On 4 July 2019, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 (CTH) ('the Ensuring Integrity Bill') and the Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019 (CTH) ('the Proper Use of Worker Benefits Bill') were introduced into the Federal Parliament by Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, Previous versions of the Bills had lapsed earlier in April 2019 as a result of the Parliament being prorogued, prior to the Federal election.
In a media release regarding the introduction of the two Bills, the Attorney-General, comments:
The Ensuring Integrity Bill amends the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (CTH) ('the FWRO Act') in order to respond to community concerns regarding the integrity of registered organisations and their officers, and to ensure that they act in their members' best interests. The Bill is also part of the Government's response to the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption ('the Report'), which was tabled on 28 December 2015. This Report was discussed in a previous TimeBase article. In particular the Ensuring Integrity Bill is in response to Report's recommendations 36, 37 and 38, specific tot he regulation of union officials.
The Bill amends the FWRO Act to:
As a result of these changes, the Minister for Industrial Relations or the Registered Organisations Commission ('the ROC') will be able to cancel a union's registration on the basis of improper conduct. This will include repeated breaches of industrial laws and serious criminal offences. Furthermore, in reflecting similar provisions in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) applying to company officers, union officials charged with serious criminal offences that are punishable by five or more years of imprisonment will lead to automatic disqualification. Additionally, union officials will also face disqualification if they fail to take reasonable steps to stop their organisation from breaking the law. The Minister or the ROC will also be able to apply to the Federal Court for the disqualification of a union official.
The Proper Use of Worker Benefits Bill amends the FWRO Act and the Fair Work Act 2009 (CTH) ('the FW Act') in order to protect workers through greater governance and transparency of registered organisations and associated entities, in particular worker entitlement funds. The Bill also give effect to recommendations 45 and 46 of the Report, by amending the FWRO Act to apply governance, financial reporting and financial disclosure requirements to worker entitlement funds.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions' President Michele O'Neil told the Sydney Morning Herald that the proposed laws were:
Some of the concerns raised by unions and their representatives are that the recommendations align union reforms with their corporate equivalents, including the grounds on which an official can be disqualified and penalties for criminal offences. This would allow individuals with interest to apply to the Federal Court for a wide range of orders including disqualification of an officer or deregistration of a union. Furthermore, this would allow persons with interest to object to the amalgamation of unions, for example, the recent merger between the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union and Maritime Union of Australia in the Federal Court.
On the opposite side of the debate, the Chief Executive of the the Australian Energy and Resources Group, Steve Knott, commented:
The shadow Minister of Industrial Relations, Tony Burke, is reported by the Guardian as saying, nothing in the changes made by the government to the reintroduced Ensuring Integrity Bill addressed the opposition’s concerns:
“We note they have now rewritten the [Ensuring Integrity Bill ] in a bid to address some of Labor’s concerns . . . However, we still have significant problems with this bill, which will ultimately hurt ordinary workers. . . .We will continue to consult and work through the detail but we will not support a bill that makes it harder for workers to get a fair pay rise. We will not support a bill that could leave workers without the representatives that protect them from wage theft, superannuation theft and dangerous workplaces.”
Other objections are focused on the view that such legislation further clamps down on the right of freedom of association. The Australian Institute of Employment Rights, who commented on the first version of the Ensuring Integrity Bill, has said:
"In accordance with ILO [International Labour Organisation] principles workers’ organisations have the right to freely determine their constitution and rules, to freely elect their representatives, to ‘organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.’ The lawful exercise of this right must not be restricted or impeded by interference from public authorities, organisations ‘shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority’. . . . The [Ensuring Integrity Bill] represents an explicit threat to these principles"
Thethat Labor and the Greens will oppose both reintroduced Bills. Both Bills have been referred to Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee which is due to report in October 2019.
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Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 [CTH] and second reading speech and explanatory material available from TimeBase's LawOne service
Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019 [CTH] and second reading speech and explanatory material available from TimeBase's LawOne service
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