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The Coalition government and what it means for workplace relations law

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By James Sanders, Lawyer, MST Lawyers

With the election of Tony Abbott and the Coalition on 7 September 2013, we need to once again turn our minds to the changes that will be made to workplace relations law.

The Coalition, though out their election campaign, maintained that the workplace relations framework, the Fair Work Act 2009 (‘FWA’), will remain with only a few amendments.

1.      Greenfields agreements:

a)  The Coalition will introduce good faith bargaining requirements into Greenfields negotiations.

b)  These negotiations will need to be completed within 3 months.

c)  If negotiations cannot be completed within 3 months, the employer will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission (‘FWC’) for approval of the agreement.

2.      The Australian Building and Construction Commission (‘ABCC’)  to be revived:

a)  The Coalition will revive the ABCC replacing the Building and Construction division of Fair Work.

3.      Workplace bullying to be retained:

a)  The Coalition will retain the amendments made to the FWA in relation to workplace bullying (see previous article here), due to commence operation on 1 January 2014.

b)  Two amendments will be made to the incoming bullying laws:

i.  workers will now have to prove to the FWC that they have first sought assistance from an independent regulatory agency (such as their state’s work health and safety body) before an application to the FWC can be made; and

ii.  the scope of workplace bullying will be expanded to include the conduct of union officials towards workers and employers.

4.      A higher threshold for protected action:

a)  Before the FWC can approve a protected action, the FWC will need to be satisfied that there have been constructive negotiations between the parties, and that the claims by both parties are ‘sensible and realistic’.

5.      Right of Entry:

a)  The Coalition will reverse amendments made in June 2013, with respect to a union official’s right of entry (see previous article here), and seek to limit entry to:

i.  a union covered by an enterprise agreement in that workplace; or

ii.  a union as a bargaining representative seeking to make an agreement in that workplace, where there is evidence that the members have requested their presence.

b)  For award-covered workplaces and workplaces covered by non-union enterprise agreements, entry will only be permitted if the union can demonstrate:

i.  it has a representative role in that workplace; and

ii.  it has members who have requested their presence.

The Coalition’s ability to implement any of these changes will depend on the Greens who will hold the balance of power in the Senate until July 2014.

For more information on the Fair Work Act 2009 and the incoming changes, please contact our experienced Workplace Relations team on (03) 8540 0200 or email the author of this article James Sanders.