17/08/2017 - 13:26

Super union merger a cause for concern

17/08/2017 - 13:26


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OPINION: In any normal case, efforts to economise and gain efficiencies to best represent your stakeholders would be applauded. So why is that not the case with the proposed merger of some of the nation’s most influential unions?

There’s no reason to believe a merged ‘super union’ would dampen unruly behaviour.

OPINION: In any normal case, efforts to economise and gain efficiencies to best represent your stakeholders would be applauded. So why is that not the case with the proposed merger of some of the nation’s most influential unions?

The local branches of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Maritime Union of Australia, and the Textile, Clothing & Footwear Union of Australia are well known to many Western Australians.

The militancy of the first two unions, in particular, is a concern for WA and the resources, energy, construction and maritime sectors, and the broader Australian business community.

These concerns are laid bare in the details of the proposed amalgamation, the entity it would create and how it would operate.

A major concern is the capacity of the merged union to exploit its members. A trade union’s job is to represent the interests of its members. There are well-documented examples of CFMEU officials not consulting or considering their members when it takes action, legal or not.

So the kicker is that union bosses are often directing members on action to be taken, not the other way around (as it should be). Most union members are law abiding, productive, tax-paying members of our society. They are entitled to proper, responsible representation at work.

A further problem is that it is union members, and rarely the union bosses, who ultimately pay the unions’ large and numerous fines for breaking the law through bullying and harassment.

The king hit comes in when we see incidences of unions turning on their own. Naming, shaming, bullying, and performing standover tactics have been used to intimidate both union and non-union employees into taking action that is contrary to their personal interest.

Consider recently reported comments by CFMEU boss John Setka (since retracted) inciting harassment and intimidation of federal public servants and their children in their communities.

At the same time we have the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the head of Australia’s union movement, openly and actively encouraging our industrial laws to be broken.

And if you thought that perhaps the proposed ‘super union’ merger (it’s a CFMEU takeover, let’s not kid ourselves) might lead a cultural improvement in Australia’s most lawless union, I have some bad news. The MUA isn’t averse to a little industrial mayhem, which can neatly be summed up as the next care factor – amplification of disruption.

More workplaces, more people and businesses and more parts of Australia’s supply chains will be disrupted. The amplification of disruption leads to less productivity, which leads to fewer jobs. Disruption leads to falling confidence in our economy, to less investment, resulting in fewer jobs. You can see a theme here.

The care factor in this proposed merger takes an alarming turn when you consider the influence the union movement has on Australian politics. The Labor Party is fed and watered by unions – unions that claim to represent working Australians (let’s recall at this point who is directing who in this juggernaut).

When you add powerful political influence with the proposed merger’s ability to disrupt the economy with careless regard for following the law, then you have a pretty scary proposition.  

In any other area of the law it would be quite simple – behave and abide by the law and then you can go about your business. Companies face this premise and much more scrutiny when a merger or buyout is proposed.

The CFMEU, MUA and TCFUA have applied to merge under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 and the application is currently subject of legal proceedings.

So here comes the next care factor and it is a relatively modest premise: is the merger in the interests of Australians?

We all should care if it is in the interest of Australian workers and those seeking work.

We all should care if it is in the interests of employers who take the risk of investing and employing people.

We all should care about the effect of this proposed merger monopoly and impact on supply chain on the Australian economy.

I care that we ask and get answers to these questions. That submissions and opinions are sought, that everyone who is involved or has an interest is heard.

The modest ideal of ensuring this merger is in Australia’s interest can be achieved with the introduction of a public interest test ensuring a simple requirement that merging unions have complied with the national workplace laws for a specified time. The federal government has committed to such a test with the introduction of the Ensuring Integrity Bill.

All who have experienced industrial and business disruption will no doubt closely monitor developments in parliament and in the Fair Work Commission.

Those employees and employers who have been affected by these unions’ lawless behaviour will be watching with bated breath.

A positive Senate outcome on the Bill that has been tabled will also improve investor confidence and provide much-needed jobs in this country. It would send a reassuring signal to people who have been affected by unacceptable militant union behaviour over the years.

• Steve Knott is CEO of the Australian Mines and Metals Association


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