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Client Update: Coalition releases industrial relations policy

10 May 2013

In brief: The Coalition released its industrial relations policy yesterday. Overall, the policy does not contemplate radical changes and instead confirms the Coalition's intention to work within the existing industrial relations framework. However, there are several interesting issues arising from the policy, particularly in relation to unions' rights of entry and enterprise bargaining. Partner Simon Dewberry (view CV) and Senior Associate Rima Hor report on the key proposals.

How does it affect you?

The policy1 indicates that, if the Coalition is elected, it will:

  • seek to impose tougher restrictions and penalties on unions and limit rights of entry to workplaces;
  • introduce tighter control over enterprise bargaining, particularly with respect to greenfields agreements;
  • restrict access to protected industrial action to when claims are not unreasonable and would not adversely affect productivity;
  • re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission;
  • broaden the operation of individual flexibility agreements by ensuring that an enterprise agreement cannot restrict their use and by extending the notice period to terminate to 90 days;
  • offer paid parental leave for mothers at full pay for 26 weeks; and
  • engage the Productivity Commission to review and make recommendations about improving the Fair Work laws, but it will not implement any such recommendations unless they are first taken to an election.

Union regulation and rights of entry

The policy addresses union activity in two main ways.

First, the Coalition proposes to require registered organisations and their officials to comply with the same rules and penalties as companies and their directors, including financial reporting obligations. To monitor and enforce compliance with these new rules, the Coalition also intends to establish a new body known as the Registered Organisations Commission.

Second, it proposes to revert to the pre-Fair Work model for union rights of entry, which limited entry for discussions with workers to when the union is bound by an award or enterprise agreement that applies to the workplace. However, it appears from the policy that entry for discussions will be allowed when a worker has requested it and the union has previously had a representative role at the workplace.

Bargaining and greenfields agreements

The Coalition proposes to introduce amendments that would allow protected industrial action to occur only after genuine and meaningful talks have taken place, and when the claims being pursued are reasonable and not such that they would adversely affect productivity.

The Coalition also seeks to introduce stricter timeframes for the negotiation of greenfields agreements by requiring agreement to be reached with a union within three months of negotiations commencing. When agreement cannot be reached within three months, the employer will be able to take the proposed greenfields agreement to the Fair Work Commission for approval. Before approving the greenfields agreement, the Fair Work Commission would have to be satisfied the agreement provides for pay and conditions that are consistent with 'the prevailing standards and conditions within that industry', which could provide for very interesting bargaining dynamics. A party that is favoured by the 'prevailing standards and conditions' might hold out from reaching agreement, to ensure they have the benefit of this requirement.

Please contact us if you would like more information on the policy or if you would like us to consider how the Coalition's proposals are likely to impact on your business specifically.

Footnotes
  1. The Coalition's Policy to Improve the Fair Work Laws May 2013.

For further information, please contact:

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