The AWU Scandal And Labor’s WorkChoices Lie

A FILTHY SUB-PLOT to the fiasco engulfing the Australian Workers’ Union has emerged, with details of an AWU EBA becoming public; whether illegality is proven or not, it seems the AWU was selling members out as unions were spending $13 million to campaign against John Howard’s WorkChoices laws. The revelation smashes ALP claims that “fairness” drives its refusal to debate penalty rates, and further imperils Bill Shorten’s “leadership.”

Irrespective of whether charges are eventually laid over the stinking mess being uncovered at the Royal Commission into the union movement that threatens to engulf the Australian Workers’ Union and terminate Bill Shorten’s political career, Labor and its thuggy union brethren stand exposed, and condemned, today: at best, of a flagrant and reprehensible lie to both the Australian public and to their own members and supporters; and at worst, of an attempt to rig a federal election in 2007 that the ALP would otherwise have been unlikely to win.

Either way, the credibility of both entities, where the fraught subject of penalty rates and their impost on small businesses is concerned, is now precisely zero.

I’m not going to bang on today about the violent, lawless, militant excesses of the worst aspects of the union movement in this country, although — as ever — these are reason enough for decent, ordinary folk to look forward to the day union influence and power in Australia is smashed to smithereens, for the unions in their present incarnation represent an edifice that has long passed its use-by date.

But I have been reading an explosive feature on the AWU in today’s edition of The Australian, and a little exercise in playing connect-the-dots suggests that at the same time the union movement was spending in excess of $10 million to buy a federal election win for the Labor Party, it was doing and maintaining deals with selected preferred businesses that stripped away the very penalty rates and worker entitlements it so noisily claimed it would fight forever to protect whilst pocketing…well, whilst pocketing lump-sum payments from those companies for which it is yet to provide any cogent or plausible explanation.

One of those companies — as the week’s events have shown, and as today’s piece in The Australian details — was Cleanevent.

I urge readers to take the time to read the linked article, for I am not going to replicate its contents contemporaneously; but whichever way you cut it — and to date neither Shorten nor any of the key players involved from either the AWU or the company have denied it — the ferocious insistence that all penalty rates and worker entitlements are non-negotiable, as promulgated by the ALP and the union movement, is selectively applicable at best, and just another tool with which to wreak industrial bastardry and political trouble at worst.

The deal struck between the AWU and Cleanevent in 1999, rolled over in 2004 (when signed by Shorten) and — crucially — in 2006, at the height of the unions’ massive campaign against WorkChoices and the “erosion” of workers’ rights, and again in 2010, traded away penalty rates and other loadings in favour of a flat rate paid to casual employees of about $18 per hour, which was payable by Cleanevent even if its staff worked on public holidays, late at night, or (I presume) through shifts exceeding eight hours in length.

The $18 hourly rate compared with an average rate payable by Cleanevent’s competitors of about $28-$29, as the article details.

With reported wage savings to Cleanevent in the order of $2 million annually and competitors locked out of striking a similar deal with the AWU — with one competitor quoted in the article as interpreting his inability to secure the same arrangements for his own business as meaning the AWU intended him to be unable to compete — the Cleanevent deal raises the question of anti-competitive and collusive behaviour on the part of the AWU which one would hope is taken up at some later stage by the ACCC and/or other relevant federal government instrumentalities.

But having permitted Cleanevent to have its wage cake and eat it too — including during Shorten’s watch — it appears that the AWU eventually fixed a price to its complicity in selling out the entitlements of workers that it viciously purported to be the custodian of, with The Australian noting that it was revealed in testimony to the Heydon inquiry that Cleanevent was eventually required to pay the AWU $25,000 per year in return for the continuation of the enterprise agreement and for the union committing to undertake no industrial action against the company.

If that sounds like blackmail and/or extortion to readers on the face of it, I assure them I concur with their perception.

To add fuel to a fire that will clearly continue to burn for some time now its architecture is being oxygenated in public and before a Royal Commission, The Australian‘s article details at least one competitor to Cleanevent — established by a former employee of that company — who approached the AWU in an endeavour to extract a comparable arrangement for his own workforce, and after a period of stonewalling, obfuscation and delaying tactics, that particular endeavour was refused.

The competitor’s business went belly-up. It is reasonable to suspect that where there was one such inconsistency in the AWU’s conduct — or, indeed, in yet-to-be-revealed deals struck by other unions — there must be others as well.

But a logical reading of the fact this type of arrangement existed at all can only lead to the conclusion that similarly, where there is one, there are others; and whilst it remains to be seen whether the AWU — or any other union — was party to other agreements involving the unionised workforces of other companies that cannibalised statutory employee entitlements in exchange for “payments” to those unions, this particular set of arrangements (involving at one point Shorten, now “leader” of the ALP, as it does) raises some disturbing and salient questions that judged against the public behaviour of the union movement are impossible to justify.

