Home » Leftism » Anti fun brigade » “Heavyweights have power to stray with impunity” by Grace Collier

“Heavyweights have power to stray with impunity” by Grace Collier

Grace Collier

Without this prospect, the disgrace would not attract the same attention, because the misappropriation and theft of union members funds are sadly routine occurrences in parts of the union movement. Even Fair Work Australia seems to find it hard to get energised on the matter. Although it has been investigating the Thomson allegations, which he vehemently denies, for two years, no outcome has been achieved. This failure to provide timely answers to union members about what happened to such large sums of money suggests they should not be the body responsible for policing the financial conduct of unions.

Annually, well over $1.3 billion of members’ money is given to Australian unions. The spending of that money is left entirely to the discretion of a small group of union secretaries who operate in a largely unregulated financial setting. Of course, not every union boss is a thief, but the system is just too open to abuse and it’s far too easy to stray without fear of discovery.
When a union official jumps the fence to work for the bosses, they are spoken about by their ex-comrades as having gone to work for the dark side. It is an ironic saying, for if there is a dark side, it is surely the world of the union movement. While I have no knowledge of the Health Services Union, I can speak from many years of experience with unions and as a union official.

Union secretaries inhabit a business environment that is mostly without scrutiny. Morally they sit above reproach, untouchable, having all say but no responsibility. Have you noticed how union officials seem to be able to say anything they like and get away with it?

Generally speaking, an elected union secretary is a privileged person who spends their days surfing a wave of cash, flexing their muscles in the Labor Party factional arena and occasionally saying something on television, which in some cases is wildly inaccurate and outrageous and for which they are never brought to account. The actual running of the union and looking after the members’ interests is delegated to staffers.

Unions are just community organisations made up of groups of workers; financial members, who pool funds for the purpose of advancing their industrial interests. As well as putting money into the union, members vote to elect people to run their union. These elected people are the secretary and an assistant secretary.

In addition, an executive of a few people is elected or appointed by the secretary. The executive is the group charged with checking and overseeing the spending of the members’ funds. Once a quarter they attend meetings at the union office on a voluntary basis, after hours, to approve the spending of the union money.

Some union secretaries seek out the most uninterested and compliant people to sit on the executive. These union secretaries do not want an executive that will challenge spending decisions and scrutinise credit card statements. They want an executive that will munch their biscuits and slurp their tea while signing papers they have not read.

Thieving the money of union members is unfortunately a routine occurrence in some quarters of the labour movement. Money is habitually spent on meals, travel, alcohol, strip clubs and other forms of entertainment that most members would consider inappropriate.

Some union office gatherings have even been held in strip clubs, but mostly it is after conferences that the secretary gets a bunch of his favourite officials together and heads off for a big night financed by union funds. Anyone who wants to see union officials behaving badly and misappropriating funds simply needs to hang around the close of the ALP annual conference and follow the hard-core drinkers to the after party.

Sometimes the after party will occur in a location such as a flash inner-city apartment owned by a property developer who has donated it for the private use of union officials. Such donations are made as part of the package deal with which industrial peace is bought on a construction or other project. Never underestimate the lengths that business owners will go to for the smooth and uninterrupted supply of labour.

I have seen a union official driven around in the limousine of a boss, plied with privilege and gifts just to keep a workforce of only 15 people on the job. Imagine what it is like to have the absolute power to click your fingers and pull 5000 people off a job and cost a company $20 million a day. Imagine what that power could bring you.

Sadly, for union members, scandals hardly ever come to light. Most often union secretaries who have got just a little bit too greedy and obvious with their spending are ousted by a group of officials within the union office, who decide that they want to take over and be the secretary. A bit of digging around in the accounts usually proves enough to convince the incumbent to fall on their sword and move on. The new secretary takes over, and the cycle of spending abuse continues. What starts as a few meals, haircuts or trips away, unchecked, with the passage of time, lack of accountability and the sense they deserve perks for doing an unappealing job, often ends up as outright robbery.

Grace Collier is an ex-union official, an industrial relations consultant and author

This piece is reproduced with the kind permission of the author

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21 Comments

  1. Angel says:

    And how many of these officials enter parliament, no wonder the country is in a mess under Labor.

  2. Ray Dixon says:

    Hmm, just substitute a few words (emboldened) and it reads pretty accurately too:

    Without this prospect, the disgrace would not attract the same attention, because the misappropriation and theft of shareholder funds are sadly routine occurrences in parts of the corporate world. Even ASIC seems to find it hard to get energised on the matter. Although it has been investigating complaints about many public companies, which those companies vehemently deny, for decades, no outcome has been achieved. This failure to provide timely answers to shareholders & the general public about what happened to such large sums of money suggests they should not be the body responsible for policing the financial conduct of corporations.

    Annually, well over $1.3 billion trillion of public money is given to Australian companies. The spending of that money is left entirely to the discretion of a small group of Directors & executives who operate in a largely unregulated financial setting. Of course, not every corporation CEO is a thief, but the system is just too open to abuse and it’s far too easy to stray without fear of discovery.

