The Maritime Union of New Zealand is in the same pickle as the New Zealand Meatworkers’ Union. It, too, has hidden millions of dollars of spending from the legally required public scrutiny.
Following my complaint, the Registrar of Incorporated Societies, Neville Harris, has ordered the Meatworkers’ Union to re-file six years’ of accounts (Hidesight, Aug 24).
His clear expectation is that the full accounts be presented for approval at the annual meeting on November 7 and be filed promptly thereafter.
It will be fascinating to see if the union complies. It has fought long and hard to keep its accounts hidden. But I’m backing the Registrar to prevail. He has the necessary statutory power to ensure the union complies with the law.
There will be some sharp, critical eyes going through the accounts once they’re filed. There is a great deal of interest in the spending that the union has been so anxious to keep from public view.
The legal obligation runs like this. To register, unions must be incorporated societies. The incorporation is important because it creates a body corporate distinct from the members of the union.
The union can thereby hold property and incur obligations in its own right.
Critically, being a member of an incorporated society does not impose on members any liability in respect of any contract or debt incurred by the society. There wouldn’t be too many union members if they were liable for union debts.
In return for the legal protection of members, incorporated societies incur legal obligations, one of which is the filing of an annual financial statement that is available for public scrutiny. That way, any creditors and others can see the financial health of the union.
However, that’s not been possible with the Meatworkers’ Union for years and nor is it the case with the Maritime Union. The accounts haven’t been presented in full and millions of dollars in spending has not been made public as required by law.
The lack of transparency is truly shocking. It’s especially so in light of the spending scandal that has in recent months rocked the Australian Health Services Union.
The Maritime Union has 13 branches throughout New Zealand. For example, the branch in dispute with the Ports of Auckland is called “Auckland Local 13”.
The spending of the branches has not been accounted for in the Union’s financial statement.
The union’s 2011 financial statement declares:
“4. ASSOCIATED ENTITIES
The Union established Branches at each port in accordance with the rules of the Union. These branches have been given delegated authority to manage their affairs on behalf of their local members. The Financial Statements have not included any information on the financial performance or position of each Branch.”
The accounts show the union taking in $338,058 in affiliation fees, of which $80,059 came from “Auckland Local 13”.
Branch president Garry Parsloe says union fees are 1.25% of wages and the average wage is $57,000, excluding bonuses and allowances. The union claims 300 members at the port. So that’s an income of over $200,000. But only $80,000 of that makes it to the union proper and is declared. That’s just one branch.
The 2003 accounts likewise just show the affiliation fees and not the full income and expenditure of the union. The failure to disclose properly goes back a long time.
I have emailed the Maritime Union for an explanation but so far have not heard back. I have also lodged a complaint with the Registrar.
I will keep readers informed.