Moves designed curb union power on greenfields agreements and tighten rights of entry on to work sites have been welcomed by construction and industry lobby groups in Australia.

Introduced into Parliament on Thursday, the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 attempts to respond to issues associated with a review of the Fair Work Act by the Fair Work Review Panel in 2012.

If passed into law, the changes will:

  • Curb union power to hold up greenfields agreements by extending the notion of ‘good faith’ bargaining to cover these agreements and allowing employers to apply directly to the Fair Work Commission for approval of agreements if agreements with unions cannot be reached within prescribed timeframes.
  • Repeal a number of former government amendments to right of entry provision and expand the Fair Work Commission’s capacity to deal with disputes about frequency of union visits.
  • Amend transfer of business laws to enable workers to transfer voluntarily to a related related company of their employer without the industrial arrangements of each employer being disturbed.
  • Implement a number of changes recommended by the Panel designed to make Individual Flexibility Agreements more workable.

The new laws also clarify rules relating to payment of annual leave loading on termination of employment and leave accruals during periods of workers compensation absence and prohibit employers from refusing requests for unpaid parental leave without first providing workers a reasonable opportunity to discuss requests.

Controversially from workers’ perspectives, however, the laws will mean employees are not able to accrue annual leave whilst absent from work on workers compensation.

Building industry lobby groups broadly welcomed the changes.

Commenting on the new rules surrounding greenfields agreements, for example, Master Builders Australia Chief Executive Wilhelm Harnisch says the industry has long been concerned about the ability of union officials to use their position to unduly frustrate the making of these agreements, which are often used in large resource or construction projects.

“Such entrenched and unwarranted power of unions undermines delivery of community infrastructure projects leading to delays and cost blow outs for which the community ultimately foots the bill” Harnisch said, adding that amendments in this area would help accelerate infrastructure projects but cautioning the Bill does not entirely remove union’s right of veto in agreements for such projects.

In the residential sector, meanwhile, Housing Industry Association (HIA) industrial relations spokesman David Humphries says the past five years had seen small builders contend with higher levels of cost and compliance burden following the introduction of the Fair Work Act.

“Whilst there are many matters that still require redress, today’s Bill is an important first step in fixing the legislation to restore balance to Australia’s industrial relations framework and increase productivity in the economy” he said.

Humphries says the housing industry has been concerned about the tactics used to force non-unionised workplaces to engage with unions and sign-up to pattern bargaining enterprise agreements.

“HIA supports the provisions in the Bill that will no longer enable unions to conduct recruiting missions for prospective members at non-unionised workplaces unless first invited” he said.

“Unions should be subject to the same non-solicitation restrictions as every other business in the economy.”