Freedom of association and employee representation

Last updated: 30 Nov 2016

This page is: current

Bargaining policy Q&A

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Is my right to representation in the workplace guaranteed?

Yes. The right to representation is a legislative right. It applies regardless of what an agreement says. It is unlawful to take adverse action against an employee because they are, or are not, a union member.

The bargaining policy supports an employee's legislative right to be represented in the workplace. These rights are longstanding over many years and are also enshrined in the Fair Work Act 2009.

Paragraph 31 of the bargaining policy explicitly states that "the right for an employee to choose to belong or not to belong to a union will be respected and facilitated."

Enterprise agreements may contain clauses that recognise an employee's right to be represented in the workplace, including by a union delegate. Such clauses may also include a confirmation that the agency and employee representatives will deal with each other in good faith.

Why are special arrangements for union delegates no longer in agreements?

The bargaining policy requires the removal of content that provides special privileges to unions. This is to ensure that arrangements are balanced and do not favour one group of employees over another. The majority of employees are not union members.

In practice, this respects the right for an employee to belong, or not belong, to a union.

Enterprise agreements should not dictate how an agency and a union will manage their fluid relationship with each other.

Does the removal of special privileges for union delegates mean that agencies will no longer work together with unions?

No. In the interests of good workplace relations, agencies will continue to engage with the relevant unions that represent employees in their workplace.

It is unnecessary for enterprise agreements to prescribe how union delegates will exercise their representative duties. It is inappropriate to guarantee the use of Commonwealth resources and facilities for union activities.

Agencies and unions can make arrangements outside of enterprise agreement about how they will deal with each other in the workplace. This is common practice in other industries and does not impact on an employee's right to representation, or the union's ability to effectively represent employees.