An industrial law firm has suggested that employers risk falling afoul of the Fair Work Act if they deny workers leave to attend union rallies.
According to Maurice Blackburn, employees have a right under the act not to be discriminated against on the grounds of political opinion.
That, it said, could be said to include lawful union activities, citing the Australia Needs A Payrise rally scheduled for Tuesday, 23 October as one such example.
“The right to protest is a fundamental tenet of a democratic society,” the firm’s national head of employment and industrial law, Josh Bornstein, said.
“If an employer refuses to allow an employee to take leave to attend the rally, it could amount to adverse action under the Fair Work Act.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman website states that, “Unlawful workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of the following attributes of the person:
- sexual orientation
- physical or mental disability
- marital status
- family or carer’s responsibilities
- political opinion
- national extraction or social origin
“If this is not the basis of the action, it may not be considered an act of unlawful discrimination.”
Those penalties, Mr Bornstein said, amount to fines of up to $63,000 for every instance over which the business is found guilty.
The Australian Needs A Payrise rally is being organised by Australia’s unions and is scheduled for 10.30am to 12.30pm on Victoria Street, Carlton, in Melbourne’s inner north.
A Facebook page set up for the event lists 1,900 people as attending the event, with a further 3,100 interested.
“Every Australian deserves a decent, living wage, no matter what job we do or the colour of our skins. But today, big business and certain politicians force down our wages, privatise our essential services, cut funding to our schools and hospitals, and let our infrastructure fall behind; all while helping themselves to tax breaks and perks. Then they blame poor families and new immigrants for our problems! It’s a bloody joke,” the event details state.
“Working people are fighting back. We’re uniting together as Australians from every background to win a fairer share for working people – just like we won Medicare, safer workplaces and marriage equality.
“Together, we are unbreakable. Together, we’ll change the rules.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.