Wednesday, June 17, 2015

For whom did Bill Shorten toil while he was a union leader?

OPPOSITION leader Bill Shorten maintains that his ­career with the AWU was ­devoted to providing fair wages and conditions for its members but it seems that is not necessarily so.

“My union record has been public and it’s always been consistent, creating good and safe workplaces, building up better job security for workers, making sure that people got fair wages and conditions,” Shorten, a former Victorian and national secretary of the AWU, insists.

The problem with his ­assertion is that not only were some of those people unaware that they had been “joined” to the union by Shorten, the agreements he made were ­demonstrably not always in the best interests of the ­workers he was being paid to represent.

When Shorten appears ­before the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption in late August or early September, he will face a raft of questions which should examine the loss of benefits to workers under contracts he signed ­including the 2001 Melbourne & Olympic Parks Trust ­agreement, the 2001 Cirque du Soleil agreement, the 2003 Cut and Fill agreement and the 2004 Chiquita Mushrooms agreement.

These agreements signed by Shorten laid the groundwork for a culture only now being repudiated by current AWU office holders.
Just last week, an agreement with Cleanevent, one of the companies signed up by Shorten, was terminated after AWU senior national legal ­officer Stephen Crawford ­appeared before the Fair Work Commission.

Mr Crawford said the only purpose of the 2006 agreement (based on an earlier 2004 agreement) was to deny ­employees access to improved weekend and public holiday penalty rates.

“It’s obviously quite clear that it would be to the benefit of all employees for the agreement to be terminated,” he told the FWC. “It is actually in the public interest for this agreement to be terminated.”

Under the deal, the AWU gained at least $75,000 and the workers lost $6 million in ­penalties.

The commission has also heard how Winslow Constructions paid several hundred thousand dollars in union dues to the AWU, whether their employees, were aware or not, when Shorten was state AWU secretary.

Shorten is adamant that he can “guarantee about any of the matters that we always ­improved workers’ conditions, full stop”.  “That is my answer on these matters, my record … I spent every day of my adult life representing workers. My record is there for all to see.”

But that record shows as head of the Victorian branch of the AWU (1998–2006) and National Secretary (2001– 2007), he negotiated or signed multiple enterprise agreements some of which stripped workers of penalty rates or overtime pay or imposed ­unfavourable conditions.

The dud deals were done with employers who were prepared to gain industrial peace. Some employees had their membership, sometimes without their knowledge.

As his successor as national secretary, Paul Howes, said in his effusive farewell to Shorten on December 13, 2007, his predecessor had “looked at new ways to organise members and to organise the un-organised,” and that “the AWU is indebted to Bill Shorten”.

Howes lyrically spoke of Shorten “campaigning and ­attracting to this oldest of ­unions – the union of John Curtin, William Spence, Dame Mary Gilmore, Mick Young, Laurie Short and the shearers’ strike … and Waltzing Matilda – oil and gas workers, jockeys, fruit-pickers and netball players, while simultaneously getting and reading and thinking widely about unionism in a global, ageing world, and the challenges of Asia, and how it all fits in”.

“He worked out new ways, new tools of negotiation to get into non-union workplaces and achieve the solidarity of the steel, aluminium, glass, public sector, manufacturing and aviation workers in an era when the whole notion of unionism was under threat,” Howes said. “So it has come to pass that the AWU I’ve inherited now has 100,000 members.”

Those inflated membership numbers enhanced the AWU’s influence within the Labor Party influence, as author Aaron Patrick (also a former member of Shorten’s Young Labor) explained: “The (Labor Party) system places mass ­unions like the shop assistants’ union, which has about 300,000 members, and the Australian Workers’ Union, with roughly 100,000 members, at the centre of party power.

Through their influence over the party’s finances and internal votes, the unions can get their candidates elected to parliament.”

But as the Australian Jockeys’ Association is at pains to point out, and has written to me to state, there is no evidence that the Jockeys’ Association knew or agreed to the AWU adding the names of jockeys to its membership list. The netballers find themselves similarly bewildered at their union memberships.

