For everyone Morrison’s law changes threaten all unions

Our union is democratically run. We have a union structure that means that every member can influence the actions of the union and help make decisions about the use of union resources. Our sector and branch councils are made up of elected representatives – teachers, principals and support staff – from the workplaces we represent. They determine what our union does and doesn’t do, with senior officers required to carry out those decisions.

This is how unions are run: by and for members. As it should be.

But Scott Morrison has a bill before parliament that would fundamentally undermine union democracy and threaten the internationally recognised human right of workers to organise and to act collectively. 

This bill, with its doublespeak title of ‘Ensuring Integrity’, would allow the Registered Organisation Commission (the body that regulates unions), the Minister or a ‘person of sufficient interest’ (read ‘employer’ or ‘parent’) to apply to the Federal Court for a broad range of orders. These include disqualification of an officer, deregistration of a union, alteration of a union’s eligibility rules, restriction of the use of union funds or property, and more. A ‘union officer’ is defined broadly and includes local sub-branch representatives. The Federal Court would be able to impose the same suite of powers – including findings against the union, officers or members – for offences such as filing union paperwork late with a government authority.

No other democracy has laws like this, which fundamentally take aim at the rights of workers and union members. The closest equivalent would be laws introduced in 1930s Brazil during a dictatorship.

If passed, the bill would automatically disqualify any person who has committed an offence (under a law of the Commonwealth, a state or territory or another country) from holding a union position. It would also allow the Federal Court to disqualify someone from holding a union position on a wide range of grounds, including not being a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold office, for example, if they had been caught twice driving without a license.

No other democracy has laws like this, which fundamentally take aim at the rights of workers and union members. The closest equivalent would be laws introduced in 1930s Brazil during a dictatorship. There is certainly no equivalent in corporate law.

Morrison’s bill is currently being considered by a Senate committee, as it has already passed the Lower House. It will be up to the six crossbenchers to determine its fate, with Tasmanian Jackie Lambie and South Australian Centre Alliance senators being the key decision-makers. They are yet to confirm whether or not they support the proposed legislation.

The bill is likely to be back in parliament in November. For the sake of AEU members and all Australian workers, it must be stopped.

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