WA Commissioner deals with alleged anomalies in union election

Union member's report launched 'discovery of documents' order

WA Commissioner deals with alleged anomalies in union election

In a recent decision before the Western Australia Industrial Relations Commission, the Chief Commissioner had to step in regarding irregularities in a union election.

The person who filed a case was a member of the Australian Nursing Federation, Industrial Union of Workers Perth. She was also an unsuccessful candidate for the position of secretary.

She filed against the union as the first respondent; the returning officer of the Western Australian Electoral Commission as the second respondent; and the registrar of the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission as the third respondent.

The member claimed there was inadequate time for other members to return their ballots by the election closing date, particularly those residing in distant or remote locations.

She also claimed that there were disparities between the election roll and the first respondent’s membership records, saying that this had a major impact on the outcome by prohibiting or impeding “the full and free recording of votes and the correct ascertainment or declaration of the results of the election.” The reason why she wanted the Chief Commissioner to deal with the case was that the documents that were given to her were “too broad.”

According to records, the first respondent objected to the discovery of the roll of electors and the register of its members “as this would prejudice the privacy and security of confidential information in the records.”

Meanwhile, the third respondent argued the registrar’s role was “to facilitate, rather than to conduct, the election, and it would not be appropriate to be seen as a protagonist in the proceedings.” 

Recently, HRD reported on a federal court decision that punished a union and its leaders for violating right-of-entry laws.

It also reported on recent IR changes and why HR “will need to get up to speed” with bargaining, enterprise agreement, and other relevant matters.

The power of the Chief Commissioner

The Chief Commissioner found that the issue involving the roll of electors and the member register, including the members’ names and addresses, meant that “it was axiomatic that the discovery and inspection of the records were just, as a matter of equity, good conscience, and the substantial merits of the case.”

“[The member] could access the records, and that access should not be limited to her solicitors and counsel,” the Chief Commissioner ruled.

“Any potential insecurity of the documents being provided in electronic form was not a basis to refuse production of the documents.”

Thus, the Chief Commissioner issued orders for the discovery of documents and said that the third respondent’s status would be amended to that of an intervenor.

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