As the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption gets under way, the Counsel assisting the Commission has made an important point:
Jeremy Stoljar SC, said the people who ran trade unions held a special position of trust in representing the interests of their members.
But they did not have the same level of scrutiny as listed companies with large or institutional shareholders to keep a close watch on board activities.
“The law of this country recognises that an officer of a company owes a range of legal, equitable and statutory duties,” Mr Stoljar said.
“Perhaps a union official’s obligations should be even more onerous. After all, a shareholder in a company listed on a stock exchange can always sell his or her shares and move on. It is not so easy to switch unions.”
But why is not so easy to switch unions? This is because the law refuses to allow the registration of other trade unions if there is already one to which potential members could conveniently belong.
Unless the conveniently belong to rule is abolished – and I very much hope that this is one of the key recommendations of the RC – all the regulatory controls and penalties in the world will not stop aberrant behaviour by some union officials.
Recall the Australian Wheat Board and the monopoly single desk arrangement. It is hard to believe that the staff of the AWB would have behaved in the way they did if they had faced more competition in Australia.
In fact, it was the Canadian competitors who squealed about the AWB deal in Iraq, but no one in Australia would listen, at least initially.