A COZY STATE OF THE UNION
Exclusive Government warned of ‘new gerrymander’ over alliance
A FORMER top union official and successful state treasurer has warned the Queensland Government is too close to the union movement – describing the relationship as the new policy “gerrymander”.
As the Palaszczuk Government yesterday defended ordering its public servants to help recruit union members as no big deal, respected Labor reformer Michael Costa said the organisations had too much say in Labor. He said the party was now dogged by “a gerrymander in favour of the unions”.
“Union influence in the Labor Party ... needs to be reduced to reflect union participation or represen- tation in the broader workforce,” said Mr Costa, who ran the labour movement in NSW before becoming treasurer there in 2006.
The new “commitment to union encouragement” was issued late last week by the Premier’s Department after lobbying by the same union bosses who were recently revealed to be boasting about the in- fluence they wielded within the new Government.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday said: “This is about freedom of association.” But Opposition industrial relations spokesman Ian Walker said it was a “step too far” for the modern-day public service, when fewer workers were union members.
A FORMER top union boss and successful state Labor treasurer has called for less union influence in the party, saying the movement has a skewed hold over the party.
Ex-NSW treasurer Michael Costa said Labor was now dogged by “a gerrymander in favour of the unions”.
The Labor stalwart made the comments as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her Cabinet colleagues yesterday insisted their move to require public servants to recruit new union members was nothing new.
The quietly reinstated “union encouragement policy”, revealed yesterday in The Courier-Mail, was blasted by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as “delivering for the unions”.
“I’m always disappointed when any government governs for one section of the community rather than everyone and this is a government here in Queensland which was elected on union money and on union campaigning,” he said.
Mr Costa said there should be a level playing field within the workforce, adding that his comments were relevant across the board and not just to Queensland.
“Governments shouldn’t actively discourage unionism, but they shouldn’t actively encourage it either,” he said.
“There needs to be a reduction of union influence in the Labor Party.”
The Courier-Mail can reveal union bosses played a role in pushing for the policy, which will boost membership. It comes at a time its numbers within the public service are flagging.
It also comes just weeks after The Courier-Mail revealed key union bosses were boasting about the influence they now wield within the new Government.
The annual report for the Together Union, one of the biggest public sector unions, shows its membership numbers have fallen to about 28,000 people, from more than 38,000 in 2012, its lowest level since 2006.
Together Union secretary Alex Scott admitted to the union playing a role in discussions around the union encouragement policy.
“We asked them to consider reissuing the department policy to make it simpler as well,” he said.
“We argued it was a legal entitlement ... it’s helpful to have it as part of the department policy.”
But Mr Scott said it reflected a clause within existing enterprise bargaining agreements, which Newman government laws had made unenforceable.
Shadow Attorney-General Ian Walker said the policy saw balance tip in favour of unions.
“There is a role for unions but it shouldn’t get to the point where the Government … becomes their de facto recruitment agency,” he said.
Queensland Council of Unions boss John Battams said his organisation played no role post-election in negotiating for or discussing the policy, but had raised it beforehand.
“The role we played was to get the commitment before the election. We just expected it to happen and it did,” he said.
“A Government keeping commitments shouldn’t be coloured as payback.”
He said there were more than 100,000 public sector workers who were union members.
Department of Premier and Cabinet director-general Dave Stewart has been charged with ensuring all other directors-general put the policy into effect.
Ms Palaszczuk said the policy had been in place for a decade before former premier Campbell Newman.
There needs to be a reduction of union influence in the Labor Party Former Labor treasurer Michael Costa
NO CHANGE: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says promoting union membership is no big deal.