SHOWING STRENGTH: CFMEU district vice-president Glenn Power at a May Day march. Mr Power believes the rise of labour hire has contributed to declining membership.
SHOWING STRENGTH: CFMEU district vice-president Glenn Power at a May Day march. Mr Power believes the rise of labour hire has contributed to declining membership. Meghan Kidd

Union 'moves on' after $2.8M blow out, 20% member money drop

QUESTIONS are mounting as to what has driven a 20% drop in CFMEU membership revenue in just two years.

While the CFMEU puts it down to a symptom of the depressed mining sector, others are pointing to the falling relevance of trade unions nationally.

Even CFMEU Rockhampton district vice president Glenn Power joked they had "possibly been too good at our job".

Since the union movement's arrival in Australia, only a couple of years after the First Fleet, it has paved the way for the concessions most workers enjoy today - from sick pay, maternity leave and award rates to collective bargaining.

But Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that since 1992 the percentage of the workforce in trade unions has dropped from about 40% to 15% in 2014.

Not only has membership revenue fallen from $12m in 2014 to $9.6m in 2016, the union is now operating at a loss of $2.8m - a huge jump from $384,708 in 2015.

CFMEU senior vice president for Queensland Mitch Hughes said it would continue to front up to any court case required, even though a large chunk of the multi-million dollar loss is believed to have been racked up through legal costs.

And while he said the union had put cost saving measures in place, he'd "rather not" provide details.

"I don't think we've had a significant operating loss like this in recent times but it's something that we're prepared for. We've stabilised it and we're moving forward with better cost saving measures," Mr Hughes said.

"Like any business going through a downturn, we're affected by that as well, but we're prepared to fight any fight we have to for our membership."

In Mr Power's opinion, the key reason membership is suffering is the rise of labour hire. In the past four years the union claims 1500 permanent jobs have been shed in the mining sector, and many of those workers were now employed on a labour hire basis.

Mr Power believes the resulting lack of job security then had labour hire workers opting out of financial commitments, like union membership fees.

"The biggest battle we've got is the rise of labour hire and people being employed by the minute or the hour," he said.

"When you're hired by the minute or hour that (union membership) is the last thing you're thinking about."

He also believes some workers are opting out of membership out of fear they could be targeted for redundancies by their employer.

Recently, an interim Federal Court decision forced Anglo American to rehire two union delegates it had made redundant.

However, employers cannot force their workers to tell them whether or not they belong to a union.

Despite its struggles, Mr Power argues the union remains relevant, stating that if those workers rights "won and fought for" weren't protected, they could easily be lost.

"Being part of a union, it's like insurance. No one's worried about it until something happens that affects them," he said.

The Australian Financial Review also reported this week that auditors have raised concerns about more than $700,000 in credit card expenses run up by Queensland CFMEU officials, citing a lack of evidence the money was spent on legitimate business activities.

It found spending on airfares, accommodation and car hire jumped from $455,274 to $765,285 between 2015-16. The financial reports have yet to be submitted to the Fair Work Commission,

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said union membership had long been in decline.

"Trade union membership has steadily been in decline over recent years and investigations over credit card expenditure has further damaged its public reputation," he said.

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