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Tag Archives: Dave Oliver

Deborah Snow

May 19, 2012

Julia Gillard Photo MIchele MOssopTuesday 15th may 2012Julia Gillard speaks at the ACTU national conference in Sydney todaySeen here with ew ACTU secretary Dave Oliver (on her immediate right)Tale of humility … Julia Gillard with the newly-elected secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, speaks at the congress in Sydney. Photo: Michele Mossop

Key players are trying to claim the high ground on industrial relations, writes Deborah Snow.

The politician, the union leader and the business boss all had a story of humble origins to tell this week. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking each was trying to out-humble the other.

The BHP kingpin, Jac Nasser, told the Institute of Company Directors that he was no class warrior, just the son of a simple Lebanese man who’d packed up his family to come and live all together ”in a single bedroom” in a house in outer Melbourne.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, trotted out for the ACTU congress in Sydney the tale, yet again, of her modest upbringing in Adelaide, the child of migrants who taught her to ”always, always, always carry your union membership card”.

And the newly-elected secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, describing himself as a ”humble lift mechanic”, confessed astonishment that someone who’d started his working life as a 15-year-old apprentice, skateboarding to his first job, should have risen to the top of the union movement.

”Frankly, I’m amazed to be here today,” he told delegates to the triennial ACTU congress in Sydney – though, in fact, there was no surprise at all in the carefully-orchestrated elevation of Oliver, whose formidable campaigning skills are precisely why he has been put in the job.

The real point to all this faux-humility was the key players trying to stake out moral high ground as the industrial relations debate skidded off into talk of class warfare this week.

The Employment Minister, Bill Shorten, declared that ”we mustn’t let ourselves get fitted up – that somehow we are the class warriors. It has never been un-Australian to back-in the interests of the Australian working people”.

The head of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon, told union delegates Alan Joyce’s grounding of Qantas last year was a fine example of class warfare and that Nasser’s speech on Wednesday was evidence of ”that war being declared again”.

Nasser, in turn, told his audience of company directors that it was ”personally disappointing to me that part of this debate has become one based on class divisions”.

But he didn’t hold back in spelling out the mining conglomerate’s belief that the ”pendulum” had swung too far the unions’ way with Labor’s Fair Work Act, brought in by Gillard to replace John Howard’s reviled Work Choices.

Management had the right to ”run the business without the constant threat of a [union] veto over operational decision making”, he said, and the government’s current review of the Fair Work Act would be ”an opportunity to move the pendulum back to a more appropriate balance”.

If that didn’t happen, the company had the luxury of choice in deciding the ”geography” of where it might invest – a comment later interpreted by Sheldon as the threat of a ”capital strike”. Repudiating Nasser’s warnings, coalminers in Queensland are now positioning to launch mass strikes against the company.

BHP is not alone in its complaints. Major employer groupings such as the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have lodged extensive submissions with the Fair Work Act review team, outlining dozens of areas where they say union powers are too great.

Top of AiGroup’s concerns is the scope it says unions now have to bring issues into the bargaining process that were never part of it before.

”Prior to the Fair Work Act, there was a tighter test of what you could put into agreements,” says the group’s national industrial relations director, Steve Smith. ”[Now] the unions want to be able to bargain over absolutely everything.”

He denies rising employer agitation against the Fair Work Act is ideologically driven and says his grouping just wants it ”sensibly” amended rather than thrown out.

However, Oliver says employers are ”sniffing the political wind” and responding with increasing militancy. ”We are up for a discussion on productivity – always have been, always will be,” he told the Herald. ”But we will give as good as we get.”

The union movement, he says, will not back away from its declared intention this week to campaign strongly against the growing phenomenon of what it calls ”insecure work” – that is, casual work, workers on contract and workers living day-to-day on calls from labour hire firms.

Former Labor deputy prime minister Brian Howe told the union congress there was a growing gulf between those in the ”core” workforce and those on its ”periphery”.

Releasing a report commissioned by the ACTU, he said he’d found ”countless casual workers in low-paying industries like security, contract cleaning, call centres and childcare”, who had unstable hours and ”pay so low that many of them have to hold down two or three jobs to make ends meet”.

Insecure work affected up to 40 per cent of the workforce, he claimed – a figure disputed by employer groups, who say Howe’s estimates include more than 1 million independent contractors with zero desire to become employees.

It’s a battle that will ramp up in coming months, as the ACTU pledges to extend the campaign into the community, backed by Oliver’s determination to set up what he calls a ”permanent campaigning capacity” inside the union body.

Indeed, he made a candid admission this week that the union movement had made a strategic error in pulling back after the success of its anti-Work Choices campaign in 2007.

