Unions hail all-clear in report

Unions say they have been vindicated by a report on union governance that was commissioned after the Health Services Union corruption scandals.

The report to the ACTU executive on Wednesday made 13 recommendations to improve the way unions operate, including on the use of credit cards, financial transparency and disclosing the pay rates of senior officials.

But none of the recommendations are mandatory and it is up to individual unions how, or if, they implement them.

And while the report said the general picture of Australian unions was that they are "honestly run" it did not investigate that issue itself.

Federal opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz dismissed the report as a whitewash.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said unions should "feel proud" of the report, which was commissioned by the ACTU last year. Its panel of experts was headed by former Federal Court judge Rod Madgwick.

He said the positive response to the report from union leaders on Wednesday meant he expected them to make changes where needed.

Mr Oliver said the review was never meant to investigate corruption itself but he was confident the problems had been limited to a "couple of individuals in one union".

He said the report found many unions were "well advanced in modern governance and management practices" and that laws around union rules were "some of the most rigorous in the world."

The Coalition has been pushing for tougher rules to force greater disclosure by union officials. They also want unions to be regulated in the same way as corporations.

Senator Abetz said unions had not taken the issue seriously. “When you have a handpicked reviewer making voluntary recommendations, you've got to wonder if it was something prepared in anticipation of the Melbourne Comedy Festival," he said.

Senator Abetz said problems were not isolated to the HSU. The federal opposition has also highlighted allegations that Electrical Trades Union officials from NSW pocketed $1.8 million in directors fees that, it has been argued, should have gone back to the ETU under union rules.

There have also been examples of other questionable governance practices, with Fairfax revealing last December the existence of union "slush fund", Industry 2020.

The Victorian secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Cesar Melhem, was the sole shareholder of Industry 2020, which has raised about $500,000 since 2008 and which has been used to support the political activities of his Right faction sub-group within the ALP.

Mr Oliver said its recommendations would only relate to unions themselves, not separate funds created by officials.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop