Direct route for bullying complaints

Workplace bullying victims are to be given a new right of complaint as part of the Gillard Government's rewrite of employment laws.

It is understood the Government will announce today that the Fair Work Commission will get expanded powers of intervention in workplaces where bullying is alleged to have occurred.

Whereas victims of bullying now have to rely on work health safety regulators or police to pursue or, in some cases, prosecute instances of bullying, victims will be able to take their complaints directly to the commission for investigation.

The Government believes victims of workplace bullying will get quicker resolution of their complaint through the commission, which will be given new powers to make orders against employers.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said the changes would provide an accessible, affordable and timely mechanism for victims.

"We want to make sure that we not only address individual instances of bullying in a practical way - we want to prevent bullying recurring and help people resume normal working relationships," he said.

The changes will be accompanied by a definitional change where "bullying, harassment or victimisation means repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety".

The focus on workplace bullying is part of the Government's strategy to rebuild its electoral fortunes on industrial relations-related announcements.

Labor believes a focus on IR could rekindle enthusiasm among its base and draw out Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on his own workplace reform ideas.

Sensing the Government was intent on entrapment, Mr Abbott yesterday declared the coalition and workers "real friends" and tabled his own legislation to increase civil and criminal penalties for dishonest union officials.

"Lest anyone think that this is in some way anomalous, or in some way singling out unions, I want to make it crystal clear that what this Bill seeks to do is to put exactly the same regime in place for unions and those running unions as those that apply to companies and those running companies," Mr Abbott said.

"If a union official or a company official does the wrong thing, they should face the same penalty for the same wrongdoing."

As part of its pitch on modern workplaces, Labor has already announced it will extend the right to request flexible work arrangements to carers, over-55s, parents of school-age children and domestic violence victims.

The right to request flexibility does not oblige employers to grant it, prompting the Greens to demand employees be given right to appeal to Fair Work Australia.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the nation already had an overregulated system.

It said any more changes would only deepen the rift between business and the Government.