Australian unions angry over right of entry laws

Unions in Australia have reacted angrily to attempts by the government to curb workplace right of entry laws with new legislation that tightens existing laws.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (Actu) said that employees faced with unsafe or unfair workplaces will find it harder to access support from unions under the legislation, while the ability of union members to advise staff of their rights would be threatened.

The new Bill would amend right of entry provisions in the Workplace Relations Act, and would require unions to provide detailed written notice and follow strict guidelines before seeking to enter any workplaces.

Actu president, Sharan Burrow, said: “These unnecessary and intrusive new laws will disrupt [unions’] important role and in-fringe on the right of employees to be effectively represented by unions and to be free from exploitation or abusive work practices.”

Blocking union visits will allow bad employers to get away with underpaying or overworking staff, she said.

Burrow also expressed concerns over elements of the Bill that would introduce lifetime bans from visiting workplaces for union officials who flout the law’s requirements.

However, minister for employment and workplace relations, Kevin Andrews, said the Bill was consistent with the federal government policy, which states that workplaces operating under the federal system should not be subject to inconsistent elements of state systems.

“This is not an attempt to stop unions entering the workplace, but it will ensure that stringent criteria will be satisfied before anyone is granted a right of entry permit,” he said.

Opposition parties in the country have expressed reluctance to restrict the historic right of unions to access workplaces.

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