Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Registered Organisations Bill a win for workers

By John Slater - posted Tuesday, 29 November 2016


Last Monday's long awaited passage of the Registered Organisations Bill has been touted as a much-needed win for the Turnbull Coalition Government. But the real winners are Australia's 1.6 million union members whose dues have too often been deployed to ends far removed from their rights at work.

The Registered Organisations Bill will make serious inroads towards fixing the culture of lawlessness and corruption that has taken root in some quarters of Australia's trade union movement.

The bill addresses the current shortfalls in union transparency and accountability in three key ways

Advertisement
  • Subjecting union officials to broadly the same standards borne by company directors under the Corporations Act
  • Strengthening financial and transparency requirements, including mandatory reporting
  • Increasing civil penalties and imposing criminal liability for union officials who engage in serious breaches of their statutory duties. Critically, repeat law-breakers can be barred from holding future office. Unlike the former penalties prescribed by the Fair Work Act, this will mean law breaking can no longer be regarded as the cost of doing business.

These changes are not before time. Compared to the stringent standards of accountability faced by corporate office bearers, the union movement has long operated in a legal vacuum. The funds at stake are more than chump change. With the union movement and employer groups holding more than $2.5 billion in assets and enjoying annual revenue of $1.5 billion, ensuring the financial probity of these groups is squarely in the public interest.

The deficiencies of leaving trade union's to operate as unincorporated associations was laid bare by the findings of the Heydon Royal Commission. The Commission uncovered embezzlement in the order of millions of dollars, repeated instances of financial maladministration and myriad examples of officials profiting from clear conflicts of interest.

The recent rap sheet of the CFMEU is a case in point. More than a quarter of the union's employees have either been convicted or are facing charges for over 1,000 industrial breaches in the last year alone. Over the past decade, the union has amassed more than $8.25 million worth of fines, bankrolled by the dues of members who give up a small slice of their salary to the union every fortnight.

How many other organisations in Australia use their members' fees to bankroll a bargaining model that regards lawbreaking as a standard negotiating tactic? At a minimum, the Registered Organisations Bill would weed out the ringleaders of this diseased culture for good.

Likewise, under financial disclosure requirements of the bill it's unlikely that one-time Health Services Union whistleblower Kathy Jackson would have been able to rack up 's $1.4 million of wrongful expenditure undetected over ten years.

Advertisement

Many of Australia's trade unions boast balance sheets of up to hundreds of millions of dollars and membership lists totalling tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of names. Charged with managing industry super funds, conducting enterprise bargaining negotiations and representing employee's in workplace disputes, unions remain an integral part of Australia's industrial relations interface. It's in the interests of not just members, but employers and union officials themselves that public trust and confidence in the union movement is not undermined by illegality and sleight of hand that would see corporate office bearers consigned to a jail cell.

The fact that union membership has fallen from 40 per cent of the workforce to a mere 15 per cent in just two decades – shedding 140,000 members in the last 12 months alone – is no small measure of the growing juncture between the movement and Australia's modern employment landscape.

On that score, Bill Shorten's comments that Malcolm Turnbull is 'obsessed with destroying unions' are striking for their glaring lack of self-awareness. What faster way to destroy the union movement than allowing its reputation to be plundered by unscrupulous officials who have made a career out of hanging members out to dry?

The Senate crossbench should now pass the Government's ABCC bills as a matter of urgent priority. Restoring confidence and order to Australia's embattled union movement and construction sector are both worthy, albeit modest, steps towards an industrial relations system that promotes economic growth underpinned by the rule of law.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All


Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

John Slater is the Executive Director of the H R Nicholls Society.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by John Slater

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of John Slater
Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy