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I was recently told about some serious spending by the New Zealand Meat Workers Union that surprised me.
It was so surprising that I thought I should check it out.
No problem. I would just look up their audited accounts that the Registrar of Incorporated Societies would hold. That way I could determine if the story I was told was true.
I was shocked to learn the accounts aren’t there. The meatworkers have four branches and for the past seven years have only been disclosing the capitation fees paid by the four branches to the national body.
For the year ended September 2010 the disclosed income was $712,370.
The total income to the union is several million dollars a year.
That’s a failure over the years to disclose tens of millions of dollars
The law is clear. To be a union, an organisation must be incorporated. And incorporated societies must file annual financial statements that members of the public can inspect. The advantage of incorporation is that it gives a legal personality separate from the society’s members. In return, members of the public can inspect the society’s accounts.
But I can’t for the Meat Workers Union. Neither can you. And that’s been the case for seven years.
Why aren’t the meatworkers disclosing their full income and expenditure? I don’t know. I thought, at first, it could just be an oversight. I thought I would just point the failure out and get it fixed.
Parliament has provided the registrar with the power to require records. So I wrote to the registrar pointing out the meatworkers’ failure. I suggested he use his power to get the branch records for the last seven years and make them publicly available.
That was back in May. The registrar is Neville Harris, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Economic Development, which is part of a new super ministry. He advised me that he had been aware of the meatworkers’ failure to disclose their accounts since November 2011. My information was not news to him.
He explained he had been in contact with the union and was following up with the objective of having it file a “revised financial statement” that includes information relating to the activities of its branches.
I have had no explanation why he doesn’t just demand the branch records and why he is speaking of just one financial statement singular when there are several years missing.
It’s a complete mystery to me why the registrar just doesn’t demand the branch records and made them publicly available. After all, that’s the law’s requirement of unions and incorporated societies.
Mr Harris and I now have had quite a correspondence. I can report that I am no further ahead than when I started.
This month he advised me that he has decided the way forward is to obtain an opinion from an external accounting expert and to endeavour to resolve this matter on the basis of that advice. I have no idea why the registrar is seeking that advice.
The problem is not an accounting one. It’s a legal one. The simple requirement is that the Meat Workers Union and its branches are required to disclose to the public their income and their expenditure and they aren’t.
The person in charge of making sure they do is Mr Harris. Parliament has granted him the power to ensure they do. He is refusing to use that power. Instead, he’s working with the union to get them to file and is seeking accounting advice. Heaven only knows why.
I will keep plugging away. And I will report progress.
It smells to me.
Especially in the wake of the scandal of the Australian Health Services Union.
My objective is a simple one: to get the New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union (Inc) to disclose its full accounts