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Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Page: 7952


Senator MOLAN (New South Wales) (17:28): I rise to speak today on two of the three issues that are raised in this MPI: standing up for workers and tax breaks for workers. I will conclude this debate by making a number of points. I will talk about certain histories that go back certain years and, if I have time, I will certainly talk about the tax aspect.

A number of points that I will make really go to what Senator Abetz would have called an 'inconvenient fact'. In 1998, and when head of the Australian Workers Union, the AWU, Mr Bill Shorten signed an enterprise agreement with Cleanevent. We all know this. This saw around 5,000 workers lose as much as $400 million in wages according to The Australian newspaper. This deal saw Cleanevent employees signed up to the AWU membership unless they explicitly opted out. It turns out that up to 90 per cent of Cleanevent employees were added to the AWU membership rolls without necessarily knowing that this had occurred. This was, by any stretch of the imagination, a dirty deal between Cleanevent's management and Mr Bill Shorten's AWU, made at the expense of ordinary workers. It was done to reduce the wages for Cleanevent, who were paying cleaners well below what they were earning in rival companies, while Mr Shorten's AWU benefited from additional members, many of whom were signed up without their knowledge.

But it wasn't only in 1998 that we saw this happen; it wasn't only under Mr Bill Shorten's AWU that such dirty tricks occurred. In 2010, after Mr Paul Howes took over from Mr Bill Shorten as head of the union, the AWU:

… struck a deal with major cleaning contractor Cleanevent in 2010 to keep casual cleaners on lower rates of pay and save the company $1.5 million in salary costs, the commission heard on Monday.

In return, Cleanevent would pay the AWU $25,000 a year as membership fees for casual cleaners.

The Cleanevent senior executive who gave final sign-off on the agreement, Julianne Page, at first told the commission she could not explain why an email from the company's head of HR said the union would not agree to having a trade-off for lower wages listed in the same document as a payment for membership.

In a May, 2010 email to Ms Page, HR executive Michael Robinson wrote: "It would be crazy for the union to put that down on a page and to be honest I wouldn't feel happy with it being on the same document either."

Ms Page told the court she supposed it "would look bad for the union".

"It would look like it was some sort of payoff," she said.

… … …

Cleanevent employees were not told of the arrangement, the court heard, and it was not explained in a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding that bound workers to the lower rates of pay of a 2006 agreement.

They were also not told they had been signed up as union members, the court heard.

… … …

Internal Cleanevent emails tendered to the commission also show Mr Robinson discussing structuring pay rises to "make the AWU look fantastic to their members".

"If we agree to a 0% increase for these casuals and then give them a hit in year 2 and 3 the union can claim that because of their membership they went into bat for them and got them an increase, which will make the AWU look fantastic to their members and won't hurt your bottom line," Mr Robinson wrote to colleagues including Ms Page during discussion of the agreement.

The commission has heard previously that increased membership is an indicator of a successful union and can give it greater influence within the Australian Labor Party.

So is this standing up for workers? How do you go to bed as a Labor man doing this? Why does the Labor Party always attack every institution whose role it is to actually stand up for workers when unions act so appallingly?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Dean Smith ): There being no other speakers, we'll move to consideration of documents.