In no particular order:

  • On what basis did the AWU believe it had the right to enter into an industrial agreement with any company that stripped casual workers of remunerative entitlements contained in union-backed, legally binding awards;
  • Did either AWU, Bill Shorten or the union movement generally believe it or they had the right to arbitrarily determine which businesses succeeded or failed through the exercise of control over their labour costs and if they did, what was the basis for such a belief?
  • Did the AWU, Bill Shorten or the union movement generally believe the practice of accepting “payments” in return for declining to take industrial action against companies was acceptable and again, if so, what was the basis for such a belief?
  • Did the AWU, Bill Shorten or the union movement generally believe themselves to be exempt from those provisions of Trade Practices law governing anti-competitive, collusive and/or cartel behaviour?
  • On what basis did the AWU and/or Bill Shorten believe it acceptable, in 2006 and 2010, to renew an enterprise agreement that stripped penalty rates from casual employees at a time the union movement generally was running a high-profile media campaign against the legislation of a Liberal government that provided, in part, for any worker to strike a similar deal by consent with their own employer?
  • On what basis does Bill Shorten reconcile his present position — and that of the ALP under his “leadership” — of refusing to allow any discussion of penalty rate flexibility whatsoever when his own union presided over their complete abolition in at least one workplace, including during the period of his own stewardship of that union?
  • What point does Bill Shorten ascribe to the continuation of the award regime as a tool for wage-setting when the actions of his own union, including the period in which he was in charge of it, allowed award-busting agreements like the one struck with Cleanevent to be struck?
  • In view of all of these questions (and notwithstanding other aggravating factors in the behaviour of unions, including the AWU, that may yet come to public attention), why are Bill Shorten, the ALP and the union movement bitterly and implacably opposed to any reforms to introduce genuine labour market flexibility at a time of rising unemployment, stagnating economic conditions and tepid wage growth?

If I was running a cafe or restaurant and being legally forced to cough up $60 to $80 per hour to pay staff on a Sunday, I’d be very angry today: Shorten, the ALP and the union movement are the three impediments to getting ridiculous wage imposts on such businesses ameliorated, and enabling those businesses to hire more people, and it seems that for all the lofty rhetoric about “fairness” and making sure workers aren’t ripped off, those “principles” are elastic, expedient, and able to be sacrificed in the interests of union dominance and the advancement of its preferred cronies and allies.

I reiterate that where one of these grubby arrangements is to be found, it stands to reason that there must be others: and in that vein, unions and the people in charge of them are guilty of a massive lie to the Australian public in the dishonest and disingenuous scare campaign they waged against the Howard government’s WorkChoices laws a decade ago.

It says something about the utterly contemptible nature of the ALP and the union movement that even now, they are gearing up to attempt to fight a fourth consecutive federal election on a WorkChoices-based scare when all along, deals that achieved precisely what they wanted to frighten people about over WorkChoices were being struck by those posturing as the protectors of the rights EBAs like the Cleanevent one summarily dispensed with.

And it goes so far as to raise the question of whether the 2007 federal election was rigged: certainly, in the absence of the WorkChoices scare campaign, Labor would have been unlikely to win, and whilst it is always difficult to substantiate the validity of judgements made with the benefit of hindsight, the fact remains that even with WorkChoices in operation, Labor under Kim Beazley struggled to lay a glove on both Howard and his industrial legislation.

Yet at the minimum, and moving forward, this episode should destroy forever Labor’s ability to run scare campaigns around supposed plots by conservative governments to “slash” the wages of employees through labour market reform: as of yesterday, with the emergence of hard detail of the Cleanevent EBA, the ALP no longer has a leg to stand on.

But forgetting about the Royal Commission for a moment and looking at these matters through a purely political prism, Shorten’s viability as a “leader” of any description whatsoever has taken yet another blow as a result of all of this: and if his tenure at the helm of the ALP wasn’t fatally compromised before this week, it surely must be now.

After all, Shorten had the opportunity to stamp out the abrogation of penalty rates when he was running the AWU that he now says he would never allow to occur and never would. He failed to do so. That nobody can believe anything Shorten has to say is now indisputable, and so the sooner Labor dispenses with his highly dubious services, the better off it will be.



One thought on “The AWU Scandal And Labor’s WorkChoices Lie

  1. I don’t understand why you allude to the existence of further instances of this behaviour when we already have the shoppies union paying enormous sums to major supermarket chains to ensure that every person possible, employed by them, was enrolled as a member to give that union the ascendancy it currently has in labor party circles with increasing membership while other unions memberships are falling?
    And what of labor governments restricting donations from certain industries such as property developers and making them illegal on the ground that they are seeking improper influence while labor unions are doing exactly that! Should just round the lot up and put them in gaol!

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