Electrical contracting companies could face penalties for not promoting unionism, Federal Court rules

The industry body representing electrical contracting companies has warned businesses they need to be careful “walking the line” when promoting union material within their workplaces under a new workplace agreement, saying they could face possible prosecution.

The warning comes just two days after the Federal Court upheld the agreement struck between the Electrical Trades Union and Victorian company ADJ Contracting.

That specific deal requires union membership be promoted by employers of all current and prospective workers, and that union members “be encouraged to participate in union meetings and exercise their democratic rights”.

But James Tinslay, head of the National Electrical and Communications Association, told SmartCompany businesses in Victoria need to make sure they are walking a “fine line”.

“Businesses need to make sure they don’t go too far. You can’t actively require union membership, and nor can you take action against someone for being a member… I suspect there might be a few businesses that are confused right now.”

Businesses that are party to the agreement are required to promote union membership and could face penalties if they fail to do so. The Fair Work Building and Construction Inspector will be monitoring companies to ensure they comply.

Australian Industry Group head of industrial relations Stephen Smith told SmartCompany the group is disappointed with the legal obligation to promote union membership. “It just shows how ridiculous that clause is,” he says.

The AIG says the agreement between the ETU and ADJ Contracting flows through to hundreds of companies.

“We’re carefully considering the Federal Court decision and working out what we have to do in respect of that.”

The AIG said the agreement, which was originally made last year, shows why freeing up bargaining claims under the Fair Work Act was a bad idea.

“Today’s decision highlights the ludicrous situation that the general protections in the Act may protect everyone in the workplace except employers.”

“The general protections need to be amended to clarify that employers have “workplace rights”, just like employees and other parties. The general protections are poorly drafted and they have led to a raft of unreasonable claims being pursued against employers by some employees and unions.”

Tinslay says it’s important for businesses in Victoria to know their obligations and how to carry them out – and not to do anything without running it by an expert first.

“We issued advice to our members late last year about the union recognition clause, and we’ve told them what they need to be aware of.”

“Now there’s just been a reminder because it’s been upheld, and businesses need to know what to do.”




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