The Coalition's plan for better transparency and accountability of registered organisations
Posted on Saturday, 28 April 2012
Australians who join trade unions or employer associations deserve to have confidence in the conduct and administration of those organisations.
Registered organisations are a central part of the Fair Work regime and they must operate to the highest of standards.
The worst aspect of the ongoing HSU scandal is that 70,000 low paid workers have had their hard-earned money misspent by union officials on political campaigns and escort services.
For example, the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Health Services Union in Victoria found that HSU officials had used union members’ money for personal advantage, failed to act in the best interest of members, and breached financial management rules.
Had these offences occurred in a company with directors, the officials would have been subject to criminal penalties including personal fines of up to $200,000 and up to five years imprisonment.
However, under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, registered organisations and their officers are only exposed to civil penalties with the potential for comparatively modest fines of up to $2,200.
It is now clear that the existing laws need to be stronger.
The overwhelming majority of registered organisations already do the right thing. But there is clear evidence that the money paid by members to some registered organisations is being used for personal gain and inappropriate purposes.
If elected, a Coalition Government will:
· amend the laws to ensure that registered organisations and their officials have to play by the same rules as companies and their directors;
· ensure that the penalties for breaking the rules are the same that apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001; and
· reform financial disclosure and reporting guidelines under the Registered Organisations laws so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies.
It is also clear that Fair Work Australia, which is responsible for enforcing the laws governing registered organisations, has failed to do its job. The three year FWA investigation into the Health Services Union is a model of incompetence.
There needs to be a watchdog that works, to ensure that the members of trade unions and other organisations are not ripped off.
If elected, the Coalition will establish a new body, the Registered Organisations Commission that will:
· take on the role of registered organisations enforcer and investigator, currently held by the General Manager of Fair Work Australia.
· provide information to members of registered organisations about their rights and act as the body to receive complaints from their members; and
· educate registered organisations about the obligations that apply to them.
The Registered Organisations Commission will be independent and will operate within the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Registered Organisations Commission will also be required to cooperate with other law enforcement bodies.
The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations deserve transparent and accountable representation. Australian workers who join trade unions deserve to know that their membership fees are being used for proper purposes.
The Coalition will consult with registered organisations on how best to implement these reforms.
28 April 2012