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Christian Porter
Attorney-General Christian Porter. (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

The Morrison government is on the cusp of passing a controversial bill that it promises will crackdown on union militancy. In reality, it could spell the end of workplace strikes. 

Under the Ensuring Integrity Bill, unions and their officials could receive demerit points for breaking existing laws. Enough points, and they could face deregistration or disqualification.

But the infractions that could risk unions getting shut down, or their officials kicked out, are far-reaching, and include the kinds of strike action that have, in the past, received widespread community support.

Offences include: 

  • Striking for reasons that aren’t related to an ongoing enterprise bargaining agreement negotiation or proposed changes to an award rate — 300-1000 penalty units
  • Submitting paperwork or financial reports late to the union watchdog — 500 penalty units
  • Failing to remove a non-financial member from the list — 300 penalty units
  • Failing to train an office holder in financial management within six months of them starting — 500 penalty units.

Professor Anthony Forsyth of RMIT’s Graduate Business and Law School told Crikey there were already legal avenues to bring unions into line: employers can seek an order from the Fair Work Commission or the Supreme Court to end a workplace protest, while the government could apply to have a union deregistered if it breaks the law. 

He said that there was a link between the bill and the government’s recent moves to further limit secondary protest action. 

“There is a clear desire to stifle dissent or dissenting views in the various ways that they have pointed out this legislation will apply in industrial action cases, and to unions,” he said. “It links up with the government’s desire to prevent noisy voices of dissent which is not good for democracy”.

Peter Fray

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