Meatworkers’ Union shell game hides real power
"How many other unions are like this?"Featured comment
You will recall that the New Zealand Meatworkers’ Union has been for years hiding millions of dollars of income and spending from the required public scrutiny by only revealing the capitation fees paid to the union head office and keeping the monies in four unregistered and unincorporated branches (Hidesight, August 24).
I had previously thought that was the only issue. I was wrong. It just got way more interesting.
But first let’s cover off the required public disclosure of the spending and income.
The Registrar of Incorporated Societies, Neville Harris, wrote to me last week to say he has “confirmed to the union that I require the filing of compliant financial statements for, initially, the 2011 financial year and subsequently the 2006 to 2010 financial years”.
The registrar is expecting the first of the financial statements to be filed by October 12, 2012.
The registrar included in his letter interesting documents under the Official Information Act. They show the Meatworkers’ Union strenuously resisted the statutory requirement to disclose their income and spending.
The back and forth between the registrar and the union has been quite extraordinary. It’s clear that October 12 is looming as quite a showdown. My money is on the registrar.
But the documents reveal a much bigger problem with the Meatworkers’ Union than I had ever contemplated.
It turns out the muscle end of the Meatworkers’ Union is not a union at all, that the meatworkers can’t lawfully exercise any of the powers and privileges of a union, and that the meatworkers are acting outside of the law whenever they do so.
The senior accountant in the Registrar’s Office explains: On April 19 he wrote to the national secretary of the Meatworkers’ Union, David Eastlake, saying, “The problem is that it is the incorporated society that is the sole legal entity – the branches are just that, branches of the incorporated society – the branches are not legal entities.”
That’s clear: the branches are not legal entities.
But it’s the branches that do all the union business. I have a February 10 letter by the principal of Beck and Associates, which audits the national office accounts. The letter explains that, “The national office does not have members. Individuals sign a form and in practice become members of their relevant branch.”
Further, “Employee union subscriptions in fact go directly to the relevant branch bank account, not the national body.” The branches are entirely “autonomous.” And, “The national secretary, Mr David Eastlake confirms the above points.”
The national office itself has no members. That’s according to the union itself and its auditors. But a registered union must be an incorporated society and an incorporated society must have 15 members.
The union itself has problems. By its own admission, it can’t be an incorporated society and it can’t be a union.
But the branches are in worse shape. The branches that do all the union business are not legal entities and are certainly not unions. That’s according to the registrar’s office.
But the Meatworkers’ Union admits it is the branches that are exercising all the powers and privileges of a union. They have no lawful authority to be doing so.
This is big stuff. Employers should be asking under what legal authority the meatworkers are undertaking collective bargaining, accessing the workplace, requiring companies to allow employees to attend union meetings, requiring union fees to be deducted from employees’ pay, and so on.
Because, according to the registrar’s office, employers are not dealing with a legal entity, let alone a registered union.