This attitude of advancement at all costs was neatly summarised by one of his parliamentary colleagues, Richard Marles MP, in a 2006 interview with the Sunday Age. “If you want to know how Bill has got to where he is now,” Marles said, “if you had to identify one thing, I think it is that he has been prepared to make decisions and to do things that almost anyone else would not.”


Bronny blasts Australia's human rights chief as 'too political'

Gillian Triggs told to run for office if she wants to be a 'political participant'

Liberal Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has told Australia's human rights chief Gillian Triggs to stand for office if she wants to be a 'political participant'.

Appearing alongside Ms Triggs on the ABC's Q&A program on Monday night, Ms Bishop suggested the law professor has demonstrated bias against the government during her tenure as president of the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

By allegedly delaying a report into the treatment of child asylum seekers until the Liberals took power, Ms Triggs had 'made it very political,' she said.

'That has made you a very political figure,' she told Ms Triggs across the panel table.

'You have to make the decision: Are you a statutory officer carrying out an obligation with the protection of that office, or do you wish to be a political participant?

'If you do wish to be a political participant, then you have to be no longer a statutory officer and perhaps stand for office.'

Ms Triggs brushed off Ms Bishop's criticism, saying it suggested she was doing a good job.

'I am a statutory officer, and that's a position of independence which allows me to speak, based on the evidence and based on the law, as truthfully as I can.

'Were I to receive frequent praise and commendation from the government, I think the Australian people would have a good reason to ask for my resignation,' she said to loud applause.

Ms Triggs said the 180 pieces of work published during the previous Labor government indicated the HRC acted as strongly then as it does now.


Won’t sign TPP unless farmers gain: Joyce

Australia won’t settle on a landmark trans-Pacific free trade agreement until demands for better US market access for farmers are met, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its final stages of negotiations, recent leaks indicate the Obama administration is unwilling to discuss cuts on tariffs and import quotas for Australian cattle farmers and sugar growers.

‘If there’s nothing in it for us then we don’t need to sign it,’ the minister told ABC radio on Friday.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam has previously attacked the secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations. In a speech to parliament he said, ‘As much as those on the other side of the chamber love to deride the work of the WikiLeaks publishing organisation and its beleaguered publisher and staff, we would know nothing about the progress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement if it was not for whistleblowers from inside the trade agreement posting two of the chapters – the IP and environment draft chapters – on the WikiLeaks website. We would be operating completely in the dark.

‘Are we seriously proposing we would put ourselves up to be sued by foreign corporations or foreign investors on unelected international tribunals from industry sectors in countries like Brunei?

‘We need to know exactly who is pulling the strings – whether, as it appears from the mark-up in the draft IP chapter, we are simply doing as the US trade negotiators are demanding and traipsing along behind them, or whether we could even detect faint traces of an independent foreign and trade policy inside the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.’


Counterfeit food threatens Australia's international reputation

Australian food producers and exporters are calling on the federal government to do more to protect the nation’s clean, green image against a rising tide of counterfeiting.

Unscrupulous foreign operators are taking advantage of Australia’s reputation for quality food by counterfeiting labels and packaging to sell their own inferior and potentially unsafe product in international markets.

An increasing number of Australian producers are being targeted by food counterfeiters in Asia and the Middle East, and exporters are bracing for bigger problems in the future.

The first thing you need to think about is that as soon as your product becomes successful over there [China] someone will try to copy it or steal your brand.

‘Counterfeiting is a huge global industry worth an estimated $1.7 trillion dollars,’ says John Houston, CEO of YPB Systems—one of a new breed of companies that's emerging to develop technology to protect food producers from counterfeiters.

‘The standard issue that people are familiar with is going to Asia and buying a fake handbag or fake Polo shirt or something like that, now that problem is exacerbated by food quality and pharmaceutical quality,’ he says.

‘There is an enormous amount of counterfeit or sub-standard food being sold, especially throughout Asia.’

Australia's high food safety standards enable producers to demand a premium price overseas, and the rapidly growing Asian middle class, especially in China, is prepared to pay top dollar for our food and wine.

‘Australian products are highly prized because they come from a country where the provenance of goods is not in question,’ says Houston.

‘What I would say to any Australian food exporter to China is, the first thing you need to think about is that as soon as your product becomes successful over there someone will try to copy it or steal your brand.'

