Even La­bor gov­ern­ments must stand up to unions

Sol­i­dar­ity seems on the march in Queens­land and Vic­to­ria

The Weekend Australian - - COMMENTARY -

If we wanted to list four of the most press­ing eco­nomic chal­lenges con­fronting the na­tion we might start with steeply ris­ing elec­tric­ity prices that hurt house­hold bud­gets, busi­ness op­er­a­tions, and con­sumer and in­vestor con­fi­dence. We might then men­tion the lack of wages growth in the pri­vate sec­tor and how it was be­ing out­stripped by pub­lic sec­tor in­creases, how this fed in to the per­sis­tent in­abil­ity of gov­ern­ments to con­strain their spend­ing and en­sure their de­part­ments, pro­grams and cor­po­ra­tised en­ti­ties op­er­ated cost ef­fec­tively, be­fore fin­ish­ing the list by cit­ing the ris­ing in­flu­ence and mil­i­tancy of unions de­spite de­clin­ing mem­ber­ships.

In the pub­licly run Queens­land elec­tric­ity trans­mis­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion sec­tor the La­bor govern­ment has man­aged to put it­self on the wrong side of the ledger on all of th­ese is­sues. Its newly merged power en­tity, En­ergy Queens­land, which com­bines the pub­licly owned Er­gon and En­ergex com­pa­nies, will de­liver wage in­creases of 3 per cent a year for the next three years.

Th­ese rev­e­la­tions come as Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk is be­lieved to be close to call­ing an elec­tion. The pay rises come un­der a new en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing agree­ment that con­tin­ues rises agreed un­der the pre­vi­ous en­ti­ties and is higher than the bud­geted 2.5 per cent in­creases paid else­where in the pub­lic sec­tor. That La­bor would ac­cept higher pay in­creases in the en­ergy sec­tor sug­gests it has a tin ear when it comes to con­sumer com­plaints about power prices or that it has been putty in the hands of the mil­i­tant Elec­tri­cal Trades Union, or both. The cur­rent in­fla­tion rate is 1.9 per cent and pri­vate sec­tor wages have been in­creas­ing at 1.8 per cent. This means, on av­er­age, peo­ple on pri­vate sec­tor wages are tread­ing water on their stan­dard of liv­ing or go­ing back­wards. In the pub­lic sec­tor the av­er­age wage growth has been 2.4 per cent, putting it ahead of the curve with se­cure em­ploy­ment, gen­er­ous con­di­tions and higher rises than in­fla­tion and the pri­vate sec­tor.

En­ergy Min­is­ter Mark Bai­ley re­turned only last month af­ter stand­ing aside for a Crime and Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion that cleared him of any crim­i­nal be­hav­iour over a pri­vate email ac­count. It emerged that the min­is­ter’s deleted ac­count had been used by ETU state sec­re­tary Peter Simp­son to com­mu­ni­cate his con­cerns about los­ing a board po­si­tion in the elec­tric­ity sec­tor merger. This level of union cosi­ness is not a good look for the Palaszczuk govern­ment when it is award­ing wage in­creases that may fly in the face of com­mu­nity ex­pec­ta­tions and cer­tainly break from an­nounced caps on pub­lic spend­ing. In Queens­land this week we also heard al­le­ga­tions of of­fen­sive threats is­sued by Construction Forestry Min­ing and En­ergy Union pick­eters to­wards work­ers at the Oaky Creek North mine. The Queens­land Coun­cil of Unions dis­missed the claims as be­ing part of a po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Vic­to­ria’s La­bor govern­ment faces al­le­ga­tions the United Fire­fight­ers Union en­gaged in a long cam­paign of intimidation and bul­ly­ing against 11 se­nior fire­fight­ers. There are claims of a bul­let sent in the mail and “bul­ly­ing, drug deal­ing and im­proper prac­tice”. A civil suit al­leges the Metropoli­tan Fire Bri­gade did not do enough to pre­vent it. The con­tro­versy fol­lows the Coun­try Fire Author­ity dis­pute last year that caused enor­mous strife for Premier Daniel An­drews and is blamed by many for the poor per­for­mance by La­bor in Vic­to­ria dur­ing the fed­eral elec­tion. La­bor gov­ern­ments can do their con­stituents and them­selves great harm if they fail to stand up to unions.

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