Australian Unions – achieving nothing, and doing it the hard way.

September 16th, 2013

I have one particular client that’s been with me around a year. They’re a decent bunch; good people who are running a solid business in the labour hire industry. Last year they struck a rough patch and became worried that they might in fact be insolvent. That’s a nasty place to be, but they used their heads, acted quickly and engaged professionals to review their business. With that done, they put to use what was available to them under the Corporations Law in order to restructure so they could work their way out of the jam they were in. Nothing wrong with any of this – in fact by taking care of the restructure they were able to continue to employ more than 50 staff.

We’re so close to the ‘happily ever after’ bit here that you’ve really got to wonder how things went awry. One word – union.

You see, the business had some outstanding superannuation owing. The Directors, being fair and honest sorts who care about their staff, decided that even though the entity wasn’t liable for the super that was owed, they’d have a go at bringing it up to date, rather than leaving the burden in the hands of GEARS – that’s the Government Elements and Redundancy Scheme. The company sent a letter out to their employees advising them of what was being done, but a couple of employees became nervous – which is perhaps understandable – and put in a call to the Australian Workers Union.

And what heroes they are.

An Australian union delegate promptly showed up – unannounced, mind you – and met with the Director of the small business to advise her that she hadn’t paid super. Of course the Director explained that the super was owing in the company that had been liquidated, that they intended to pay it back via their new trading entity, and that this would all take place within the next couple of months. Further to this, the Director took a moment to explain clearly to the union delegate that this course of action had to been undertaken in order for the business to survive, and continue to keep 50 or so people employed. All pretty fair and reasonable, right? Not for the union delegate, an individual that I’m guessing has never owned a business, and wouldn’t understand cash flow forecasting if you wrote it out for him.

It’s worth pausing here to remember that at this stage the union delegate has achieved nothing at all for the employees, who all along were going to be paid their super and had been advised of the fact in writing by their employer. In fact the business Director was going beyond her obligations to help her staff.

But none of this was good enough for our clever union delegate, who returned again unannounced – possibly lacking the communication skills necessary to book an appointment – and suggested to the Director that it would be best if she’d offer assistance in advising her staff to become members of the union. Puzzled, the Director in turn offered that if the delegate wished the staff to become members of his union, perhaps it would be best if the delegate put his case to the staff in person. The delegate, obviously not seeing the sense in the direct approach, told the Director that he’d make it harder for her should she not cooperate – in fact the delegate mentioned that he would then tell the Director’s customers that the business wasn’t paying super. When asked by the Director if this proposal constituted a threat, the delegate responded that no, it wasn’t, it was just what he’d do if the Director didn’t assist in convincing her staff to become union members. So what’s been achieved here by the union?

In my opinion, nothing at all. Firstly, during his visits to my client, the union delegate unwittingly divulged that the Director had been overpaying her staff. Got that? Not underpaying, but overpaying. What a genius. I wonder if ASIO has any vacancies for such a brilliant tactician.

The delegate has managed to intimidate the female business Director with his threats and bullying. What a tough guy. He’s managed to piss me off enough to write about it here in my blog.

And the outcome after all this drama? There isn’t one. An Australian small business owner is continuing to employ Australians and do the right thing.

All the Australian union delegate has really managed to do is reinforce a negative stereotype by acting like a lowlife with no progressive interests, just a need to bolster membership.

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