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Spotlight on union corruption

THE Coalition Government has officially made moves to stamp out union illegality with the commencement of a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Releasing the Terms of Reference late last week, Attorney-General George Brandis QC and Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz said the Royal Commission is designed to get to the bottom of widespread and systemic problems ingrained across institutions.

"The establishment of the Royal Commission delivers on the Government's pre-election commitment to establish a judicial inquiry into the Australian Workers' Union slush fund scandal," a joint statement read.

"Workers and trade union members are entitled to know that the unions they belong to are using their money in pursuit of the objectives of the organisation."

The Hon Dyson Heydon AC QC will lead the Royal Commission, which is expected to hold a preliminary hearing next month.

Specifically the Commission will investigate:

  • the governance arrangements and alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions, related funds, organisations, accounts and financial arrangements;
  • matters relating to the activities of entities or funds established by, or related to, the affairs of trade unions, as well as the adequacy of existing laws as they relate to the governance and financial management arrangements of these entities;
  • allegations involving union officials establishing and benefiting from funds or accounts set up for purposes unrelated to the needs of their members, and the conduct of officers of relevant entities.

AMMA was the first business association to respond to the announcement, with chief executive Steve Knott urging all employers, employees and trade unions to actively support the Royal Commission as an opportunity to stamp-out unacceptable breaches of the trust of Australian working people, and the country's laws.

"The Royal Commission is essential to restore confidence in Australian trade unions, particularly for the 13% of private sector workers who choose to join and financially support them," Mr Knott said.

"Those who have complied with the law have absolutely nothing to fear, and should actively cooperate with and support the work of the Royal Commission.

"It will compel employers, employees and union representatives to provide witness evidence and finally remove the shield of legal privilege from wrongdoings and cover-ups."

The Commission gets underway as the Australian construction industry continues to battle widespread and highly publicised unlawful union conduct, prompting Mr Knott to once again urge the Labor and Greens parties to support more immediate measures to combat lawlessness.

"Labor and the Greens must stop standing in the way of the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). They should instead pass the legislation and work with the current government to show a united front to stamp out illegality in this sector once and for all," he said.

Mr Knott also repeated calls for both union and employer representative bodies (known as Registered Organisations) to be subject to the same rules as those operating under the Corporations Act.

"AMMA has voluntarily operated as a corporation for 96 years, and can see no reason why all employee and employer organisations should not also do so," he said.

"For the financial and administrative obligations of unions and employer groups to fall under separate rules and regulations, with lesser penalties and laxer enforcement, creates an impression that they benefit from some 'special IR club' for insiders.

"It also gives the impression that corruption by union officials is a lesser evil than business wrongdoing, and that the financial contributions of (often lower paid) working people do not warrant the full protection of our laws."

Royal Commissioner Heydon will report his findings and recommendations by 31 December 2014.

For more information on the Royal Commission, including Terms of Reference, click here.

For more information on AMMA's advocacy in this area, please contact the AMMA Policy Team via (07) 3210 0313(07) 3210 0313.

 

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