Unions have long encouraged members to proudly demonstrate their membership – be it through the prominent unfurling of the Eureka Flag on cranes in construction sites, to stickers emblazoned on hard hats and car bumpers. While many employers have accepted this to be a workplace right of its employees and have not challenged the status quo, a recent case in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) considered whether it is lawful for an employer to remove union material from uniforms.
In the matter of Alcoa of Australia Limited v The Australian Workers’ Union  FWC 3582, Alcoa made an application to the FWC, to rule on its ability to direct employees to remove union paraphernalia from their company issued uniforms.
Specifically, Alcoa sought the FWC’s confirmation that it could direct all employees covered by their enterprise agreement to comply with the terms of the Dress Policy (Policy). The application arose because employees continued to wear shirts bearing the union logo in contravention of the Policy, which required that ‘the uniform will have only the Alcoa logo and the employee’s first name on the shirt.’ The employees refused to comply with the Policy even after receiving written warnings.
Alcoa submitted that it was able to require employees to abide by the Policy on the basis that:
- It was consistent with the Enterprise Agreement;
- It was a legitimate exercise of managerial prerogative;
- The instruction was lawful and reasonable in all circumstances; and
- There had not been any previous agreement reached in relation to what clothing may or may not be worn by union delegates
The FWC confirmed that Alcoa was entitled to require all employees, including those with dual roles of employee and union delegate, to comply with the terms of the Policy.
This case affirms the rights of employers to exercise reasonable managerial prerogative and to issue lawful and reasonable directions to employees regarding their workplace attire.
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