Proposed Federal right of entry laws attacked


Proposed Federal right of entry laws attacked

New Federal union right of entry laws would give employers a right of veto over whether their employees could talk to a union representative at work, the ACTU warned.


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New Federal union right of entry laws would give employers a right of veto over whether their employees could talk to a union representative at work, the ACTU warned. The NSW IR Minister has called the proposals 'overkill’.

Proposed legislation

The legislation will exclude the operation of state right of entry laws where Federal right of entry laws also apply.

It will also give employers the right to make 'reasonable requests’ about where discussions between union officials and employees occur. This would stop union officials having unfettered access to worksites. 


Employers could veto union entry, claims ACTU

The peak union body said the Federal Government’s new laws would mean many employees could find it practically impossible to exercise their basic right to access information and assistance from a union.

Releasing the ACTU submission to a Senate Committee Inquiry into the Federal Government’s Right of Entry Bill, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the practical effect of these laws would be to strip many ordinary employees of their basic right to access a union at work.

'This will not do a single thing to make Australian workplaces more productive, but it will make many Australian workplaces less fair,’ said Burrow.

She said the Government’s proposed new laws would introduce severe restrictions on how employees can access a union in the workplace including:

  • Giving employers exclusive power to choose the location an employee can see a union representative – for example in a room or area where they can be seen or over-heard by their manager or employer.
  • Requiring employees who want a union to investigate a suspected underpayment or breach of their conditions be identified to their employer - even if they don’t want to be identified or fear retribution for raising the issue.
  • Banning a union representative from entering a workplace to discuss union membership with employees more than once every six months – even if the employees want, request or require more frequent visits.

'There is simply no justification for the Government’s plans to further restrict the right of employees to access union representation at work,’ Burrow said.

ACTU argument

She said the Federal Government’s own research, which involved interviewing more than 8,000 Australian employees regarding their attitudes to unions, showed more than 76% of all employees (including more than 63% of non-union members) valued the presence of a union in the workplace. (OEA 'Freedom of Association - A Survey Report’, p174, April 2004.)

'Currently, the Industrial Relations Commission issues and administers permits allowing union representatives to enter workplaces to speak to employees,’ Burrow said.

'Permits are issued with strict conditions and can be withdrawn if these conditions are not met. But of the 2,442 permits issued since 2001 just 15 (0.6%) have had to be revoked by the Commission as a result of a breach.’

ACTU - likely consequences of proposed law

In its submission to the Senate Inquiry the ACTU argues that the Government’s proposed legislation would:
  • Make it harder for all employees to access information about their rights and entitlements.
  • Unreasonably restrict the rights of employees to access union representation.
  • Make it more difficult for unions to ensure workplaces are safe and that all employees receive their legal entitlements.
  • Unreasonably expose employees who fear harassment or dismissal from their employer if they choose to seek information or assistance from a union.
  • Increase the amount of laws covering union right of entry from the current 5 pages to 30 pages creating a legalistic nightmare for business, employees and unions.

'The Government’s proposals are unnecessary, impractical, punitive and unfair. They contravene international laws that protect the right of employees to freely join a union and participate in its activities without harassment or unnecessary interference.

'Similar proposals were rejected by the Senate in 1999 and they should be rejected again,’ Burrow said.

NSW IR Minister

The Howard Government’s proposed Right of Entry legislation is 'regulatory overkill’, according to John Della Bosca, NSW Minister for Industrial Relations.  

Della Bosca said yesterday that the legislation is an attempt to impose an ill-advised and unworkable regime on the states.

Mr Della Bosca’s attack on the legislation came after a NSW submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Bill.

'This Bill is typical of the Howard Government’s belligerent approach to industrial relations,’ said Della Bosca.

'It seeks to enforce a hostile workplace environment in place of the hard-won industrial harmony the states have built through years of work.

'Under this regime, even if unions and employers agree about right of entry, the Bill would block the making of any enforceable agreement between them.’

Mr Della Bosca said the Commonwealth’s proposed legislation was needlessly complex.

'The role of government should be to simplify processes - not create unnecessary bureaucracy.

It is simply unnecessary.

'The NSW system has had union right of entry provisions since the first half of the last century. We’ve seen no evidence of systematic or even occasional abuse of this provision by unions.’ he said.

Opposition to federal coverage

Mr Della Bosca said the States did not need more Commonwealth regulations.

'The Federal Government’s plans will only introduce conflict to the NSW economy.

'We spend a record $7.5 billion on infrastructure each year and it should not be jeopardised for the sake of ideological obsession.

'We have a strong and effective industrial relations system with a powerful independent umpire, low disputes and the lowest unemployment rate since 1981.

'Instead of pointless interfering, the Howard Government should be addressing real problems, such as finding ways to fix skills shortages,’ Della Bosca said.


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