Will there be a ‘super union’?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Master Builders Association CEO Denita Wawn, who is one of the companies launching legal action to stop the merger of two huge unions, the CFMEU and the Maritime Union of Australia.

Introduction: Will there be a ‘super union’?

Ross Greenwood:  Take you to another breaking story we’ve been talking about in the past few days and that is the merger between the CFMU, one of the most powerful unions in this country, and also the Maritime Union of Australia.

As we’ve told you, the federal government, we think, had been slow to try and react to these potential merger which had been given the green light by the Fair Work Commission and if allowed to go ahead, that super union has the potential to hold this country to ransom. Well, today, action is being taken, legal action to prevent this merger taking place. One of those parties to these legal action is the Master Builders Association. The Chief Executive, Denita Wawn is on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Denita.

Interview with: Denita Wawn, CEO, Master Builders Association

Denita Wawn: Good evening, Ross.

Ross Greenwood:  Just explain the legal action. What’s the precedent, what is the basis on which you are taking this action?

Denita Wawn:  Well, we believe that there are grounds for appeal on a legal technicality as to whether or not the commission should have considered the amalgamation at this time due to other proceedings in other jurisdictions. We’ve lodged that today. It will now go before a full bench, and obviously, we are keen to see the matter expedited even though the amalgamation date has been set for the 27th of March.

Ross Greenwood:  Do you think the federal government was preoccupied with its warning to get the passage of the same-sex marriage bill through a Parliament that it would actually took its eye off the ball and did not concentrate on the suggestion that this merger between these unions could take place?

Denita Wawn:  It was unfortunate and we we’re disappointed about the fact that the legislation wasn’t debated in the Senate last year. We appreciate the context of many things happening at the end of last year in Parliament including same-sex marriage, including the issue around Constitutional validity of MPs. It got mixed in that so we have been continuing to lobby, time ran out, but we are now taking legal proceedings to see what we can do on behalf of our membership.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay. In regards to these, just explain what do you believe the consequence of this merger could be. It could be detrimental to your organization and to your members. Where is it that you believe that the concentrated power of these two unions coming together could have an impact on building sites around Australia?

Denita Wawn:  Ross, I’m aware of the view that where you put two very militant unions together that will now have a monopoly over the supply chain which is put aside, that they will have a concentrated capacity to stop the products going to our side. We know already even there are lesser of court cases sitting there already that they will take a legal action to stop productive activity happening on sites in that port. We don’t want to see that. We just want to get on with our job and we are concerned the two unions merging together will have the capacity to further disrupt what is already a difficult environment for our membership.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay. The other point also is surely the ports would not be such a big issue, it’s more the financial strength, I would have thought, of these merged unions and what they could potentially do in terms of fund themselves, fund strike action if it becomes a prolonged, fund industrial campaigns. That, to me, would seem to be the real issue that you would be talking about.

Denita Wawn:  Absolutely. It is all about the combination of two very wealthy organizations, particularly the MUA come with significant assets, the CFMU have run down some of their assets due to the multitude of penalties they’ve had to pay over the last 18 months full story, and so they can continue sustained industrial action whether it’s legal or illegal because of that huge asset base.

You’re absolutely right, Ross, there are a number of issues at play here and we’re concerned that in commercial terms, if these were two companies, they would have been subjected to a public interest test. This didn’t apply for unions and as a consequence, we now have this significant concentration where we can be held to ransom.

Ross Greenwood:  Tell you what, really good stuff. Interesting to see exactly how that legal case goes and of course, as I said last night, if you actually had two large organizations that are so dominant in a field as the CFMU and the Maritime Union of Australia wishing to merge, it would have gone to the ACCC. In the ACCC, you can imagine, would have looked at it very, very critically in regards to competition. Denita Wawn is the chief executive of the Master Builders Association bringing that legal action and Denita, I appreciate your time.

Denita Wawn:  Absolute pleasure. Thanks, Ross.


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