Why Duplicitous Unions Should Be Ignored on FTA

THE INADVERTENT UPSHOT of the Inquiry into the union movement is that regardless of whether prosecutions ensue, the penchant of unions to say and do literally anything fitting their objectives at any given time has been laid bare. On one hand, free trade agreements = bad, maligned as they are as job-destroying sellouts; on the other, slimy deals to line union coffers at the cost of workers’ conditions = good. Clearly, three into two does not go.

In a refrain that has become quite normal of late — bogged down as I am — my post will be rather succinct this morning; even so, my perusal of the day’s news portals suggests that whatever else you might accuse unions of, consistency should not be a feature of it.

Predictably enough, certain unions (and even more predictably, those unions are among the most militant) have hit out at Labor “leader” Bill Shorten for compromising with the Turnbull government to lock away an agreement on the free trade pact negotiated by Trade minister Andrew Robb with China; “condemning both sides of politics” for the agreement that has been struck, the ETU and the violent, lawless CFMEU have blasted the safeguards embedded into the agreement to protect Australian jobs and to prevent Australia being flooded with cheap Chinese labour.

I am not going to bog down in the detail of those safeguards this morning, nor buy into the campaign that continues to be waged against the China free trade agreement by unions: readers can check out the article I have linked from The Australian this morning if they wish to explore those themes further, and in any case the unions’ position can be simply condensed to a statement that the government’s free trade pact with China is bad, will destroy jobs and sells the country out — without any corroborating explanation as to how this is the case, or any evidence to prove its point.

As far as I’m concerned, the flat opposition of unions to this trade pact — which will provide greatly enhanced access to Chinese markets for Australian farmers — has more to do with the fact it’s been struck by a conservative government; had such an agreement been forged, say, by the Hawke-Keating government, it is inconceivable that Bill Kelty, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson or other prominent unionists of the day would have mounted such a mindless, baseless scare campaign against the deal, which has more to do in any case with prying votes away from the Liberal Party than it does with any genuine concern around workers’ rights and job security.

The fact Bill Shorten — himself a stooge of the unions, and sometime chief among them — is being targeted is irrelevant.

Shorten, as testimony at the Royal Commission has repeatedly shown this year, has become a liability to the union movement: whether directly or indirectly, his connection to questionable financial dealings with business to line the coffers of the AWU at the cost of legislated worker entitlements has helped draw unwanted attention to the cosy edifice based on ripping off unionised corporations to enrich and entrench union power, and it should surprise few that Shorten has received scant public defence from current-day union thugs over the “revelations” that have been aired at Dyson Heydon’s inquiry.

Even so, where principle is concerned, great elasticity has always been a hallmark of the union position when it comes to their own financial health.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is running again today with further coverage of the so-called mushroom conspiracy that occurred on Shorten’s watch as head of the AWU, wherein payments were received by that union in return for allegedly turning a blind eye to workers at mushroom grower Chiquita being fired as employees and rehired as contractors on significantly reduced conditions, and the key point I would make is that were there no Royal Commission at all, nobody would care less about the alleged sellout of the mushroom pickers for the grotesque reason that nobody would know about it.

Significantly, there is no public outpouring of fury from any union, or from any individual currently occupying a senior leadership position within any union, over the growing litany of misdeeds being uncovered at the Heydon commission; not in relation to Chiquita, nor over the six-figure sums pocketed annually by the AWU from construction company John Holland, nor over the wholesale surrender of employee rights by the AWU at Cleanevent, or in regard to any of the other dodgy deals made by the AWU on Shorten’s watch that allegedly filled union coffers and inflated AWU membership whilst trading away the working conditions of its members — its actual members, that is.

And aside from the handful of union whistleblowers who have made the exposure of iffy union deals possible in the first place, there has been nary a syllable of protest or outrage from the unions over anything that has been revealed before Heydon at all.

Quite simply, Trades Hall does not attack its own, and provides no sanction to those who do — and whilst its own henchman are increasingly being shown to be as bad as the anti-union bogeymen they so viciously and vividly depict at every opportunity, the reality is that the very silence of the same unions currently ranging themselves against a free trade agreement that will generate countless jobs is damning.

It is interesting that even now, Labor (including Shorten) and the unions continue to evoke the spectre of the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation; gearing up to fight a fourth consecutive election over laws that were repealed six years ago, the inherent contradiction between what the unions now say (and have always said) and what they have done in the past — and may in fact continue to do — is obvious, it seems, to everyone except themselves.

The considerable itinerary of shabby, anti-worker deals getting an airing before Heydon is, I contend, far worse than anything WorkChoices can or could be accused of — real, imagined and/or invented.

And it is through this prism that the ongoing onslaught against the China free trade agreement must be viewed.

At the bottom line, the real issue unions are campaigning against is the prospect their control over Australian workforces, and the companies that employ them, may be diluted in a more open trade environment, but that is hardly a bad thing.

After all, the end destination of unfettered union access to business is finding disclosure at the Royal Commission, and nobody can credibly suggest that the string of transactions being uncovered in any way advances the rights of the worker — which is what the unions are explicitly charged with doing, unless I am mistaken.

Far from defending Australian workers and protecting their jobs by lashing out at the trade deal with China, it is only their own petty interests that are of any concern to the unions at all, and the pattern of behaviour involving the AWU that has come to light is simply an earlier manifestation of the same motives that drive more militant arms of the union movement now.

Three into two does not go: on the one hand, thuggy unions rail against a trade liberalisation pact that carries the potential of great stimulus to Australia’s economy, generating thousands of new jobs, and sharing the proceeds of expanding national opportunities in the world around us with increasing numbers of the ordinary folk the unions purport to represent.

But on the other — when the door closes behind the leaders of those unions — the revelations before Heydon serve potent notice to anyone who cares for fair or decent outcomes exactly what the unions’ true motivations are.

And as far as I am concerned, all of this merely underlines the reasons “modern” unions are thoroughly irrelevant in, and destructive to, contemporary Australia and to the betterment of those who work for an employer to make a living.

There is, or was, a fine tradition of Australian unionism based on authentic notions of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and those who fought for that tradition and were bound by the principle that underpinned it have much to be proud of.

Yet the same cannot be said of the belligerent marauding pack that now masquerades as the champion of the worker, and given the clear self-interest that is evident in the nightmare scenarios it continues to evoke over a trade pact with China, the best thing fair-minded folk can do is to ignore the unions altogether.