Is the HSU the tip of the iceberg?

On the face of it, there seems to have been some serious investigative journalism about the inner workings of the HSU and the perks of office. 

Jobs for relatives, jobs for friends, subsidised business premises for relatives, kick-backs from related companies, home renovations, council development approvals, supplier-provided credit cards, school fees paid, a Mercedes-Benz car, expensive restaurants, five star hotel stays, government appointments and associated director fees – the list goes on.  Who needs union paid visits to brothels to keep the interest going in this story?

My guess is that those in the inner circle, including the lads from Sussex Streets and the comrades in Trades Hall (such a lovely building after the renovations), have known about all this stuff all along … and more.  Are they disturbed by the revelations?  Probably.  But the key is wheterh they are disturbed by the facts and why has nothing been done about what amounts to largesse on a grand scale, at best, and potential illegality and corruption at worst. 

On any interpretation, what has been going on at the HSU – for years it would seem – is an incredible disservice to the members of the HSU, many of whom are relatively lowly paid hospital workers.  Why any of them would want to retain their membership is beyond me.

Now the civil war that has been waging within the HSU for years perhaps makes this union stand out from others, although there have been similar outbreaks in other unions, albeit perhaps not quite so long-lasting.  (The losers in these other cases seem mostly to depart the scene.)

But should we assume that some of the generous arrangements for the union officials that have emerged in respect of the HSU are absent from the union movement more generally?  It is difficult to tell, in part because the financial reports required of trade unions by the legislation are not informative to the members.  For instance:

  • It is impossible to determine how much union officials are actually paid.
  • While many union officials are paid additional fees in relation to acting as Trustee of a Superannuation Fund, for instance, it is not clear whether these fees are transferred to the union (which would be the appropriate arrangement for full-time officials)
  • Related party transactions do not seem to be recorded in the financial statements I have perused.

What also seems to be clear is:

  • Some union officials appear to hold their positions for inordinate lengths of time – decades.
  • It is not uncommon to see relatives of officials pop up as officials in the same or other unions.
  • Increasingly, union officials have no experience in the occupations which their unions represent. 
  • The common career path is: university course (something soft will do), union official, more senior union official, preselection to safe parlimentary seat, MP, and hopefully higher office.
  • Labor parliamentarians are increasingly sourced from the union ranks.

This last point is in the context of union membership making up 18 per cent of employees and 14 per cent in the private sector.  There are now 1.8 million union members and the numbers have been in almost constant free-fall for decades.

It is interesting to ponder who really made the decision for the HSU to disaffiliate from the ALP.  The more interesting question is whether the HSU is really an isolated example.  My advice to those investigative reporters is to keep digging and to look beyond the HSU.

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47 Responses to Is the HSU the tip of the iceberg?

  1. .

    Investigate Industry Super Funds.

  2. TerjeP

    Of course it is widespread. The difficulty is proving it. Like a cult that takes care of it’s own problems and won’t open up to the outside world most unions are likely to have some degree of disfunction. As always the trick is to follow the money.

  3. Greg

    Surely many of these matters could be corrected if ASIC was used to regulate the unions with the same standards applying as for companies.

  4. Matt

    The practices at HSU are standard operating procedure for unions. Who are you going to complain to? After all, we know what the labour movement thinks of rats and scabs …

  5. wreckage

    Unions need to be under some basic scrutiny, and the Industry Super Funds need to be under very thorough scrutiny. This is for their own good.

  6. Rabz

    Jobs for relatives, jobs for friends, subsidised business premises for relatives, kick-backs from related companies, home renovations, council development approvals, supplier-provided credit cards, school fees paid, a Mercedes-Benz car, expensive restaurants, five star hotel stays, government appointments and associated director fees – yada, yada, yada…

    Lies, all of it is lies, I tells ya! //sarc off…

  7. murray

    Hopefully this is just the beginning of the media shining a light on how unions spend their members’ contributions.

    As much as the Fairfax broadsheets come in for criticism, they have run as hard as anyone on this, let us hope they continue to do so.

  8. Rabz

    Bring on bob and joolzes’ meeja inquisition – that’ll put a stop to all this scurrilous rumour and inyourendo!

  9. jupes

    Prime Minister, is this standard behaviour in the labour movement?

    I have full confidence in the member for Dobell.

  10. duncan

    It is interesting to ponder who really made the decision for the HSU to disaffiliate from the ALP.

    Indeed.. it doesn’t seem to be in HSU’s interest at the moment to be fiddling with their Labor association, thay have more important things to concentrate on.

    One can only speculate that they were heavied out by Labor; such that when the HSU debacle goes all pear-shaped, Labor can claim some distance.

    Fortunately, Labor have clearly defined themselves as the union’s party, so I think everyone will see Labor connection, affiliation or not. I can’t see the seperation achieving anything.

