Union right of entry proposals provoke strong reaction


Union right of entry proposals provoke strong reaction

Proposed federal legislation on union right of entry has stirred considerable debate inside and outside Parliament.


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Proposed federal legislation on union right of entry has stirred considerable debate inside and outside Parliament.  Strong criticism has been voiced by the NSW Minister for IR, John Della Bosca and ACTU President, Sharan Burrow.


Right of entry proposals


Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews yesterday introduced legislation into Parliament to override state right of entry laws and restrict union entry for recruitment to twice a year.


State OHS right of entry laws continue

The right of entry Bill provides for the federal entry provisions to prevail over state entry regimes where employees work under federal laws.


However, the new provisions don’t restrict right of entry under OHS legislation. Andrews said in his second reading speech that the new laws also ‘will not prevent state unions from entering premises for purposes relating to State industrial laws’.


Some key elements

The Bill limits unions’ entry for recruitment discussions to once every six months. Andrews said this was necessary because ‘repeated entry to the workplace to recruit new members can result in non-members suffering unfair pressure and harassment’.


Union officials entering for discussions can only do so during meal times or breaks.


The legislation’s explanatory memorandum says the restrictions don’t apply to entry by consent.


Under the legislation, union officials - defined as office holders and employees – must meet a new 'fit and proper person' test before obtaining an entry permit.


The legislation also requires unions to obtain a written request from an AWA worker in order to enter premises to investigate a breach of that AWA.


It obliges unions to comply with employers' ‘reasonable requests’ on the location of interviews and discussions, while the AIRC will have a new power to make orders if an employer is unreasonable.


New right of entry laws a 'divisive political stunt'


The NSW Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, said that the Federal Government’s union right of entry restrictions were a ‘divisive political stunt’ to reignite a century old conflict.


‘It is aimed at provoking a fight, not producing a better result for the economy,’ he said.


And the ACTU said employees faced with unsafe or unfair workplaces will find it harder to access information, advice and support from unions under the new laws.


‘The only state where there is a problem with access to worksites and extreme union and employer behaviour is where this faulty legislation already exists,’ Della Bosca said.


‘The Howard Government’s own submission to the Cole Royal Commission noted that NSW had a superior industrial relations climate to the federal system in Victoria and, as a result, building projects were 20-30 per cent cheaper in Sydney.  


‘The NSW system is based on a strong independent umpire and it produces excellent results for employers and workers.  Disputes are resolved much more quickly and cheaply than in the federal system and our properly resourced education and compliance programs ensure businesses compete fairly.’


ACTU reaction


ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the very important role that unions play in the community by ensuring workplaces are safe, advising employees of their rights and entitlements and representing union members will be threatened by the Government’s new ‘right of entry’ laws.


‘Industrial organisers and staff of unions visit workplaces to check their members are safe and to view pay records to ensure employees are being paid according to the relevant award or agreement,’ she said.

‘This is part of the day-to-day work of unions and is a fundamental human right.


‘These unnecessary and intrusive new laws will disrupt this important role and infringe on the right of employees to be effectively represented by unions and to be free from exploitation or abusive work practices.’


She said worrying aspects of the Bill include:

  • A cumbersome and rigid set of requirements for unions seeking to enter workplaces including giving unnecessarily detailed information in a written notice.

  • Lifetime bans from visiting workplaces for union officers that infringe the law’s strict requirements - a more severe penalty than most drink drivers.

  • A limit on visiting workplaces to sign up new union members to just twice a year - this is a major restriction on the fundamental right of employees to join a union.

  • A ban on including ‘right of entry’ provisions in Certified Agreements even when employers consent to union access.

  • Limitations on the application of state right of entry laws. This will complicate rather than simplify existing state and federal industrial regulations.

  • Allowing employers to determine where discussions between employers and employees are held. This could mean discussions are held next to the manager’s office and could stop employees raising personal or sensitive issues such as bullying or harassment.



Union officials, right of entry


Union officials in the workplace



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