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Parties to the Award Australian Trade Union Archives Home Page
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Parties to the Award

Federal industrial relations legislation

Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

Industrial Relations Act 1988

Registered organisations
Associations eligible to register
Interstate disputes
Prior existence of an association
Definition of industry
Size requirements
Rights of registered organisations
Obligations of registered organisations
Dual registration
Deregistered organisations
Employer associations

Amalgamation trends

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Rights of registered organisations

Unregistered unions have no rights under the federal Act. Upon registration a union becomes a corporate body and assumes a legal entity as official (and often exclusive) representative of employees in an industry, occupation or workplace. A registered union is able to notify the Commission of an industrial dispute (actual, threatened, impending or probable),[17] represent its members before the Commission and become party to any award or agreement which results.[18] It has perpetual succession, is able to buy, own, sell, lease and lease to, and otherwise deal with property.[19] It may also sue and be sued, and, importantly, is able to sue its members to recover fees, levies or dues payable under its rules.[20] In addition, a registered union has the opportunity to obtain award provisions requiring that preference be given to union members in regards to hiring and dismissal.[21] It is also protected against employers' attempts to weaken the union's position by discriminating against its members.[22]

Employer associations may also register but since they seem able to operate as effectively without registering, relatively few have done so. Under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, single employers could also apply for registration but since they were able to bring industrial disputes before the Commission in any case, there was little reason to do so.

A consequence of the varying benefits gained from registration by unions and employers is that registration of trade unions is widespread, whilst registration of employer associations is much less representative of the total number operating in the system.

Obligations of registered organisations

As well as conferring specific rights, registration also makes organisations liable to regulation. A registered trade union or employer association must have rules which, amongst other things, provide a framework for democratic government and good financial management of the organisation. These rules must specify the purposes for which the organisation is formed, conditions of eligibility for membership, and the relevant industry or industries.[23] The rules and any subsequent alterations must be lodged at the Industrial Registry, and be certified by an Industrial Registrar as complying with requirements of the Act and the law.[24]

Certain rule changes, such as a change of name or eligibility rules, can only take place with the consent of a Presidential Member of the Commission.[25] Permission may be refused if the proposed new name is the same as another organisation, or so similar as to cause confusion. It may also be refused if the change to eligibility rules is such that it covers workers who might 'conveniently belong' to another registered organisation.[26]

Organisations which believe they would be adversely affected by changes to another's name or eligibility rules may object to the changes. Many applications by trade unions for registration or changes to eligibility rules have been refused because of objections by registered unions that workers could 'conveniently belong' to their organisation. As a general rule, registration of two competing organisations in the same field is avoided. This practice is based on the fear that rival unions in the course of their competition for members would threaten the peace, stability and effective continuance of industry.[27] Examples of where such duplication has occurred, however, include: the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Australasian Society of Engineers; the Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia and the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers' Union of Australia; the Australian Railways Union and the National Union of Railwaymen of Australia; and the Female Confectioners' Union and the Federated Confectioners' Union of Australia.

With the aim of securing democratic control by its members, a registered organisation's rules must prescribe the powers and duties of committees of the organisation and its branches, the organisation's officials, and the means by which these committees and officials are appointed and removed. Whilst the Act does not enforce a particular model of organisation, the rules must allow for democratic control by members over committees, officials and policy-making.[28]

Under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, registered organisations were required to keep a register of members and a list of officials, and to lodge such documents with the Industrial Registry on a regular basis. The Industrial Relations Act also requires lodgement of lists of officials but only a statutory declaration by the Secretary that a register of members is maintained. In addition, both Acts require organisations to keep proper accounting records. Organisations must make financial reports and audited accounts available to members, and also lodge these with the Registry.

Organisations in Australian Trade Union Archives: Amalgamated Engineering Union | Australian Railways Union

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© 1994 Print Edition pages - 5, 2002 Online Edition
Published by The University of Melbourne Archives, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher