Union control bill thwarted, but game's not over yet

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Union control bill thwarted, but game's not over yet

The Senate has again rejected a government bill to create stricter controls over unions and employer associations, but the government is not giving up.

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The Senate has again rejected a government bill to create stricter controls over unions and employer associations, but the government is not giving up.

Cross benchers Jackie Lambie and Ricky Muir voted last night with Labor, the Greens and PUP senators against the legislation which was originally introduced by the government in 2013 shortly after its election.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014  was one of the government’s election promises in response to the Health Services Union financial scandal. Independent senators Leyonhjelm, Day (Family First), and Xenophon voted for the bill.

A key plank of the legislation was a new independent tribunal, the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), with strong powers similar to those of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. It would have had the ability to award increased civil penalties and criminal penalties – including jail terms – for registered organisations officials it found breaking the law.

Organisations would also have had to have more transparent reporting and disclosure requirements including reporting the remuneration of their top five officers.

Labor spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the bill would have placed higher penalties and a more onerous regime on officers of employer bodies and unions than those imposed on company directors. Volunteers working for nothing would have been subject to the same penalties as directors of ASX 100 companies, he said. 

ACTU president Ged Kearney thanked union members and activists who campaigned against the bill.

"The biggest impact of this bill was on volunteers – teachers, nurses, construction workers and firefighters who want to have a say in their workplaces”, she said.

“This bill would have applied the same penalties and requirements that exist for CEOs of multi-billion organisations to ordinary people who choose to volunteer their time to their union or employer association.

Government not giving up


However, Minister for Employment Eric Abetz said this morning on Sydney radio that he will be reintroducing the legislation yet again after a three month break during which he will give the Palmer United Party the opportunity to rethink its vote. 

He maintains there is “no moral or material difference” between transgressing company directors and union officials, yet a company director who cheated shareholders was subject to a fine of up to $320,000 and a five-year jail term, whereas a union officer who cheated union members would receive a fine of only $10,200.
 
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