Stop bosses doing a runner
by Anna Pha The 342 workers who lost their jobs when the National Textiles company in the NSW Hunter Valley closed last month are still waiting for their money. The directors of the company pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the workers have been left high and dry, with no sign of the $11 million they are owed. The Federal Government's "entitlement protection scheme", due to go before Cabinet as The Guardian goes to press, is a sham to let employers off the hook. It's not fooling workers and their unions for a second. The scheme is purported to offer workers up to $20,000 when the company employing them goes bust and fails to pay their entitlements. But the way the scheme is structured, very few workers would qualify for anything like the $20,000, let alone the full amount of legal entitlements. As pointed out in last week's Guardian, one of the National Textiles workers with 31 years of service would only receive $7,900.89 under Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith's scheme, a far cry from that worker's legal entitlement of $43,826.45. Tony Maher, the General President of the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division, described Reith's scheme as "totally inadequate". "It is basically the same offer we rejected in the Oakdale campaign. If we had accepted it then, the 125 [sacked] Oakdale miners and their families would have received only about 20 per cent of their full entitlements and badly missed out on what they were owed, and eventually received." The Oakdale settlement involved the Federal Government legislating so that the miners could be paid their full entitlements. Central fund Their entitlements were paid from the coal industry's Long Service Leave Fund — a central fund based on employer contributions that has protected long service leave entitlements in the industry. Reith wants to abolish the Fund and hand the coal owners a $240 million windfall and rob workers of their long service leave security. At present, when mines go bankrupt the only benefit mineworkers are guaranteed of is their long service leave entitlement. The CFMEU is calling for the retention of the fund as a permanent feature to ensure all entitlements, not just long service leave. "If the Federal Government could legislate last year to provide for the Oakdale miners, why can't they do so now to protect all employees?", asked Tony Maher. Apart from being totally inadequate as compensation, Reith's scheme relies on the co-operation of all State Governments — by no means certain — and does nothing to prevent further thefts by employers. It also fails to address the crucial fact that companies must take responsibility for entitlements owing to their employees. In recent months thousands of workers have been left high and dry as corporations and directors have made off with their wages and other entitlements through restructuring and other manipulations similar to Patrick's underhand tactics against the Maritime Union. It is time these were made public and fully investigated through a Senate inquiry. Company laws must be tightened to stop thieving company directors doing a runner through the back door with the cash. When it comes to companies going bust, all other creditors must be placed in the queue behind the workforce when payouts are made.