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Issue #1717      February 3, 2016

Whose snouts in the trough?

“Board fees for unionists up 51pc in a year”, runs the headline of an “exclusive” story in Murdoch’s Australian (15-12-2015). Those greedy, overpaid unionists have their snouts in the trough again, or so you’d think just glancing through the paper reading its headlines.

Australian Super chairwoman Heather Ridout.

If you go on to read the first paragraph, The Australian’s industrial reporter Elizabeth Colman makes a subtle change to the story: “Fees paid to unions by industry super funds have risen dramatically in the past year, with pay rises of as much as 51 percent for senior officials appointed to the boards of directors.” (Emphasis added – Ed)

So the unions, not the unionists are paid the fees. These fees include a base rate and then additional payments for attendance at different committee meetings and other services.

The unions are paid, not the individuals. For example, ACTU president Ged Kearney, a full-time employee of the ACTU, sits on the Trustee Board of the construction industry superannuation fund Cbus. The fee paid to the ACTU for her work as a board member rose 29 percent from $46,781 to $60,128.

The fee paid for ACTU secretary Dave Oliver’s work as a Board member of Australia’s largest industry fund, Australian Super, rose 51 percent from $54,248 to $82,239. Oliver joined the board in 2007.

Colman fails to mention that there is equal representation of employer and trade union representatives on industry fund boards, that these employer representatives would receive similar payments.

Tucked away in the second to last paragraph, she reports that the Australian Super chairwoman Heather Ridout received a 13 percent pay rise from $161,915 to $183,194 over the same period. (This amount includes a rise in superannuation payments from $13,740 to $15,894). Ridout is personally paid, not some organisation, more than double the amount received by the ACTU in relation to Dave Oliver’s Board membership.

Ridout was also appointed to the Board in 2007 as an employer representative and became its chair in 2013. Until recently she was the chairwoman of the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) representing manufacturing construction, defence, IT and labour hire employers.

She is also a board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia and has held numerous government and other appointments. She would hardly be short of a dollar.

Colman could have added that employer representative Tim Poole’s personal remuneration rose from $162,215 to $180,182 over the same period. But she didn’t.

She could have compared the payments made to employer representative John Ingram from Ai Group – up from $135,881 to $152,710 (including super payments). But she didn’t.

Or that the payments received by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union for its representative Paul Bastian rose from $51,000 to $55,800.

So whose snouts are in the trough? Whose snouts are feeding off workers’ retirement savings?

But it could be worse if the government had its way and industry superannuation funds such as Australian Super and Cbus were run like the private retail funds, with trade union representation on the boards reduced to a maximum of one third.

In the year ended June 30, 2013, industry superannuation funds paid a total of $88 million in director costs. But this figure fades in comparison to figures from the prudential regulator (APRA) showing that retail funds paid $449 million to their directors. (Australian Financial Review (9-12-2014))

Again whose snouts are in the trough?

Next article – Stop TPP corporate power grab

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