Premium Australian meat is a particular target. Wagyu beef king David Blackmore, whose product is in high demand around the world, fell victim to counterfeiters three years ago.

In 2012 he was contacted by the head chef of a five-star Shanghai hotel who'd previously used Blackmore Wagyu Beef in Dubai and noticed a difference in quality.

Blackmore says the Chinese product was immediately identified as a fake. ‘We actually put a label inside the Cryovac bag and that label has a code in the ink and I immediately identified it wasn’t ours.  ‘My son flew straight to China to get it because we were hearing from other chefs the same sort of thing.

‘There was quite a lot of beef going into the five-star hotels in Shanghai and Beijing that wasn’t our beef.’

Blackmore Wagyu Beef tracked down the source of the counterfeit beef to a Chinese company that had an office in Sydney. The information was passed on to both Chinese and Australian authorities. No action was taken.

‘From my point of view all of the evidence that was needed was handed on and we did chase up two or three times but there had been no further action taken,’ says Blackmore.

The Blackmore Wagyu Company has now largely pulled out of China, supplying only five trusted five-star hotels in Shanghai.

Blackmore says the need to protect the Australian food brand is a national issue.

‘The main thing that Australia’s got over all other agricultural export countries, maybe except New Zealand, is our clean and green image and the fact that Australian food is safe,’ he says.

‘The Australian image is very, very important and if we lose the fact that our food is safe because it’s been counterfeited, that’s going to really affect Australia’s reputation in the world.

‘It definitely should have been raised amongst the free trade agreement discussions.’

However, another Australian victim of food fraudsters believes there is little government can do to tackle the problem.

Howard Hansen is the managing director of Hansen Orchards, which exports fresh Tasmanian cherries into Asia.

‘Whatever happens after the product leaves the Australian shore, it’s very difficult for the government to have any influence over,’ he says. ‘They can’t stop someone in Hong Kong, China or Vietnam pulling a lid off a South American product and putting a counterfeit Tasmanian lid back on it.’

Hansen Orchards has been contending with food counterfeiting for the past decade, although there has been a big increase in the past few years, particularly in China.

‘Normally the artwork has got something a little bit different and it’s not quite the same, but they do seem to be getting more sophisticated and they are getting closer to copying the original designs,’ says Hansen.

A fortnight ago, Hansen Orchards discovered a problem in Vietnam after a consumer posted a complaint about food poisoning on social media and included a photo of a counterfeit package of Tasmanian cherries.  Howard Hansen was alerted to the case by Austrade after the story was picked up by a newspaper in Vietnam.

‘Austrade has responded on our behalf and pointed out that there is no Australian product in the [Vietnamese] market and hasn’t been since December last year,’ he says.

While Hansen is confident the companies who import his fruit continue to trust the brand,  he is worried food counterfeiting could undermine consumer confidence in Australian cherries.

‘Earlier this year, we had a customer in China that picked up our email address off a counterfeit carton and emailed us to say they’d previously bought Tasmanian product and on this occasion they were really, really disappointed and they didn’t taste nice etcetera.  ‘But that was a month before we’d even picked a cherry.

‘We know about that one person who was proactive enough to tell us about it but we don’t whether there were a thousand boxes or 10,000 boxes, or it could’ve been 100,000 boxes.’

It's a problem that is only going to get worse for Australian producers.

John Houston from YPB Systems says it's still early days in the China market, where the sale of Australian produce is in its infancy. ‘It’s probably more of a potential issue than a real current issue.

‘Having said that, a Chinese consumer who reaches for an Australian-made product will start to question, and today they will question if it’s real or not because so many of the other things that are branded are questionable in China,’ he says.

In the past, security for food packaging has revolved around things like holograms, colour shifting ink or elaborate bottle tops.

With an estimated 50,000 hologram manufacturers in China today, producers are now looking to new technologies such as YPB's invisible fluorescent tracer, which can be scanned.

Houston is urging Australian companies to be vigilant in protecting their brand.

‘There is no silver bullet for counterfeiting. It’s really a matter of putting a business process in place with measures that help protect the brand and the consumer,’ he says.

‘There’s very little anti-counterfeit technology being put into many products today but I think we’ll see more of this and brands becoming more proactive.’


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