"There are media reports that the Federal Government has plans to increase the rights of union delegates, including requiring employers to provide additional paid leave or other entitlements to union delegates. Implementation of these kinds of changes would be shameless and inappropriate. There is real concern among employers over this prospect and many unanswered questions about what precisely is intended," Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the national employers association Ai Group said today.
"Employers, and indeed many Australians, will be understandably outraged at the prospect of Government largesse to unions which reportedly would take the form of employers providing additional pay for the performance of union activities. This is especially so given only a small proportion of employees, around 8% of private sector workers, are union members.
"The Government did not foreshadow this as part of their pre-election commitments and shouldn't seek to slip such requirements through amongst a wave of other radical changes to workplace laws.
"This is simply another line in a long laundry list of anti-business demands being made by unions to the Government that they appear to want to tick off.
"Employers are already under enough stress with increasing costs and flatlining productivity without having to also provide additional financial support for unions.
"Union delegates should not be treated as special citizens. Businesses should not be expected to pay the wages of people when they aren't contributing to the output of the workplace or who are instead focused on promoting union membership or agendas.
"Australia's workplace laws are enforced by the Fair Work Ombudsman. Workers also have access to assistance from the Fair Work Commission in resolving workplace disputes. Both organisations play an important role in educating and assisting workers. The focus should be on making sure these respected public institutions are actually properly resourced, not on making employers fund union activities.
"There is certainly no need to change our laws regarding union right of entry to workplaces which is another proposal reported to be under consideration. There are already provisions that allow unions to access workplaces to investigate suspected breaches of workplace laws without notice, where endorsed by the Commission, and there hasn't been any case made out for changing the current rules.
"There is a raft of reasons why union officials shouldn't be given unfettered rights to wander around workplaces unannounced, and to interfere with a business's operations. Not least among these is the need to ensure that union officials are made aware of health and safety requirements when accessing a site and be required to actually follow them.
"Unfortunately, we also hear far too many reports of employer and of employee concern over the poor behaviour of union officials when on site. All too often this includes employees feeling pressured or harassed to join the union. Any changes mustn't exacerbate these problems," Mr Willox said.
Tony Melville – 0419 190 347