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Issue #1625      February 5, 2014

Royal Commission into unions a witch hunt, says ACTU

Nearly two million Australians are directly represented by unions at work – but many millions more benefit from our robust and dynamic union movement.

Each year trade unions are the ones building the economic case for an increase to the minimum wage; every week we are questioning government policy to ensure workers are not forgotten; every day we negotiate workplace agreements that give workers a say; every hour unions are calling unscrupulous employers to account; every minute a member is calling their union for help and advice over safety, redundancy or discrimination.

Over the years we have delivered the 40-hour week, weekends, paid annual leave, public holidays, the eight-hour work day, equal pay for equal work, occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation ... it’s a long list.

As well as making sure Australian workers get the fair pay and living standards they deserve, trade unions contribute to a prosperous and productive economy.

I am proud to be part of the trade union movement.

But from time to time, there are people who do the wrong thing. There are those who misuse the trust placed in them through the process of democratic elections, or treat members’ money as their own plaything.

I make no excuses for these individuals or their actions.

No one is more outraged by this behaviour than trade unionists and union members. There is no place in our movement for people who don’t behave honestly and with members’ interests front and centre.

Along with the leadership of our movement, I support tough penalties in cases of corruption and other criminal behaviour by union officials. But I don’t support the Abbott government’s proposed Royal Commission into unions.

We have the criminal law to deal with criminal behaviour. Allegations such as those raised in the construction industry – with corrupt behaviour alleged against many players including contractors and labour hire firms – should rightly be dealt with by the police. I support the leadership of the CFMEU in referring these matters to the police.

A Royal Commission would be a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money for cynical political purpose – tying the hands of the movement it fears will hold them to account on doing the right thing by working people.

If the Abbott government chooses to go ahead with a Royal Commission into unions it will say a lot about its priorities. One hundred million dollars spent on a witch hunt – compared with one hundred million dollars spent nurturing and growing jobs to sustain working families into the future. Where is the vision for jobs and industries for the next generation? It seems the only vision here is to stick up for the interests of business.

The Australian business community is clear about what it wants: cuts to wages, cuts to penalty rates, less job security in the name of ‘’flexibility’’ and cutting red tape.

Trade unions stand firmly in the way of this agenda – but we are also on the side of community sentiment. Time and again, Australians have expressed the strong and enduring view that we are a nation of a ‘’fair go’’, where working people deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, where we should work together towards narrowing the gap between rich and poor, not stretching it.

So I would urge Tony Abbott to proceed with caution.

A Royal Commission might seem like a neat trick making it easier to weaken work rights and satisfy his supporters in the ranks of business - but the Australian community has spoken clearly about how they view governments going after their rights at work.

With an increasingly demanding employer lobby, Australians need unions that are able to do their job more than ever.

Next article – ABC’s future under multiple threats

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