Freedom of association protections give employees and contractors the right to choose whether or not to join a union or industrial association.

Freedom of association is protected by the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act), which applies to all employers and employees. Freedom of association gives employers, employees and independent contractors:

  • the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union or employer association or to participate in industrial activities which they organise
  • protection from discrimination or victimisation due to membership or non-membership of a union or employer association
  • entitlements to compensation when freedom of association rights are infringed.

If your freedom of association rights are infringed on, you are protected by several penalties and protections.

Behaviour that breaches the right of freedom of association

The FW Act prohibits several types of conduct that infringe freedom of association rights. It’s often unlawful to threaten to engage in prohibited conduct. It’s also unlawful to encourage or incite another person to engage in prohibited conduct.

Fair Work Act—protections and penalties

Under the FW Act it’s unlawful for a person to take or threaten action against another person because they engaged in or proposed to engage in an industrial activity. Industrial activities include:

  • becoming or not becoming a member of an industrial association (like a union or employer association)
  • representing or advancing the views, claims or interests of an industrial association
  • taking part or refusing to take part in industrial action
  • refusing to pay strike pay.

It’s also unlawful for a person to take adverse action against another person because they have a workplace right or propose to exercise or not to exercise a workplace right. Workplace rights include:

  • entitlements under an award or enterprise agreement or an industrial law
  • commencing or participating in court proceedings
  • making an inquiry in relation to employment
  • complaining to a workplace body.

Adverse action includes activities like dismissal, terminating a contract, refusing to employ or engage a person, discrimination and organising or taking industrial action.

For contraventions of the FW Act, the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court can make appropriate orders, including:

  • penalties of up to $12,600 for an individual and up to $63,000 for a body corporate
  • awards of compensation for damages suffered by an employee or independent contractor
  • injunctions to stop or prevent the conduct
  • reinstatement of a person.

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Factsheet