11 June 2014 Union Visits - How does one limit uninvited guests?

By Warwick Ryan, Partner

In Brief

Union visits and the associated tension between employers and union officials can be disruptive and stressful for both parties. The Fair Work Commission has provided recommendations to clarify rights of entry visits which will be trialled for a period of three month. This article highlights the recommendations in more detail and demonstrates what employers can do to manage right of entry in their workplace.

Employee's time and level of commitment are critical resources to any business in pursuit of productivity and business efficiency. With this in mind it comes as no surprise that the entry of union officials into the workplace can be perceived by employers as disruptive and an unreasonable diversion of their resources.

In order to combat the tension between employers and union officials exercising their right of entry, the Fair Work Commission was given the power, from 1 January this year, under the Fair Work Act to determine disputes and make orders when satisfied that the frequency of entry would "require an unreasonable diversion of the occupier's critical resources".

The Fair Work Commission last week was asked by Greenmountian Food Processing to clarify the frequency, location and duration of right of entry visits conducted by AMIEU (ie. meatworkers' union). The parties acknowledged that they had failed to reach an agreement regarding:

(a) Frequency of visits by permit holders;
(b) Duration of visits;
(c) Location of discussions with employees;
(d) Movements of permit holders during visits; and
(e) Participation of employees in discussions.

Having heard from both parties, Commissioner Lewin, provided recommendations to be trialled for a period of three month with the parties reporting back to the Commission after two. The recommendations integrated aspects from the alternative positions of both parties.

In regard to the frequency of visits the Commissioner recommended that:

(a) visits to hold discussions with employees are to be conducted monthly;
(b) in the event of Enterprise Bargaining the parties may meet and confer to agree on supplementary visits in order to facilitate the bargaining process; and
(c) employees may request additional visits.

The duration of visits were limited to two time slots:

(a) Between 7.50am and 8.10am; and
(b) Between 11.50am and 1.10pm.

The locations of the visits and movements of the permit holders were restricted to:

(a) The lunch room subject to AMIEU providing a protocol explaining the purpose of their visit as well as an undertaking that they would only hold discussion with employees who wished to participate; and
(b) The movements of the permit holders would be restricted to the lunch room for the whole visit.

The recommendations of the Fair Work Commission fail to provide any clarification on what is meant by "unreasonable diversion" of an employer's critical resources but it does, however, demonstrate the types of acceptable restrictions that an employer can seek to implement in order to manage right of entry in the workplace.  Further, it gives an indication that there are limitations upon unions wandering around your premises as they see fit.

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This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.

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