The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 introduced to the House of Representatives on 4 July passed the House at the end of the month and is now before the Senate. The Bill forms part of the Government’s broader agenda on industrial relations reform to increase the regulation of unions in the wake of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

The Bill was rejected by Parliament in 2017. However, after the much-publicised guilty plea by the Victorian Branch Secretary of the CFMMEU to harassing his wife via a carriage service, and his subsequent refusal to step down in the face of public and political pressure, the Government has reintroduced the Bill with renewed confidence.

In its current form, the Bill includes the following amendments to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009:

  • extending the automatic disqualification regime which prohibits a person from acting as official of a registered organisation to include a new category of “prescribed offence” – being a serious criminal offence punishable by 5 or more years’ imprisonment.
  • allowing the Federal Court to prohibit officials from holding office on a number of grounds, including repeatedly failing to stop their organisation from breaking the law or otherwise not being a fit and proper person to hold office.
  • making it an offence for a person to continue to act as an official or in a way that influences the affairs of an organisation once they have been disqualified.
  • allowing the Court to cancel the registration of an organisation on a range of grounds, including corrupt conduct by officials and the taking of obstructive and unprotected industrial action by a substantial number of its members.
  • allowing applications to be made to the Court for other orders, including to suspend the rights and privileges of an organisation or an individual branch or division.
  • expanding the grounds on which the Court may order remedial action to deal with governance issues in an organisation and providing expressly that the Federal Court may appoint an administrator to an organisation or part of an organisation as part of a remedial scheme.
  • introducing a public interest test for amalgamations of registered organisations.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter told the House that the Bill “strikes the appropriate balance between ensuring that registered organisations and their officers act with integrity and obey the law, without affecting the vast majority of organisations and their officers that do the right thing and work hard to represent their members and act in their best interest”.

On the other hand, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is implacably opposed to the Bill, calling it “draconian, reactionary legislation”. So lots of fun still to come on that one, I think.

The Bill is currently open for public comment with a report due on 25 October 2019 by the Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee.  Such submissions may be made by individuals and organisations to the Committee Secretary in writing. There is currently only one lodged submission – by the International Centre for Trade Union Rights – with the 29 August deadline for submissions approaching.

The Bill’s approval into law is by no means certain with ample time remaining for proposed legislation as politically-charged as this to be amended or derailed in a Senate not under the control of the Government.