Tougher industrial relations regulation promised – July 2016

Filed under: Employment and Education, Industrial Relations, Politics, Trade and industry, Trade Unions,

The Liberal Party says it is essential that unions and employers operate in a transparent and accountable manner and that the building industry – Australia’s third-largest employer – is fair, safe and lawful.

The policy commits a Coalition Government to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), whose rejection by the Senate was the central reason for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull successfully requesting the Governor General to grant a double dissolution. It also proposes a range of tougher rules regulating the behavior of unions and union officials.

A statement from the party says a re-elected Coalition government will:

  • re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission;
  • legislate to allow the courts to ban officials of registered organisations from holding office if they repeatedly break the law;
  • codify the obligation for officials of registered organisations to act in the best interests of members by putting members’ interests before their own; declaring any financial benefits they receive; and dealing properly with any conflicts of interest;
  • outlaw ‘corrupting benefits’ – payments between an employer and union that are not covered by legitimate exemptions;
  • require disclosure to employees of any legitimate financial payments between employers and unions;
  • enable courts to place registered organisations (or individual divisions or branches) in administration or deregister them if they become dysfunctional or are no longer serving the interests of their members, as is the case with companies under the corporations law;
  • introduce new sanctions for the deliberate falsification of membership records; and
  • introduce a new public interest test for mergers of registered organisations, which will allow relevant matters to be taken into account, such as the organisations’ history of compliance with workplace laws.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said a second-term Coalition government would empower the Federal Court to ban “repeat offenders” from holding office in a union.

Under the plan, the Federal Court, following a request by a newly-established Registered Organisations Commission, would be able to disqualify a union official “from holding any office in a registered organisation for a period of time the court considers appropriate”.

The Coalition also announced company directors could face higher maximum penalties for serious contraventions of the Corporations Act.

Accepting most of the recommendations of the trade union royal commission, Senator Cash said a re-elected Coalition would seek to increase the maximum civil penalty that could be imposed on company directors to $216,000, the same amount she wants applied to union officials. It would be the first time the existing $200,000 maximum penalty for serious contravention of the Corporations Act has increased since 2002. However, the $16,000 rise pales into comparison with the jump that would apply to union officials and business representatives employed by registered organisations.

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