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Date PostedFebruary 7, 2014

Alterations to Workplace Laws a challenge to unions

The proposed to changes to workplace laws will be challenging for the unions to overcome as they will be faced to new barriers to entering workplaces, according to the Abbott government.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz recently announced that the government intends to proceed with its plan to alter federal workplace laws, making it more difficult for unions to enter work sites and in particular construction sites.

The proposed changes relate to right of entry laws. Right of entry refers to the part of Commonwealth workplace laws which regulate the rights of organisation officials (such as a trade union) to enter premises.

The bill which is expected to be introduced in parliament soon will remove the rights of unions to enter workplaces, following a decision by the Fair Work Commission which found that construction union officials had been involved in the misuse of their right of entry to a number of projects in South Australia.

According to Abetz, the current rights of the union are “excessive”, something which the bill will seek to correct. The bill, Abetz says is consistent with the Coalition governments pre-election workplace policy.

Union representatives would also no longer be able to use workplace lunch rooms as the default meeting place for their visits under the amendments and the responsibility of employers to facilitate union access to remote workplaces would also be removed.

The minister said that the right of entry laws were being abused by the unionists and needed to be altered to be more consistent with that of the laws proposed by Julia Gillard during the 2007 election period.

The alterations to the law will include a more in depth definition of who is allowed to enter and will require them to have a genuine reason and rationale for doing so.

The proposed changes have been condemned by the Greens but the Coalition government believes that this will help reduce the inconvenience and cost to businesses that occur as a result of current right of entry laws.

Abetz said part of the proposed changes to the bill also include removing the power of the unions to veto the start of new projects.  The Coalition government and businesses claim that unions have been extorting money by refusing to sign to greenfields agreements. With the new bill, if negotiations for a greenfield agreement aren’t finalised within 3 months, the business can take the proposed agreement to the commission for approval instead and the commission will have the power to make and approve it.

The government claims that any deal will be held to the highest standards and testing and would also have to satisfy the current better-off overall test.

At the moment the building watchdog is investigating the CFMEU officials over their conduct at the four Lend Lease projects in South Australia. The y are also looking into claims that unionists attempted to intimidate the SA builder into flying the union flag and employ “non-working” union shop stewards.  According to Minister Abetz this is the type of behaviour that the government is seeking to put to an end to.

The unions however have vehemently condemned the proposed changes to the federal workplace laws, saying that it would jeopardise the health and safety of workers.

Peter Cutforth is a Director at Urban E-Learning, a global elearning and web strategy firm based in George St Brisbane. Peter's interests extend to training, safety and compliance, online marketing, and Mobile Apps.

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