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Peeling back the layers of a union

Peeling back the layers of a union (Last Updated On: November 10, 2015)

Unions were established to look after the welfare of employees. The role of a union is strongly regulated under various provisions of the Fair Work Act and it is in the best interest of all employers to be aware of these provisions. Unions carry a presence throughout history due to rallying for workplace rights and improved wages for minority groups. Union members together have a very loud voice and this is why their intimidating identity resonates with employers.

For employers, who at times may feel unions are tenaciously nagging them, Employsure offers some assistance to identify when a union member can and cannot enter your workplace.

What are the rights of a union?

Unions have a statutory right to monitor for breaches to workplace conditions, and/or entitlements via right of entry provisions and consultation requirements. A union also has the right to negotiate enterprise agreements, and organise industrial action if an agreement is not reached.

In addition, unions can also:

  • follow up and prosecute breaches and/or underpayments
  • represent members in disciplinary or performance matters
  • advocate on behalf of members
  • empower employees by providing them with knowledge and support

Who can join a union?

All employees are entitled to freedom of association, which is explicitly protected through various provisions of the Fair Work Act. In a workplace context, this means all employees are entitled to join a union. Essentially, an employer cannot take any detrimental action against an employee because of their industrial activities, which include:

  • being involved in establishing a union or being a union member
  • organising, promoting, encouraging or participating in lawful activities for or on behalf of a union
  • representing or advancing the views, claims or interests of a union and
  • seeking to be represented by a union

Can employers refuse right of entry?

For employers, there are a few rules that apply to the right of entry.

Any union member who wishes to enter a workplace must hold a right of entry permit issued by the Fair Work Commission, and provide notice during working hours (at least 24 hours) before entry. If these requirements are not met, an employer can refuse entry.

The motive for entering a workplace must be exercised under the Fair Work Act. This means that the union can only come into a workplace when:

  • the entry is to investigate suspected contraventions
  • the entry is to hold discussions with employees
  • the entry is for workplace health and safety purposes

Any employer who receives notice from a union should be seeking professional advice. In preparation all employers should keep up to date employment relations policies and procedures which are documented and reviewed regularly. You will also need to be wary not to discriminate against any employee who is a member of a union, as this could lead to claims with the Fair Work Commission. If you would like to discuss the topic of unions with one of our professional consultants, call Employsure today on 1300 651 415.

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