Address by ACTU Assistant Secretary Tim Lyons.
See as well http://workinglife.org.au/2014/11/03/royal-commissions-agenda-is-crystal-clear/
Hold the front page. Liberal Government establishes Royal Commission into Trade Unions.
The Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Unions, like its predecessors, is a deeply, irrevocably political exercise.
Every Liberal PM since Billy McMahon has had at least one Royal Commission into trade unions and I suspect all that stopped McMahon was that he just wasn’t PM long enough to get around to it.
Malcolm Fraser on the other hand had two for good measure. Having a Royal Commission into unions is now apparently just something Coalition Governments do.
Why would they do that?
It’s no secret that the Liberal Party does not like unions. We are both a class and a political enemy.
Strong unions increase the share of national prosperity flowing to labour, and organised workers are a powerful social force in support of polices like progressive taxation and the provision of public services from that tax revenue including public healthcare and education.
That significant numbers of important unions are ALP affiliates completes the picture.
Trade Unionists formed the ALP on the understanding that political activity is necessary to achieve those aspirations of working people which could not be achieved industrially.
In contrast the Liberal Party formed to present a unified front for the interests of capital; and they have been in opposition to us since they formed.
But aren’t they doing it for the workers?
Nobody believes that the government has established the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption in the interests of union members.
Nobody believes that the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, or the Employment Minister wish to see stronger, more effective unions.
Our movement’s old friend Peter Reith illustrates the point. “There was a time when…… the union movement really did provide services to the benefit of members” he wrote earlier this year, “but those days are largely gone”.
And when were these days? Well, never it turns out. Way back in 1985, in his first year in Federal politics, Hansard records Reith attacking the ACTU, complaining about high wages, and, yes, decrying the particular perfidy of the building unions.
Reith’s line is nothing more than rhetorical bait and switch. There has never been a time where Reith – or his counterparts in the Liberal Party – were willing to make their peace with unions.
They’re refining their strategy and broadening their attack
Their rhetoric may have stayed the same, but Liberal Governments do seem to have learned from their experience of previous Royal Commissions.
Enough of the relatively innocuous titles – Commissions into the activities of a particular union or industry. Why miss the opportunity to associate trade unions with corruption every time the Royal Commission is talked about, written about or googled?
Worried you might inadvertently catch the “wrong” people (sort of like ICAC in NSW, or the Costigan Royal Commission)? Draft your terms of reference accordingly.
Determined to go bigger than just one industry at a time? This time name every union that’s been reported in the media in the last 12 months.
Not getting the impact you were hoping for? Extend the Royal Commission and its terms of reference for another twelve months, whether or not the Commissioner asks for more time.
But why does this matter?
Surely if the union movement were “clean” we would have nothing to fear from this Royal Commission? Surely the conduct examined by the Commission so far justifies the Royal Commission?
No. The reality is that the terms of reference for the Royal Commission and the resources deployed in furtherance of its aims predetermine the inevitable response of Government.
What on earth do you mean?
The terms of reference provide the focus of the inquiry.
The focus of the Royal Commission operates to exclude; and it operates to magnify.
What are we to make of what hasn’t been pursued? Where is the “sword that will cut both ways” of which the Government spoke? There has been evidence concerning the involvement of firms run by persons with very serious criminal records in the construction industry. Some of these firms appear to “phoenix” as a standard mode of operation. These firms are sub-contractors on projects run by much larger firms, and in some cases major publicly-listed firms. And yet no investigation appears to have been mounted as to why and how the head contractors allow such subbies to gain and maintain work on their jobs.
Employers have been summonsed by the Commission to provide evidence about unions and unionists. About having to do things they didn’t want to do. I cannot recall an example where counsel assisting has questioned their veracity or their motives. Suggestions of corporate misbehaviour have been treated with incredulity or as irrelevant to the terms of reference, and the evidence not received.
The magnifying effects of focus affect the perception of prevalence. Or what has been referred to by the Liberals as “widespread” allegations. It is oft-repeated. And as such, in some quarters it has become accepted shorthand for describing matters raised in the Commission. But let’s think about what widespread really means.
More than half of women experience discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave or when returning to work.
Forty percent of the Australian workforce is employed in insecure work.
One in four Australian employees – over 2 million workers – are casual employees, with no job security and no right to paid leave, even when they get sick.
A worker is seriously injured or killed every 6 minutes in the industries the CFMEU covers.
I would say that all of these things are widespread.
Most unions have had no contact with the Royal Commission whatever. Even in unions directly targeted, a minority of Branches have been involved.
Unions, like the rest of society, are not immune from people doing the wrong thing.
I suspect that if you threw $50 million and coercive powers at eight corporations in Australia that had recently been reported negatively in the media, you would find wrongdoing; but probably not the same breathless conclusion that it was widespread.
See also this blog for other posts.