    When a senior corporate executive jumps the fence to work for the shareholders and public, they are spoken about by their ex-comrades as having gone to work for the dark side. It is an ironic saying, for if there is a dark side, it is surely the world of the corporates. While I have no knowledge of the likes of BHP Billiton, the major banks, HIH, & Twiggy Forest, I can speak from many years of experience with Alan Bond & Christopher Skase as a suckhole.

    CEOs & Directors inhabit a business environment that is mostly without scrutiny. Morally they sit above reproach, untouchable, having all say but no responsibility. Have you noticed how CEOs seem to be able to say anything they like and get away with it?

    Generally speaking, an elected board of directors and CEOs are privileged persons who spends their days surfing a wave of cash, flexing their muscles in the Liberal Party factional arena and occasionally saying something on television, which in some cases is wildly inaccurate and outrageous and for which they are never brought to account. The actual running of the public company and looking after the shareholder’s & customer’s interests is delegated to staffers.

    Corporations are just old boys clubs made up of groups of crooked wankers who pool funds for the purpose of advancing their industrial interests. As well as putting money into the company, the shareholders vote to elect people to run their company. These elected people are the board and the CEO.

    In addition, an executive of a few people is appointed by the secretary. The executive is the group charged with checking and overseeing the spending of the corporation’s funds. Once a quarter they attend meetings at the board room on a paid basis, usually over an expensive lunch, to approve the spending of the shareholder’s money.

    Some Chairpersons or secretaries seek out the most uninterested and compliant people to sit on the executive. These company directors do not want an executive that will challenge spending decisions and scrutinise credit card statements or the multi million dollar salaries. They want an executive that will munch their biscuits and slurp their tea while signing papers they have not read.

    Thieving the money of shareholders & customers (and low paid staff) is unfortunately a routine occurrence in some quarters of the corporate movement. Money is habitually spent on meals, travel, alcohol, strip clubs, multi million dollar salaries, property, artwork, share bonuses and other forms of entertainment that most shareholders & customers would consider inappropriate.

    Some board meetings have even been held in strip clubs, but mostly it is after conferences that the secretary gets a bunch of his favourite executives together and heads off for a big night financed by company funds. Anyone who wants to see corporate bigwigs behaving badly and misappropriating funds simply needs to hang around the close of the Liberal Party annual conference and follow the hard-core drinkers to the after party.

    Sometimes the after party will occur in a location such as a flash inner-city apartment owned by a property developer who has donated it for the private use of corporate execs & directors. Such donations are made as part of the package deal with which corporate favour is bought on a construction or other project. Never underestimate the lengths that business owners will go to for the smooth and uninterrupted supply of money for mates.

    I have seen a company CEO driven around in the limousine of a ‘friendly’ competitor plied with privilege and gifts just to keep a board of only 15 people on the job. Imagine what it is like to have the absolute power to click your fingers and pull 5000 people off a job and cost a company $20 million a day. Imagine what that power could bring you.

    Sadly, for shareholders and consumers, scandals hardly ever come to light. Most often CEOs who have got just a little bit too greedy and obvious with their spending are ousted by the board, who decide that they want to take over and be the CEO too. A bit of digging around in the accounts usually proves enough to convince the incumbent to fall on their sword and move on. The new CEO takes over, and the cycle of spending abuse continues. What starts as a few meals, haircuts or trips away, unchecked, with the passage of time, lack of accountability and the sense they deserve perks for doing an unappealing job, often ends up as outright robbery.

    What’s good for the goose ….

  3. GD says:

    Geez Ray, you’re drawing a long bow there…. nice try though.

    Here’s another take…

    Imagine what it is like to have the absolute power to click your fingers and employ 50,000 people for a job and earn the company $200 million a day

    Unions are wreckers, they don’t enable production. They were necessary a long time ago; now they are an anachronism.

  4. Ray Dixon says:

    Try going it without them, GD, and see what happens. Come on, the article is biased and completely ignores the excesses of those on the opposite side to the unions.

  5. GD says:

    Here’s a pertinent example of current day union interference in business and industry:

    http://catallaxyfiles.com/2011/08/29/fancy-a-25-to-40-rise-in-house-building-costs/

  6. Ray Dixon says:

    For every article like that on unions, GD, I could find ten on dodgy practices by CEOs, executives & directors.

  7. GD says:

    As recent as that? Alan Bond and Christopher Skase are old news.

  8. Iain Hall says:

    Ray
    I think That your attempt at a counter argument by suggesting that elements from a business’s management are just as wasteful of the businesses money is rather naive and generally false. In the first instance there is actaully a disincentive fro being too excessive and wastefulness the entertainment budget for all people in business, namely such action will hurt the business’ profits and secondly if that company is claiming such spending as tax deductions then the Tax office will query such things, Further I don’t think that Grace is suggesting that unions don’t have a place in the industrial landscape but she is saying that they serve their members very badly when they have corrupt officials who spend the unions money on indulgences and profligate debauchery. As i see the piece its a call for union officials to be obliged and regulated so that they can’t do as Thomson has done by treating the fee’s of members as a milch cow for their own personal enrichment.

