Union’s NSW head un­der fire over 38 per cent pay rise

The Australian - - SLOW BOAT TO CHINA - BRAD NORINGTON AS­SO­CIATE ED­I­TOR

The head of the Trans­port Work­ers Union in NSW faces in­ter­nal protests over audited ac­counts that show he re­ceived a 38 per cent pay rise over two years, while other full-time of­fi­cials and truck driver mem­bers re­ceived as lit­tle as 1.5 per cent a year over the same pe­riod.

Crit­ics of Richard Olsen, sec­re­tary of the TWU’s largest branch, claim he re­ceived a salary boost from $133,262 to $183,897, ac­cord­ing to two years of audited an­nual fi­nan­cial ac­counts end­ing in De­cem­ber 2017.

A small part of the in­crease can be ex­plained by Mr Olsen step­ping up from TWU deputy to branch sec­re­tary in late 2015, but sev­eral long-time mem­bers of NSW TWU man­age­ment com­mit­tees told The Aus­tralian they had no rec­ol­lec­tion of ap­prov­ing these pay rises, or of com­mit­tee min­utes dis­cussing them. Olsen sup­port­ers say all had been ap­proved.

Sev­eral man­age­ment com­mit­tee mem­bers also ques­tioned Mr Olsen’s lead­er­ship style, which al­legedly in­cluded some flam­boy­ant spend­ing, when union mem­ber­ship and rev­enue had de­clined.

The Fed­eral Court fined the TWU $271,000 in Fe­bru­ary for fail­ing to re­move un­fi­nan­cial mem­bers from its books. Mr Olsen’s branch was slashed by more than half, from 40,000 to 17,000 mem­bers. Pend­ing an ap­peal, the court re­jected the

union’s pro­fessed “in­ca­pac­ity to pay” in May.

Crit­ics of Mr Olsen high­light his al­leged de­sire to name a new $4 mil­lion head­quar­ters un­der con­struc­tion in Syd­ney’s west “Richard Olsen House” when he had been leader for just two years and orig­i­nally came from an­other union, Bill Shorten’s AWU.

Also puz­zling to them is how Mr Olsen, ad­dress­ing a large gath­er­ing at last year’s TWU Christ­mas party, held at Syd­ney’s fives­tar Sher­a­ton Grand ho­tel, op­po­site Hyde Park, al­legedly de­scribed him­self as “im­mor­tal”.

In­side the TWU it is ac­cepted Mr Olsen’s salary would have in­creased in 2016 be­cause of the move from TWU deputy to branch sec­re­tary. But Mr Olsen’s dis­senters claim such a big jump in his salary was not jus­ti­fied over two years, and query whether it was ap­proved.

As part of back­ground in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to The Aus­tralian by Mr Olsen through a spokesman, he said all mat­ters had been prop­erly ap­proved by the union’s com­mit­tee of man­age­ment and fi­nance com­mit­tee, as re­quired. Itemised spend­ing less than $1000 did not re­quire ap­proval.

Mr Olsen said his salary for the 2016 fi­nan­cial year was really $166,454 — not $133,262 as stated in the De­cem­ber 2016 audited fi­nan­cial re­port.

Ac­cord­ing to the TWU leader, his NSW branch sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered an “anom­aly” dur­ing prepa­ra­tion of the 2017 fi­nan­cial re­port in which $17,200 of his 2016 salary had been counted as em­ployee su­per­an­nu­a­tion con­tri­bu­tions, not salary. His stated salary was then al­tered from $133,262 to $166,454 in the next ac­counts.

Mr Olsen claimed a fur­ther in­crease of $17,443 — boost­ing his de­clared salary en­ti­tle­ment to $183,897 ac­cord­ing to the De­cem­ber 2017 audited ac­counts — was “not a per­ma­nent salary in­crease” be­cause it in­cluded some cashe­d­out an­nual leave. This higher $183,978 fig­ure, he said, also in­cluded “a salary in­crease of 1.5 per cent”.

