Unions have called for workers’ rights to meet with union officials to be strengthened following reports that access to workplaces has been prevented by over-zealous employers.
Employers are taking advantage of restrictions on union rights to enter workplaces to make it virtually impossible for workers to discuss industrial issues with union organisers.
In the latest case, a union meeting at a Brisbane printing factory was forced to be held in an open-air car park adjacent to a loading dock under the unblinking eye of a surveillance camera.
Not surprisingly, only one worker braved the onerous restrictions to meet with two union organisers.
Unions are calling for an overhaul of the right to entry rules established under Work Choices.
Work Choices grants unprecedented powers to bosses to determine where and when union meetings can be held, and even what route union officials can take through a building.
“It is every worker’s democratic right to be represented by a union, and to meet with union organisers in their workplace,” says ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.
“But Work Choices has imposed immense barriers between workers and their unions which employers have taken advantage of to prevent proper representation.
“Labor’s pledge to scrap Work Choices and restore rights to collective bargaining should also include strengthening the rights to entry to workplaces for union officials.”
In the case of Geon Australia, officials from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union gave 24 hours notice to management requesting the right to hold a lunch time meeting in the staff meal of its Geebung plant to conduct an information session on changes to Work Choices.
Management was initially evasive about the time that lunch breaks were held, and when two union organisers arrived at 12pm insisted that the meeting would have to be held outside in the car park/loading zone rather than the meal room.
The union officials expressed their concerns that the location for the meeting was dangerous and inappropriate, but management refused to budge.
The Geon Australia case is not unique. Last month, male and female workers at a Melbourne carpet factory were forced by their employer to hold two union meetings in the women’s toilet area.
“Unions do not expect unfettered access to a work site, but employers should treat their workforce with some respect,” Mr Lawrence says. “The balance under Work Choices has tipped too far in favour of employers, and this has diminished rights at work.
“We will be highlighting this issue during meetings with the federal government as it prepares its legislation to abolish Work Choices.”