People back then, he told the congress, ”knew what we stood for – but sadly, it didn’t last”.

”We didn’t keep faith with that campaign after the 2007 election. We thought because we’d defeated one enemy, that we had won all the battles we needed to,” he said.

It’s a mistake Oliver is determined the union movement won’t repeat. Shorten, meanwhile, will receive the report of the Fair Work Act review team at the end of this month. Advance reviews suggest it’s unlikely to give employer groups the overhaul they want. And with an eye on his future ambitions, Shorten won’t want to take apart a piece of legislation so closely associated with the Prime Minister.

The ACTU congress wrapped up on a jovial note on Thursday. Organisers brought the architects of Labor’s 1980s accord with the unions – Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Bill Kelty – under the same roof for the conference dinner. Hawke belted out the union anthem Solidarity Forever. Delegates sang a ragged Happy Birthday for the outgoing ACTU secretary, Jeff Lawrence, who turned 60 on the congress’s final day.

But it was fighting words Oliver left delegates with at the end: ”No matter what they throw at us, no matter what the challenge, we never have and never will put up that white flag. Now it’s time to get back to work.”

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Clay Lucas
May 15, 2012

Incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver is expected to lead an aggressive campaign.Incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver is expected to lead an aggressive campaign. Photo: Peter Rae

EMPLOYER groups say a plan to be released by unions tomorrow to ensure Australia’s labour laws provide better protections for casual and temporary workers would damage the nation’s interests.

Almost 1000 union leaders from across Australia will converge this morning at the Sydney Convention Centre, for the first day of the ACTU’s three-day congress, the union movement’s triennial call to arms.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will address the gathering this afternoon, and Dave Oliver will be formally installed as ACTU secretary in the place of outgoing chief Jeff Lawrence.

With business groups pushing the Coalition to adopt a hard-line industrial relations policy, Mr Oliver is expected to lead a more aggressive campaign by the union movement.

And amid the continuing fallout from the Craig Thomson and Health Services Union saga, ACTU members are also expected to debate new governance standards for unions, to ensure zero tolerance for corruption is enforced.

The ACTU will also formally release its report on ”insecure” workers – people in casual work, working for labour hire firms, or on a contract – who now make up 40 per cent of the Australian workforce.

The report recommends that casual work be allowed only for ”irregular, intermittent or very short-term work”. And, under the union’s plan, the creation of jobs deemed temporary would be outlawed ”where there are reasonable grounds to expect that the work will be ongoing”.

Employer groups said most of these ideas would dangerously shift the balance of power from employers to employees.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson said business would resist most of the proposed ”solutions” ”because they are based on the creation of new rights that the economy would not be able to support”.

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And a nice new form of words will emerge. But will the practices of parliamentarians change? Now that the bipartisan approach to ignoring each other’s dodgy behaviour has ended, where will all of this end ? My guess after a few weeks and/or we move away from  minority government, the previous approach based on avoiding Mutually Assured Destruction will reassert itself. Too many people with too many stories of dodgy, dubious, disreputable behaviour…
The ACTU’s position has moved: Dave Oliver has signalled the need for a tough review of union governance rules.

PM welcomes political conduct debate

Published 2:40 PM, 13 May 2012 Last update 6:39 AM, 14 May 2012


Prime Minister Julia Gillard has supported a call to have a debate on clearer guidelines for politicians when it comes to their conduct.

Independent MP Tony Windsor has called for a review of the code of conduct for politicians, following damning civil allegations against former Labor MP Craig Thomson and Speaker Peter Slipper.

Ms Gillard said she was open to debating the issue in parliament.

“I’d certainly welcome discussions in the parliament on a code of conduct for MPs,” she said.

“I do want to see members of parliament always doing the right thing.

“There are various rules now for members of parliament but I’m obviously open to suggestions for a code of conduct and clearer set of rules.”

The prime minister said Mr Thomson, who is accused – in Fair Work Australia (FWA) findings – of misusing union funds on prostitutes and personal expenses, as well his election campaign, was entitled to a presumption of innocence.

“It’s not for me to come to conclusions here, or announce conclusions, it’s for the proper authorities and ultimately for the courts,” she told reporters in Queensland on Sunday.

“I understand many Australians would have seen Mr Thomson’s interview yesterday and they will have drawn their own conclusions but ultimately the only way this matter can be resolved is properly before the courts.”

Mr Windsor said the public wanted a higher standard from parliamentarians and politicians would face a test in the next few weeks as to how they would grapple with both civil and criminal offences of their contemporaries.

“Under current rules within the parliament, there’s not a lot that can be done in terms of those findings,” Mr Windsor told Sky News.

