In two recent decisions, Fair Work Australia (FWA) has clarified what constitutes a “reasonable request” under the right of entry provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act).

In the first, FWA held that an employer’s request that a union hold meetings in “relatively distant locations” from work sites was not reasonable.  FWA found there was insufficient time to hold meetings because of the distance between the meeting rooms and work locations.  Further, it would be difficult to organise meetings to coincide with breaks, which were taken at different times and for varying durations.  FWA ordered that the union have access to the crib or meal rooms for discussions with employees.

In the second, a Full Bench of FWA upheld a decision at first instance that found it was reasonable for an employer to require the union to hold meetings in a training room near a manager's office.  The Full Bench accepted evidence that particular employees would feel uncomfortable if union meetings were held in the lunch room.  However, it noted that union members are entitled to approach employees who might not want to participate in discussions.  The interests of employees is relevant only where it adversely impacts the employer’s business.  The Full Bench also held that where an employer requires a union to conduct discussions in a particular area, this must be appropriately communicated to employees.

Australian Workers’ Union v Rio Tinto Aluminium (Bell Bay Limited) [2011] FWA 3878

Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union  v Dardanup Butchering Company Pty Ltd [2011] FWAFB 3847