It’s been a fun few weeks down at the RC on union governance and corruption. The two case studies have centred on the AWU and its relationship with two companies: Cleanevent and Winslow Construction. (Of course, Melham knew, he was involved in the deals.)
Mind you, the AWU is not called Australia’s Worst Union for nothing; it has a long standing reputation as the boss’s union, happy to cave into employers’ demands in exchange for membership numbers.
You have to laugh when Shorten keeps on prattling on about how proud he is that he has stood up for the rights of working men and women through his entire adult life – right.
The issue now is the extent to which these cases are but apples in a large case or the tip of an iceberg?
Answering the question: how many employers pay union dues? is very difficult because neither the union nor the employer is likely to fess up voluntarily. And of course there is always scope for faux invoices.
I’m pretty sure it is common in small scale construction and building services.
We had an inkling a few years back when the ABS published two series: Trade Union Statistics and Trade Union Members. The first series was based on returns provided by the unions themselves and the second was based on asking workers whether or not they belonged to a union (I think in their main job, so there could have been some undercounting there).
The gap between the two series was immense, with the trade unions’ statistics showing much higher numbers of union members than the Trade Union Members series. Of course, the unions could just have lied (and included non-financial members who never resigned) but one explanation is that there are quite a few workers out there who are technically members of trade unions, paid for by employers, but are unaware of this.
The ABS has since discontinued the Trade Union Statistics series, presumably because it thought that the figures were unreliable.
Now some may say that it doesn’t really matter if an employer pays the union dues for its workers. In fact, it matters a great deal:
- Standing up for freedom of association must involve the union representing the worker and the worker being prepared to pay for that representation;
- Once an employer pays the union dues, there will be an expectation of a special deal or services from the union, which will almost always dud the workers.
My advice to the RC would be: keep digging. The broader case needs to be established.