The TWU’s lead­er­ship in NSW has been war­ring in­ter­nally since The Aus­tralian first re­ported in Fe­bru­ary the abrupt res­ig­na­tion of long-time branch pres­i­dent Ge­orge Clarke, a for­mer truck driver and mem­ber for 50 years.

Mr Clarke’s chief com­plaint, prompt­ing his exit as re­ported by The Aus­tralian, was his ob­jec­tion to sit­ting as chair­man of the union’s weekly fi­nance com­mit­tee and be­ing asked to ap­prove spend­ing after the money had been spent — not be­fore, as re­quired.

He was es­pe­cially up­set at what he claimed was no prior ap­proval for $8000 spent help­ing rel­a­tives of a TWU mes­sage ser­vice em­ployee in West Africa fol­low­ing a mud­slide, $5000 on le­gal fees for sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tive staff on work visas at risk of de­por­ta­tion to In­dia, thou­sands of dol­lars spent on lounge suites for Mr Olsen’s of­fice and the re­turn of “long lunches” for union of­fi­cials at city restau­rants cost­ing $1000 or more.

Mr Clarke had no rec­ol­lec­tion of ap­prov­ing pay rises for Mr Olsen above 1.5 per cent be­fore he quit ear­lier this year. His suc­ces­sor as pres­i­dent, Charles McKay, has now de­cided not to renom­i­nate for pres­i­dent as the union’s man­age­ment com­mit­tee un­der­goes sig­nif­i­cant per­son­nel changes, leav­ing Mr Olsen look­ing for a re­place­ment for the sec­ond time in 12 months.

Ge­orge Oie, the NSW TWU’s long-serv­ing head del­e­gate at Qan­tas and a mem­ber of its branch com­mit­tee of man­age­ment in 2016 and 2017, said pay rises for Mr Olsen needed to be ap­proved by both the BCOM to which he had be­longed in those years, and its over­all com­mit­tee of man­age­ment to which Mr Clarke had be­longed.

He said he was per­plexed how Mr Olsen’s salary could rise 38 per cent to al­most $184,000 over just two years. He had no rec­ol­lec­tion of ap­prov­ing pay rises for Mr Olsen above 1.5 per cent while serv­ing on the union’s BCOM.

Nor did he re­call ap­prov­ing any $17,443 “mon­etis­ing” of an­nual leave in 2017 as Mr Olsen claimed, and ques­tioned how $17,200 in 2016 that Mr Olsen suggested was an “anom­aly” could shift be­tween su­per and salary in dif­fer­ent audited ac­counts.

Mr Olsen told Mr Oie in writ­ing last month he was ex­pelled from the TWU after 27 years’ mem­ber­ship for speak­ing out to The Aus­tralian in Fe­bru­ary about its in­ter­nal prob­lems. Mr Oie had al­ready been re­moved as head union del­e­gate at Qan­tas.

Mr Oie is a re­cip­i­ent of the ACTU’s del­e­gate-of-the-year award after win­ning back pay for 18 women Qan­tas em­ploy­ees, and has re­ceived his union’s own na­tional del­e­gate-of-the-year award for re­cruit­ing large num­bers of new mem­bers.

Back­ground in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to The Aus­tralian by Mr Olsen said “no­body at this of­fice” could re­call him us­ing the word “im­mor­tal” to de­scribe him­self at the TWU’s re­cent Christ­mas func­tion.

The in­for­ma­tion said the new union head­quar­ters at Minch­in­bury in western Syd­ney would not fea­ture a “Qan­tas scale model jet” or “mar­ble floors” — de­spite se­nior TWU fig­ures telling The Aus­tralian both had been raised with them by Mr Olsen.

Mr Olsen con­firmed to The Aus­tralian in Fe­bru­ary that he wanted to name the new TWU head­quar­ters after him­self.

In back­ground com­ments for this re­port, Mr Olsen seemed to re­treat from the idea, say­ing the TWU com­mit­tee of man­age­ment was still to de­cide on “the name of the build­ing” and the name suggested was “al­ways a hu­mor­ous rather than se­ri­ous sug­ges­tion”.

Olsen

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