Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. I refer to the minister's earlier answers to Senator Paterson's questions concerning the increased funding to registered organisations. Can the minister advise the Senate how this increase in funding has resulted in improved services for the members of these organisations?
Unfortunately, it hasn't resulted in improved services for the members of these registered organisations. You would think that unions that have $1.5 billion in assets and an estimated revenue stream annually of $900 million would be effective in representing the interests of their members, but the bad news for members in 2017 is that this is not the case. That, colleagues, may be why union membership is dwindling, but what we've seen time and time again is that some of the wealthiest unions in the country have been doing deals with big business—and we go back to big unions, big business. These deals cut the penalty rates for their own members. What we've also seen time and time again is that unions have been doing deals—again, big unions, big business—where they take payments from employers, who, in turn, ensure that the workers are worse off.
Let me give you some examples in relation to the current Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. He knows all about this, because this is what his union, the Australian Workers' Union, the AWU, did. They took payments from companies who, at the same time, were laying off factory workers. What they were doing at the same time as they were taking the money was pushing permanent workers on to labour hire arrangements. But also, colleagues, at the same time as the unions were taking money from the employer business, they were slashing and abolishing the penalty rates of the workers they both allegedly represented. Unions are no longer representing their members. They talk about big business because they are big business, and they should be acknowledged as such.
This is another one, unions again: $1.5 billion in assets, $900 million in estimated annual revenue stream. You would actually think, with that type of profit—I don't know about you, colleagues—that you would look at actually reducing the membership fees of the members.
Let me tell you about, again, the AWU. The AWU earlier this year committed to raising its standard membership fees by more than $50 per year, but on top of that they're going to index it to inflation. In Victoria the CFMEU construction division charges $800 per year—a hundred dollars higher than it was three years ago. I can only assume that because of the number of fines it has racked up, tens of millions of dollars, it needed to raise the membership fees of its members so that it could pay the fines that it is incurring. This is an absolute disgrace!
Again, sadly, workers have not been the beneficiaries of the increasing wealth of the unions they belong to. In fact, it is actually now quite the opposite. Again, if I go to the penalty rates example, this is an issue by which the unions themselves have been very, very vocal in this space. But what we've actually seen is, instead of promoting the interests of their workers, they work with the big end of town to collectively promote their own interests at the expense of the workers they allegedly represent. Let's look at low-paid workers at Coles, McDonald's, Woolworths, KFC, Just Jeans, Big W, Target—the list goes on and on and on. They have all had their penalty rates cut by their unions. So, while these workers, under the deals being done, are getting poorer, every day the unions are getting richer.