Could you please clarify when, and to what extent, unions have a right to become involved in the operations of a business?
A union can become involved in a range of matters affecting your workplace, including:
- enterprise bargaining;
- greenfields agreements;
- industrial action;
- enforcing statutory entitlements;
- consultation during major workplace changes;
- representation in workplace grievances and disputes;
- recruitment of union members;
- breaches of general protections provisions; and
- breaches of anti-discrimination legislation.
A union official may also have a right to enter your workplace. There are three circumstances under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) that a union official can exercise a right of entry:
- for the purpose of investigating a suspected breach of the FW Act, an award or enterprise agreement;
- for health and safety reasons; and
- to hold discussions with employees.
There are also three circumstances under work health and safety (WHS) legislation that a union official can exercise a right of entry:
- to investigate if they suspect you have breached the WHS legislation;
- to inspect documents that relate directly to a suspected breach or contravention;
- to consult and advise workers.
In addition, a union official must hold a valid entry permit and provide written notice of entry.
Once on site, the permit-holder can inspect any work, process or object relevant to the suspected breach, interview any person related to the suspected breach, and access records relating to the suspected breach.
If a union official has shown a valid permit for entry to your workplace, you must not:
- refuse or delay the entry of the permit-holder;
- refuse the right of the permit-holder to inspect and copy records or documents regarding a suspected breach;
- hinder or obstruct the permit-holder from exercising their rights; or
- recklessly or intentionally give the impression that authorised conduct is not authorised.
Significant penalties apply in relation to such conduct. However, if you suspect that a permit-holder has breached a right of entry, you may apply to have the permit revoked or suspended. If you want to limit union involvement in your workplace, you can restrict rights of entry by union permit-holders to the minimum statutory rights.