The Guardian August 1, 2001


Royal Commission:
Howard Government intensifies its anti-union campaign

by Anna Pha

The aim of the Royal Commission announced by the Federal Government last 
week is to attack the construction unions and the trade union movement as a 
whole. It also hopes to embarrass the Labor Party in the lead up to the 
Federal election because of the Party's ties with the trade union 
movement.

John Maitland, National Secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining 
Energy Union (CFMEU) described it as "a cynical political exercise".

"... the Federal Government hopes that enough unsubstantiated, damaging 
accusations will be aired in the media to produce political capital for its 
re-election." 

Apart from its immediate political objectives the Government has longer-
term aims. Justice Terry Cole has wide-ranging powers to investigate "any 
practice or conduct relating to the Workplace Relations Act 1996, 
occupational health and safety laws, or other laws relating to workplace 
relations".

The terms of reference include "fraud, corruption, collusion or anti-
competitive behaviour, coercion, violence, or inappropriate payments, 
receipts or benefits". 

The Commissioner will be able to investigate any practices or conduct 
"dictating, limiting or interfering with decisions whether or not to employ 
or engage persons, or relating to the terms on which they be employed or 
engaged". These points are code words to outlaw legitimate trade union 
activity. 

Any action by a trade union to assist workers being stood over to sign 
individual contracts could be subject to investigation by the Commission. 

Collective trade union action by workers could be construed as collusion or 
anti-competitive behaviour. Industrial action in support of wage claims or 
enforcement of an existing agreement could be construed as coercion.

Payments received for periods during which workers were not working for 
whatever reason could be seen as inappropriate or illegal payments under 
Reith's Workplace Relations Act. 

One of the specific targets of the Government is the "No ticket, no start" 
campaign to unionise work places. 

The Government has no intention of exposing and chasing employers whose 
workplaces are unsafe, who do not pay for overtime, who enforce excessively 
long hours on their employees, who breach award or enterprise agreement 
conditions, who coerce workers to sign individual contracts, who evade 
payment of workers' compensation and other taxes, who operate cash-in-hand 
operations, restructure their companies to avoid paying workers' 
entitlements or do not meet their obligations to make superannuation and 
other contributions to various funds on behalf of employees. 

None of these practices are mentioned in the Government's terms of 
reference.

The operation of the various industry funds for long service leave, 
training, redundancy and superannuation are to be investigated. The 
industry superannuation fund, C+BUS, is a particular target of the 
Government. There is an estimated $3.5 billion in this fund which is raised 
from the eight percent superannuation levy on the wages of building 
workers. 

The Government does not support industry funds. It would like to dismantle 
them and give workers a "choice" so that employers and other sectors of the 
insurance industry could get their hands on this pool of workers' money. 
The C+BUS fund performs well and has returned more than 11 per cent a year 
on average over the past 15 years. It is one of the better performing super 
funds. 

The terms of reference include provision for investigating the financial 
transactions of trade unions. The Government aims to outlaw or make 
extremely difficult the practice of trade unions making political 
donations. 

The Government hopes to secure from its inquiry excuses to deregister the 
CFMEU, to undermine the industry superannuation fund and disqualify some 
leading trade union officials from holding office in the trade union 
movement. 

This Royal Commission is designed to be a witch-hunt against the 
construction unions and to damage the union movement at large. 

It is hoped that the union movement can use the Royal Commission to expose 
the violence and corrupt practices perpetrated by employers  the 
sackings, hiring of scabs, attacks on picket lines, the denial of legal 
entitlements and other practices of employers.

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