, if there is no ‘good faith’ then FWA may make a determination. Gillard said this was to ensure there is no advantage in flouting the law.
 
The legislation allows for unions to become involved if there are major changes to a workplace. It says that for a workplace agreement to be approved by FWA it must contain a term that provides for consultation with employees in case of such change, and for the employees to be represented in that process.
 
Lockouts banned
 
The Bill also removes lockouts by employers from the protected action process. In future, lockouts will no longer be protected action.
 
Unfair dismissal
 
All employees will now be eligible to apply for an unfair dismissal claim.
 
However, a worker employed with a firm of fewer than 15 people must be employed with the firm for at least a year before he or she is eligible. Employees of firms over 15 people have a six-month probationary period before becoming eligible under the dismissal laws.
 
High earners may enter into an agreement that excludes this provision.
 
Details
 
The text of Bill and the explanatory memoranda can be accessed online.
 
WorkplaceInfo will be analysing the proposed legislation in detail in future articles.
 
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