Everything you need to know about Unions

 

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With a renewed interest by Unions to increase their membership and seek a Collective Employment Agreement (CEA) in more workplaces, (since the Coalition Government announced pending changes to promote collective bargaining and provide greater Union access rights to workplaces) many Employers who have not previously encountered Union involvement are having to respond to such requests.

What should you therefore know about the Union’s rights and collective bargaining requirements?

Union Access Rights:

As the legislation currently sits, prior to a Union Official being able to wander around the work environment speaking to “potential future members” they must advise the employer, in writing, of their desire to enter the workplace. The Employer must respond to the notice within 24 hours of receipt of such notice, otherwise authorisation can be deemed to have been provided. When the Union does visit the site (on a date agreed by the Employer) the Union Official must report to the reception and must follow all usual site visitor protocols. The Union Official will be entitled to walk around the work environment speaking to Employees about the Union, as long as they do not unreasonably disrupt usual business processes, and they continue to observe all Health and Safety requirements.

Under proposed legislation, a Union Official will not have to provide prior notification of their intention to visit a workplace for the purposes of prospecting for members with the Employer not being entitled to unreasonably restrict the Union Officials rights of entry.

Initiation of Bargaining:

A Union may initiate bargaining for a CEA when they have not less than two (2) members who are employed within the Employer’s business (not necessarily within the same roles or site). When the Employer receives the notice of initiation this must, within 10 days, be provided to all Employees (whether they are members or not) whose work duties fall within the Union’s proposed coverage clause. If this is a new CEA the coverage claim is likely to cover all roles within the company expect management.

Coverage Clause:

Although the Union may seek coverage over the Employer’s full operations, the final coverage will be what is agreed between the parties as a result of the bargaining process – with the Employer typically seeking to make this as narrow as possible.

Bargaining:

Under the current legislation, once bargaining has been initiated, and the Union’s claims have been received, the parties must continue to bargain for the proposed CEA until they reach agreement or the bargaining comes to an impasses. In such case one party may then make application to the Employment Relations Authority to bring the bargaining to a conclusion.

Under the proposed legislation the parties would be required to continue bargaining until such time as an agreement is reached.

Strikes:

Only members of a Union are legally entitled to strike, and members who are bargaining for a CEA have a right to strike if the bargaining becomes protracted or reaches an impasse.

Summary:

The intricacies of collective bargaining are immense with many Employer’s now being placed into a position that they have never had to encounter before, often for a very limited number of Employees.

We have substantial experience in supporting Employers in all aspects of the bargaining process and therefore if you have any questions regarding your rights and obligations, or need any assistance in dealing with Unions or the bargaining process, feel free to give us a call, we would be happy to help.

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