Shorten left stewing in his own juices
AWU sweetheart deal does the dirty on hundreds of mushroom pickers
IN the end it was the mushroom pickers that got me.
Work is good. It can be a cure for depression, a distraction from grief, a binding force for friendship and a great way to meet women.
It is also a source of self- worth. A paramedic saves lives, a teacher saves the future, a carpenter builds our homes.
But in the end it was the mushroom pickers that got me.
It strikes me that unless you are a particularly militant vegetarian, there is little fulfilment to be gained by picking large edible fungi out of the ground.
As noble a vocation as it may be, I suspect most mushroom pickers aren’t in it for the glory. They just want their money.
And that is what I found most troubling about Bill Shorten’s appearance at the union royal commission.
As head of the Australian Workers’ Union Shorten helped deliver the vital EastLink road project ahead of schedule without leaving workers worse off. That is genuinely to his great credit.
But there was also a separate AWU deal – and I quote Fairfax so as to avoid the usual conspiracy claims – “that lowered wages for hundreds of mushroom pickers in return for unusual payments to the union”.
And in the end it was the mush- room pickers that got me.
There is a golden rule in politics that you never launch an inquiry unless you know what the outcome is going to be, and never has it been executed so precisely as when the Abbott government set up this one.
But that doesn’t make it any less damaging to the union movement, nor any less potent a weapon for a government or business eyeing off pay rates that Australian workers currently take for granted.
The message for unions is clear: Adapt or die.
The sweetheart deals of the AWU only reinforce the perception that union leaders are in it for themselves, not their members. Yet the often aggressive tactics of the AWU’s archnemesis the CFMEU are equally destructive. While they may fight for their members – often quite literally it seems – the culture of intimidation only fuels the push for unskilled workers or cheap foreign labour. Both can have deadly consequences.
And so for the union movement to survive it must void its bowels of the sellouts, the factional warriors and the thugs.
The nature of work is changing. People move jobs more frequently and the jobs themselves are moving too – mostly offshore.
The real challenge for union lead- ers is therefore to make Australian workers more competitive without sacrificing their pay packets.
That means focusing on take home pay and not silly hotchpotch entitlements such as the infamous “shiny tin allowance” at SPC or the so- called “dirt allowance” at some NSW power companies.
It may also mean building penalty rates into base rates on time- sensitive projects or in industries like hospitality where night and weekend work is the norm.
And it means working with employers to increase productivity and efficiency – often just by letting them know what’s really happening on the workplace floor.
A mate of mine was once staggered by how long it took to process documents in his department.
He soon discovered that people were retyping all the information from one form to another because no one had told them there was such a thing as copy and paste.
But nothing can excuse screwing workers over in the process. The key is that take home pay must be retained while making work better, simpler and easier.
It can be done and it has been done. At its best, the AWU did it.
They just didn’t do it for the mushroom pickers. And in the end it’s the mushroom pickers that really get me.
The message for unions is clear: Adapt or die