Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Unions in Workplaces

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (15:15): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Industrial Relations regarding union presence in workplaces.

Leave granted.

The Hon. B.R. HOOD: Included in the federal Labor government's closing loopholes bill that was introduced last week is a clause that entitles a delegate to represent the interests of not only union members but anyone who is eligible to be a member, and allow them reasonable communication with those potential members. The bill entitles delegates to be given reasonable access to the workplace, its facilities, as well as to paid training during work hours.

Subsequently, union delegates will be entitled to intervene in businesses that have just one or two union members and have formal rights to advocate on behalf of everyone in the workplace while being paid by their employer. Peak industry groups, such as the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association and the Minerals Council of Australia, have all raised significant productivity concerns as a result of these potential changes that will unduly increase union rights, power, influence and membership at the expense of businesses.

Workplace relations expert Professor Andrew Stewart is quoted in recent media as saying that this 'is something that is genuinely new. It's just not something we have ever seen, to my knowledge, formally enshrined in law.' My questions to the Minister for Industrial Relations are:

1. Does the minister share any of these concerns over productivity or unduly increasing the rights of unions at the expense of South Australian businesses?

2, If so, will he commit to contacting his federal counterpart, workplace relations minister Tony Burke, to advocate on behalf of the South Australian business community, who view this measure as union overreach?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:17): I thank the honourable member for his question. As the honourable member has identified, this is in fact a federal matter. Since the referral of much industrial relation powers, the vast majority of the interaction in the private sector industrial relations system is governed by federal law, including the sorts of right of entry provisions the honourable member has outlined. Again, they are a matter for the federal jurisdiction.

Of course, in the state system, there are right of entry provisions, but they relate to what the state has jurisdiction over, and that is generally the work health and safety provisions. Right of entry in terms of the state industrial relations system is generally in relation to work health and safety issues. They are very important issues.

There are laws before this parliament in relation to industrial manslaughter, which are exceptionally important, and not just myself but other members in this chamber have talked a number of times about the importance of making sure people are safe at work—the expectation when you leave for work in the morning that you come home safe, and of course that is not always the case. Certainly, in our industrial relations system, as far as what is in the state system, making sure there is that balance to keep workers as safe as possible, unions absolutely have a role in that. Unions absolutely have a role in making sure workers are kept safe.

I have been involved in many meetings that have involved business groups in South Australia, and I am very grateful for the strong relationship that not just I but many ministers in the Malinauskas government have with industry bodies. There are many industry bodies that are very keen to make sure that their workplaces are as safe as possible and actually share, in many cases, a common interest and common goal with unions in keeping workers safe. In relation to the areas the honourable member has outlined, that is an area for the federal government.