  9. Ray Dixon says:

    So Iain, you think CEOs of major corporations like banks deserve salaries of over $10 million per year? You think that’s not indulgent and wasteful of shareholder’s (and customer’s) money? Excessive salaries paid to executives is just one area where the heads of large publicly owned corporations rip off their own companies, shareholders and the public. There are many more, all allowed under the current laws. My comparison with union excesses is more than valid – there are a lot more large corporations than there are unions and the amounts they deal in far outweigh the piddling union fees we’re talking about. Whereas the article you’ve reproduced is straight out union bashing for the hell of it with no attempt by the author to be balanced or fair. If the unions need more regulation then what about corporations?

  10. Craigy says:

    Spot on Ray, not that any misuse of funds or corruption should be condoned. For the money we pay to these business crooks we don’t get a very high standard at all.

    “As recent as that? Alan Bond and Christopher Skase are old news.”

    GD, what about this one then. You happy to trust this man with your future?

    ‘Greedy’ former Trio Capital director jailed.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/companies/greedy-former-trio-capital-director-jailed/story-fn91v9q3-1226114063302

  11. Iain Hall says:

    What is paid to the executives in large corporations does often seem excessive to me as well Ray but I think that it is not at all analogous with the complete lack of oversight that is clearly evident in the spending of funds gathered from union members, But I would see the misuse of union funds as being a far worse offence than the misuse cooperate cash to be honest because for the most part the union funds come from the hard-working individuals, its much the same as stealing form the poor is worse than stealing from the rich. Further there is the issue of a betrayal of the faith placed in the unions by their members.

  12. Ray Dixon says:

    Iain, where do you think the excessive salaries paid to executives of large corporations come from? I’ll tell you where:

    1. From hard working customers who pay higher prices for goods & services due to these unchecked indulgences,
    2. From hard working mum & dad investors who receive lower dividends on their shares due to much of the profit being effectively stolen.
    3. From hard working lower-ranked employees whose wages are supressed so the execs can get another $mill or so each.
    4. From hard working retrenched workers who are laid off and have their jobs outsourced to India or China so that the execs can pay themselves a bonus.

    Don’t kid me – corporate greed & excess is endemic and a far bigger problem than a few union officials spending up on booze and the odd party girl.

  13. Iain Hall says:

    I have already said that I think that excessive payments to excessive is not a good thing Ray and I don’t dispute any of your examples I agree with all of them But you are trying to compare two bad things and suggest that one of them (corporate excess) dismisses the other but I’m saying that both are needing to be addressed

  14. Ray Dixon says:

    Well I’m saying that the so-called union official excesses are very small fry indeed compared to the massive corporate ones and that addressing union rorts will not make one iota of difference to the economy or the overall good of Australian citizens, whereas cracking down on corporate greed and largese will result in widespread benefits. It’s just a matter of what’s worth doing and what’s not.

  15. Iain Hall says:

    Tell that to the lowly orderlies or cleaners in the hospitals who have seen the Likes of Thompson wasting their hard earned cash on expansive plonk and whores, as I have said Ray BOTH sorts of excess are bad and should be addressed, now the upcoming financial crisis will do a great deal to shake out corporate excess but what will fix the problems with unions and their corruption?

  16. Ray Dixon says:

    Of course the union members are not happy about it, Iain, and that’s why it’s being investigated.

    However, the financial crisis ain’t happening in Australia, Iain, and even if it did, how would that shake out corporate excess? You can’t have rules on the minnows and not on the big fish, which is what you are clearly advocating for.

  17. Iain Hall says:

    Ray
    why do you think that catching big fish means that you have to ignore the small? Or visa versa? because that Is not what I’m saying here I am saying that addressing either or both does not have to be predicted upon action or inaction against the other.

  18. Craigy says:

    This has only become an issue in the union movement since the right started to take over. It’s the same as in the big corporations, those from the right have brought into the union movement the old Gordon Gecko, ‘greed is good’ and the near death of the notion of a collective good. Using free meals and free girls to gain influence is a trade mark of the corporate heavyweights.

    I would be happy to see these people weeded out of the union movement.

  19. Ray Dixon says:

    Iain, there ARE rules and laws governing union officials fraudulently using union members funds. But there are NO LAWS preventing corporate CEOs, Directors & Execs splurging themselves with ridiculous salaries and expense accounts. None. They do it legally. Even spending on prostitutes, I’m sure, if the other directors look the other way. You are advocating rules & laws for unions which already exist while saying corporate pigs can regulate themselves – but they don’t!

  20. Iain Hall says:

    Craigy
    I don’t think that you can sustain the suggestion that irregularities within union hierarchies is entirely a creature of the right, it is endemic and the result of a system where no union executive has any workable oversight of checks upon their excesses.

  21. Craigy says:

    Iain,

    Not entirely a creature of the right, just behaviour typical of those ambitious executive types who have joined the union movement to further their careers with no real concern for the welfare of their members, only concern for their own progression up the greasy pole.

    Weed them out and send them back into the large companies where, as Ray points out, they can enjoy the girls and the high life without any worries.

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