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What to do when the union comes calling

UncategorizedFebruary 28, 2014

What to do when the union comes calling (Last Updated On: February 28, 2014)

The political spotlight is firmly fixed on union activity, after the announcement of a royal commission into union governance and corruption, intimidation and standover tactics.

An employee’s right to freedom of association is protected by the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act). This means that employees are entitled to have their union enter the workplace for legitimate reasons and employers must be cautious when dealing with union officials, or risk claims and penalties for breaching the Act.

Right of entry

The Act provides union officials with a right of entry to the workplace to:

  • investigate suspected contraventions;
  • hold discussions with employees; and
  • for WHS purposes.

However, union officials are only entitled to enter the premises if they hold a right of entry permit issued by the Fair Work Commission and must usually provide at least 24 hours (but no more than 14 days) notice before entry.

So what should you do if union officials require entry to your workplace?

If you a faced with a visit from union officials remember the following tips.

  • Valid notice: check that the notice is valid.  Has sufficient notice been given and does the notice confirm the reason for the visit? Additional requirements must be met depending on the reason for the visit.
  • Representation: check the union is entitled to represent the interests of your employees.  Coverage will be confirmed in the union’s rules (available on the Fair Work Commission website).
  • Valid permit: check the official has a valid right of entry permit, which matches the union official’s details on the notice.
  • Location: for discussions with employees, the official is required to agree the location with you, but is entitled to use the lunch room if no agreement can be reached. Be prepared to allow them to use this room.
  • No commitment: officials may ask to have a chat with you about any issues or problems they see.  Be polite and listen to them, but do not make any commitments or comments.  Ask the union official to put any concerns in writing for you to respond to them. 

Unless a specific contravention is provided in the notice, the union official is likely to be there to recruit new members or get members to vote in a specific way. Therefore, in most cases it is advisable to be polite and professional and not discourage your employees from meeting the officials. Otherwise your actions might serve to validate the visit and suggest that there are issues in the workplace, which may encourage employees to become members.   If an employer is welcoming and no issues are raised by employees, union officials should turn their attention to other businesses.

 Other reasons for union involvement

 Apart from a right of entry, employees are also entitled to have their union officials represent them, for example, in consultation regarding working arrangements, negotiation of an enterprise agreement or resolving workplace disputes.

By Joanne Hall – Employment Relations Senior Advisor

Need assistance?

Please contact Employsure for assistance if you receive a notice or visit from a union official or require any assistance in relation to matters where there is union involvement.

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