“If those findings become a criminal matter, if there’s fraud or other issues involved in terms of the union or even in my view some civil matters, there may well be need to change the rules in the parliament so that those issues can be dealt with in the parliament.

“But currently they can’t, you know – we can give someone a slap on the wrist but I don’t think the general public is too interested in a slap on the wrist.”

Mr Windsor has flagged a referendum to deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver says that following the numerous investigations into Health Service Union, the union movement will approve an overhaul of union governance, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Mr Oliver confirmed that there will be a debate on governance changes at the ACTU Congress.

I agree with Dave Oliver, the issue is compliance with the existing rules for union internal regulation. And I agree with Michelle, the ALP needs to apply tougher tests in its preselections.


Michelle Grattan,

May 6, 2012 Opinion

DO OTHER people feel that seeing one more interview with anyone associated with the Health Services Union might be enough to invite an attack on the television set?

The byzantine politics and rorting in this extraordinary outfit are beyond ordinary comprehension, and nothing comes to a conclusion. Everything about it seems big – its officials’ remuneration (president Michael Williamson is still getting his $350,000 annual salary while he’s stood aside), the amounts allegedly siphoned off for personal gain. Not big are the wages of many of the unfortunate members.

How those leading one union could have misbehaved so blatantly, on such a scale, for so long, beggars belief.

As does the stupidity. Williamson, already in all sorts of trouble, added to it by allegedly trying to get documents away in a bag to evade last week’s police raid.

When the Gillard government’s history is written the HSU connection will be a dark chapter, though it all started long before. If it is a wonder that Craig Thomson, former national secretary, was originally endorsed, it is extraordinary he was re-endorsed for the 2010 poll.

By then people knew he was a time bomb. Advertisement: Story continues below The HSU story is full of ”if onlys” for Labor. If only Thomson had been booted out by the preselectors. If only Gillard had robustly condemned the union’s nefarious behaviour early. If only she’d dispatched Thomson to the crossbenchers long before last weekend.

The political moral is that if not dealt with quickly, scandals can cartwheel out of control and do immense damage to a government. In the Thomson affair, the hung parliament clouded judgments (but it wasn’t hung when he was reselected). Labor did not want to cede any points to Tony Abbott. Nor did it want to do the slightest thing to provoke Thomson, presumably fearing he might create a byelection or be disgruntled as an independent – though he had no better job to go to and would always be likely to support Labor from the crossbenches, as he has now promised to do.

While the investigations grind on, hopefully eventually bringing to justice those who’ve taken down ordinary workers, action is needed to ensure greater protections against rogue union officials.

The ACTU, fearing guilt by association, has already suspended the HSU. Dave Oliver, incoming ACTU secretary, said last week there were significant regulations in place governing unions and employer organisations: the issue was compliance.

Workplace Minister Bill Shorten has suggested toughening penalties and improving transparency. Abbott has announced the Coalition would amend the law so officials of registered organisations ”have to play by the same rules as companies and their directors” who, if found guilty of the sort of offences being talked about, could face personal fines of up to $200,000 and prison.

Things should be kept in perspective – most union officials behave honestly (and are not paid mega salaries). But it is important for signals to be given to those responsible for running unions and the people they serve that any corruption that’s found will be rooted out. This would seem to require both improving governance and strengthening penalties. In this effort, Julia Gillard should get on the front foot, not find reasons to delay.

The reforms ought to be done before the election.

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Ben Schneiders
June 22, 2009

A SENIOR union leader has promised a tough line on violence and intimidation, saying it will not be condoned, amid claims of death threats and violence at the recent West Gate industrial dispute.

The dispute was used earlier this month by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard to justify Labor keeping laws that treat the building industry and building workers differently. They include tough coercive powers that can require building workers, under threat of jail, to answer questions.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Dave Oliver said if allegations were proved against any organiser at his union they would be dealt with.

“Very clearly we have a policy in place, we do not condone violence, intimidation and bullying and if anything is substantiated about any allegation about our organisers we will deal with it,” he told The Age.

A union organiser was alleged to have made death threats against a security guard and his family, although these claims have been denied. Civil and criminal and court court cases are under way as a result of the dispute and Mr Oliver said he would watch what came out of them.

“If anything comes out we will deal with it appropriately, we don’t condone that (violence) whatsoever,” he said.

Ms Gillard has been criticised for using the dispute despite none of the allegations being proved by a court. Labor’s stance has enraged many unionists.

Electrical Trades Union state secretary Dean Mighell said construction union organisers would be “laughed at” if they told members they should vote Labor at the next federal election.