  11. Abu Chowdah

    But what about that Liberal minister? All of this pales into insignificance compared to $100 worth of shoplifting!

  12. Rabz

    I can’t see the seperation achieving anything.

    If the laybore pardy really wanted ‘separation’ from the HSU they could always divest themselves of thommo.

    Somehow, I can’t see that li’l eventuality coming to pass, eh juliar?

  13. Toxic

    But what about that Liberal minister? All of this pales into insignificance compared to $100 worth of shoplifting!

    Abu, you forget to take into account the Lefty Moral Equivalence Multiplier.

    $100 times the LMEM is about $10 million, putting her way out in front of Thommo.

  14. wreckage

    It is possible that the HSU is under severe pressure from members and has split from the movement in general as a matter of survival as an institution.

  15. Tim Quilty

    Nah, wreckage, it’s a factional move. Gets rid of 20 votes in the Victorian caucus. Which will be allowed back when the balance of power has shifted again…

  16. boy on a bike

    Whatever the problems are in these unions….. it’s all Abbott’s fault!

    Wrecker!

  17. $100 times the LMEM is about $10 million, putting her way out in front of Thommo.

    Have you factored in the hooker componenet and also the pay my leagal bill section, because that would equate to $15 million if someone pinched $5 worth of goods.

    Of course if you were the ALP member for whoremongering every $100,000 is worth $50,000,000 in other peoples money.

  18. thefrollickingmole

    I know at least one union (senior) chap Id picture sooner cutting off his own nut than defrauding his members. But I also another union in WA whose most senior member was as corrupt as all buggery.

    Id dislike the first bloke as a real red ragger, a “hate the bosses” type, unbending and harsh.
    But he was better than the corrupt fuck we dealt with, business flew her in, overturned a IRC ruling in our favour on a demarcation issue, and fucked us over royaly.

    Ive got a bit of time for unions, as long as its voluntary to join. And the demarcation is the source of corruption, if members could vote with their feet they would.

  19. boy on a bike

    Nice avatar, Mole

  20. wreckage

    Let the record show my whole-hearted agreement with The Mole.

  21. Skuter

    I’m with mole and wreckage. I have no problem with union types, who might have completely opposite views on politics and economics to me, as long as they’re genuine about concern for union members. I do have issues with the careerist union arseholes who see their members as a path to personal wealth and a parliamentary pension.

  22. Matt

    The union movement cannot work without the intimidation of non-members and/or recalcitrant members. A voluntary, non-exclusive, union is basically useless. Unions rely on having a monopoly supply of labour. The unions are aware of this – their mythology is all about “unity” and “solidarity” and their treatment of “scabs” and “rats” is notorious.

    Even the so-called “good” union people rely on this undercurrent of intimidation for their power and all of them would support the harrassment of scabs. There is no such thing as a good union.

  23. daddy dave

    Ive got a bit of time for unions, as long as its voluntary to join.

    Keep in mind they also have, by law, monopoly rights at the bargaining table, as well as additional priveleges such as entering other people’s place of work – a right that you don’t have and nor do I.

  24. jupes

    I do have issues with the careerist union arseholes who see their members as a path to personal wealth and a parliamentary pension.

    And just what percentage of union officials fit the above description?

    That is the question.

  25. Skuter

    Jupes, unfortunately for union members and society at large, the careerists now run the show…in fact, they are the whole show…

  26. Judith Sloan

    Matt – to illustrate your point, there was a letter doing the rounds in relation to the Toyota dispute where those workers who refused to join the strike were threatened with langugage such as “we know where you live”. Charming.

  27. Guardianangel

    There is a petition now online to save Michael Smith from being sacked at 2UE.

    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/support-michael-smith-reinstate-him-to-2ue.html

    One significant signer, No 1231 was from the one and only Mr Bob Kernohan. He writes:

    “Michael Smith recorded 3 interviews with me at the 2UE Fairfax Studios in Sydney. Michael did nothing wrong. The 2UE management had expressed no opposition to Michael’s comments that he made on air. I should know, l was there. If they move to dismiss Michael, l believe it will result in a very high profile unfair dismissal claim. Should this happen, l have assured Michael that he will have my full support, and will be available to give evidence to support. Please support this petition. Spread the Word. Bob K ”

    PLEASE EVERYONE SIGN THIS PETITION FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND FREEDOM SPEECH IN AUSTRALIA!
    Reply

  28. FDB

    2UE is a private business guardianangel, and so I will demonstrate my support for FREEDOM OF TEH PRESS!!!1! by allowing them to hire, fire, and make programming decisions as they see fit.

  29. .

    I can’t believe you’re actually mocking a free press.

  30. JC

    The petition is also a private action too, FDB.

  31. FDB

    “The petition is also a private action too, FDB.”

    Yes, and it’s one which conflates the very serious issue of a free press with something else entirely – a private business preventing one of its employees from getting the business in legal trouble.

    I think they should be allowed to do that.

    “I can’t believe you’re actually mocking a free press.”

    Calm youself Dot. I was only mocking a person who doesn’t understand what they’re talking about.

  32. daddy dave

    I will demonstrate my support for FREEDOM OF TEH PRESS!!!1! by allowing them to hire, fire, and make programming decisions as they see fit

    FDB, do you really believe that this decision to take him off air was made as a purely editorial, business decision?

    You really believe they got no phone calls from powerful people or their representatives, as happened to The Australian? Wake up and smell the napalm.

  33. daddy dave

    I think they should be allowed to do that

    You’re being deliberately, bone-headedly, obtuse. Smith’s stand down was almost certainly not ‘the free press’ in action.

  34. FDB

    Perhaps I’m being a tad mischievous, but don’t you think that Smith’s stated, and demonstrated, unwillingness to abide by his employer’s own legal advice is reasonable grounds for dismissal?

    I can’t think of too many jobs where telling your bosses that you know better than their legal team is a good idea.

  35. wreckage

    A voluntary, non-exclusive, union is basically useless.

    No, it’s not. It gives members an avenue for collective bargaining and a presumably experienced team to negotiate on their behalf or appraise them of what wages and conditions they might expect to be able to secure in individual negotiations. They have social, professional and informational functions.

    I contend that if voluntary, non-exclusive groups were useless they wouldn’t exist for every trade, business, and profession in existence.

    I can’t think of too many jobs where telling your bosses that you know better than their legal team is a good idea.

    Happens all the time. For most businesses it is currently illegal to fire someone on these grounds. Sure, I don’t like the “unfair dismissal laws” but the ALP do, and I can’t see why their supporters would be so inconsistent about it.

  36. daddy dave

    unwillingness to abide by his employer’s own legal advice

    WTF? What legal advice, exactly?
    It’s now against the law for journalists to investigate the prime minister’s past connections to known criminals?

    Oh yeah… I forgot… it’s ‘old news’ (ie the public knows about it and thinks it’s a yawn).

  37. Rabz

    I can’t think of too many jobs where telling your bosses that you know better than their legal team is a good idea.

    Wow – an ‘obtuse’ ‘progressive’ numpty appealing to the infallible, unquestionable authoritah of legal parasites.

    Didn’t see that one coming…

  38. Matt

    I contend that if voluntary, non-exclusive groups were useless they wouldn’t exist for every trade, business, and profession in existence

    They would be professional associations and not unions – at least not unions as they have existed in the English-speaking world. The union movement and the “solidarlity” ideology go hand in hand.

  39. FDB

    Wow, an invective-laden, content-free spray from Rabz.

  40. TE

    How, in practical terms, could a Coalition Government legislate to clean up union governance? Would it be as simple as amending the Corporations Act to make it apply to unions?

  41. JC

    Secret ballot? Has that been removed. Get the organization to be supervised by the corps act and the senior people to hold the same responsibilities as directors.

    If they fuck up, go after them hard and relentlessly in the same way we go after crooked directors or senior executives.

    Go back 10 years through the books and check to see there has been no stealing.

  42. daddy dave

    Would it be as simple as amending the Corporations Act to make it apply to unions?

    The tricky thing is how precisely they want to target unions versus non profits and NGOs in general. If they’re not careful, churches, charities, and local sports clubs will be vulnerable to the same legislation.

    They could lay the groundwork a Royal Commission into union financing (and industry super funds, while they’re at it). A Royal Commission would be equivalent to aerial bombing prior to a ground advance.

  43. JC

    Here’s the other thing the new Liberal government can do to really fuck over the Labor party and their senior alliance partners.

    Ensure that political donations can only be given equal to the amount personally authorized by the membership. That way you cut off funding to the beast.

    also no advertising of any political nature unless expressly approved of by the membership through a majority vote.

    All voting would require immediate auditing.

  44. wreckage

    There’s not as much need for most NGOs to be under the spotlight because people can leave. You basically can’t leave a union. (Ie there can never be an alternative union).

    I see no reason, given Unions are a special case anyway, that they couldn’t be brought under some basic rules of good governance without also bringing in every other NGO in the country.

  45. JC

    I honestly can’t believe what has happened in banking with the new crop of trading managers. Don’t these gooses ever check their desk’s cash position and then ascertain why they are funding $2 billion of negative cash.

    What a bunch of lazy doofuses.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14944238

  46. wreckage

    I reiterate that rules of good governance will be GOOD for the unions.

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