Industrial Relations

The Ensuring Integrity Bill would give Federal Court the power to cancel unions: Here’s what you need to know

Priscilla Pho /

wage theft

Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter speaks during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday, 25 July, 2019. Source: AAP Image/Lukas Coch.

The controversial Ensuring Integrity Bill will, if passed, give the Federal Court the power to cancel and fine unions and their leaders.

The Fair Work Act amendment has been dividing politicians, industry advocates and union groups alike for the past few weeks.

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) chair Peter Strong is in support of the bill, telling SmartCompany COSBOA is not opposed to regulations that support the industry.

“The only people against regulations are the dodgy ones,” he says.

“The bill should pass.”

To date, in addition to Liberal Party MPs, crossbench voters Cory Bernardi, Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Roberts support the bill. Centre Alliance senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff are also likely to support the bill, although they have lobbied for further amendments to the severity of proposed punishments.

The Greens and Labor are both opposed to the legislation.

Jacqui Lambi has yet to cast an official vote but has publicly condemned the target of the bill.

What is the Ensuring Integrity Bill?

The Ensuring Integrity Bill was originally spearheaded by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, but was rejected by the Senate in 2017.

The Morrison government has recently re-introduced the bill, citing the need to “reduce unnecessary costs and delays that law-breaking unions can cause”.

The bill seeks to give the Federal Court “discretionary power” to disqualify union leadership it finds to be unacceptable and dole out severe punishments for “prescribed offences”.

It would further allow the court to suspend the “rights and privileges” of organisations or divisions, order “remedial action” to deal with governance issues, and cancel any group it finds to be “dysfunctional”.

It also proposes setting a public interest test for union mergers. Among other criteria, such as the impact on industry employers and employees, the test would also take into account each organisation’s compliance with industry laws.

Timing is everything

The reintroduction of the bill comes at a time when the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union (CFMMEU), and it’s Victoria state secretary John Setka, have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

June and July of this year saw calls for Sekta’s resignation and CFMMEU having its day in court.

Most recently, the union was fined $108,875 for bullying a Victorian subcontractor into signing a union deal. This sum included a personal fine of $9,000 for an official who was found to have repeatedly broken industry laws.

In the wake of this bad press, the government has revived the bill, seeing a greater chance of having it passed.

In June, the Australian Financial Review reported Minister of Industrial Relations and Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter declared the integrity bill was a means to deregister union groups such as CFMMEU for its “extraordinarily high standard of unlawful activity”.

READ NOW: Why are unions so unhappy? The relationship between trade union membership and real wage growth

READ NOW: Peter Strong: Why the unions’ proposed wage increase will see job cuts and small business collapses

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].

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