Shining a light on unions

(5 votes)

Prime Minister Abbott’s recent announcement of a royal commission into alleged corruption within Australian trade unions has sparked divisive debate about the role and function of the union movement in modern day Australia.

Certainly, a Liberal government announcing a royal commission into union corruption is always going to cause a stir on both sides of politics.

Those who are politically inclined to the right are applauding the government for tackling the issue head on, whilst pointing out that they themselves would never be so stupid as to actually become a member of a trade union. Those whose political leanings are decidedly leftward decry the government as wasting millions of taxpayer’s money in beating up on a political rival, whilst sardonically calling for a royal commission into big business.

Political stirrings aside, what impact – if any – will the royal commission have on the Australian mining sector?

For starters, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is one of five unions specifically named in the Commission’s terms of reference.
Critics of the government’s royal commission may well point out that the recent blacklisting of CFMEU chiefs from Victorian building sites doesn’t bode well for the future of militant unionism on the minesite. The Master Builders Association of Victoria, which represents 7500 building companies, has issued a collection of mugshots of union officials to building site managers demonstrating which unionists’ right of entry permits may have lapsed under federal law, and which don't have a valid permit to start with.

Senator Eric Abetz has commented that union representatives’ right of entry to building sites may fall under the scope of the commission.

There may well exist ample evidence that a government-led union witch hunt is well and truly underway. However, there is also significant proof that there are links between some recalcitrant union officials and organized crime. The ABC and Fairfax media recently teamed up to unearth ties between trade union reps, criminals and outlaw motorcycle clubs. The allegations being made are that these shady relationships brought about the use of stand-over tactics and threats of violence to secure support for the unions.

The royal commission will undoubtedly turn its spotlight on such matters. Such a commission would very likely never happen under a Labor-run government. Certainly not under one led by a former union chief in the form of Bill Shorten.

No matter who instigated the commission, it will certainly cut both ways. Hard-working, honest union members will get to know about the possible corrupt practices on behalf of union officials. Similarly, where unions have been unfairly shut out of mine sites and other places should also be brought to light. If there is to be a better balance between protecting the rights of the worker and controlling the power and influence of unions, maybe a royal commission is just what the doctor ordered.

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