Right of entry
Find out about unions entering the workplace.
On this page:
- Right of entry in the workplace
- Entry permit requirements
- Notice of the visit
- What permit holders can do in the workplace
- Permit holder responsibilities
- Responsibilities when dealing with permit holders
- Related tools and information
Right of entry in the workplace
Union officials have a right to enter workplace or business premises to investigate suspected contraventions of the Fair Work Act or related instruments (for example an award or enterprise agreement), or to hold discussions with employees.
To exercise their right of entry to a workplace under the Fair Work Act, a union official needs to have a valid right of entry permit and meet other entry requirements.
State and territory work health and safety (WHS) laws also provide rights to enter workplaces for WHS purposes, and set out the rules for getting a WHS entry permit and exercising this type of entry. Union officials also need to have have a Fair Work Act right of entry permit and comply with additional requirements when exercising a WHS right of entry to premises that are covered by the Fair Work Act.
Read on for information about right of entry under the Fair Work Act.
For more information about right of entry under WHS laws, visit:
- Related sites for a list of state and territory WHS regulators
- Fair Work Commission – About Work Health and Safety entry permits.
Entry permit requirements
Right of entry permits are issued by the Fair Work Commission (the Commission).
To be eligible for an entry permit, a person has to be an:
- elected officer of the union, or
- employee of the union.
A permit holder also needs to be a fit and proper person, as determined by the Commission.
Right of entry permits are valid for 3 years and expire as soon as one of the following happens:
- the permit is 3 years old
- the permit holder stops being a union employee or official, or
- the Commission suspends or revokes the permit.
To find out more about right of entry permits, go to:
Notice of the visit
Permit holders entering a workplace have to give written notice to the site occupier and any other affected employers at least 24 hours, but not more than 14 days, before their visit. This is known as an entry notice.
The Commission can give permit holders an exemption certificate in some circumstances, which allows them to enter without notice.
A permit holder who has entered a premises also needs to produce the entry notice (or exemption certificate) as well as their entry permit on request by the site occupier or an affected employer.
For more information about entry notices visit Fair Work Commission – Rules for a Fair Work entry notice.
Rules for entering a textile, clothing or footwear industry workplace
There are important differences to the rules when union officials enter workplaces in the textile, clothing and footwear industry.
Unlike other permit holders, union officials representing textile, clothing and footwear workers can:
- look into suspected contraventions of outworkers terms in an award or registered agreement
- enter the workplace without giving advanced notice or the workers being there
- talk to any workers who work on the premises and who want to speak to the permit holder
- access records of workers, including those who aren't union members.
While permit holders don't need to provide advanced notice in these circumstances, they still need to provide notice in writing. The notice needs to be before, or as soon as possible after, they enter the premises.
What permit holders can do in the workplace
When a permit holder enters a workplace to investigate a suspected contravention of the Fair Work Act or a related instrument (for example, an award or enterprise agreement), they can:
- inspect any work, process or object that relates to the suspected contravention
- interview a person in relation to the suspected contravention if the person agrees to be interviewed and the permit holder’s union is entitled to represent them
- inspect and make copies of records relating to the suspected contravention, or serve a notice on the employer to produce records at a later date.
However, permit holders aren't allowed to see the records of non-union members, except with:
- the non-member's written permission, or
- an order from the Commission.
A person must not use or disclose any information or document obtained when investigating a suspected breach for an unrelated purpose, unless they’re authorised to by the Fair Work Act.
Discussions with employees
Permit holders can also enter a workplace to hold discussions with employees.
Permit holders can only interview or meet with employees who:
- work on the site
- are entitled to be represented by the union
- are willing to meet with the union.
Discussions have to be during meal or other breaks, not during paid work time.
Access to rooms for discussions and interviews
Permit holders can hold their discussions or interviews in rooms or areas that are agreed with the occupier of the premises.
If there is no agreed place, the permit holder can hold the discussions or interviews in any room or area where those employees ordinarily take meal or other breaks and which is provided by the occupier for breaks.
Visiting remote workplaces
When a permit holder visits remote workplaces, accommodation and transport may not be reasonably available. If this happens, they can enter into an accommodation or transport arrangement with the employer.
If the employer and the permit holder can't agree on an arrangement, the employer needs to provide or arrange accommodation or transport if:
- it doesn't cause undue inconvenience for the employer
- the permit holder gives a reasonable amount of notice.
The employer can charge a fee for the accommodation or transport. It can't be more than it costs.
Permit holder responsibilities
While on site, permit holders need to comply with the site occupier’s reasonable requests to:
- comply with WHS requirements
- take a particular route to access areas or rooms for interviews or discussions with employees.
Permit holders must not:
- misrepresent their authority as a permit holder under the Fair Work Act
- enter any part of the premises that is mainly used for residential purposes
- intentionally hinder or obstruct another person or act improperly.
Responsibilities when dealing with permit holders
An employer, site occupier or other person must not:
- stop or delay a permit holder who has followed the right of entry rules when they are entering or seeking to enter a premises
- refuse or fail to comply with a permit holder’s lawful request to produce or provide access to records or documents
- intentionally prevent or obstruct a permit holder who is exercising their right to enter a site or premises
- misrepresent that something they’re doing (or something someone else is doing) is authorised by the right of entry provisions of the Fair Work Act.
For information on disputes about right of entry, visit Fair Work Commission – Disputes about entry to workplaces.
Related tools and information
The Commission plays an important role in administering the right of entry framework under the Fair Work Act. Visit the Commission’s website for more information or help with:
- Entry permits
- When an official can enter the workplace
- Check an entry permit
- Apply for a Fair Work entry permit
- Disputes about entry to workplaces
- Work health and safety permits
We (the Fair Work Ombudsman) can help you with more information about:
- The role of unions
- Union membership
- Right of entry (our fact sheet)