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Thursday, November 27, 2008

ALP, media targets militant ETU unionist by Margarita Windisch


On November 12, Melbourne’s Herald Sun launched an attack on Electrical Trades Union (ETU) southern states branch secretary Dean Mighell, with a front-page article accusing the unionist of having spent $80,000 of ETU members’ money on a luxury trip to Britain in 2006.

The Herald Sun continued the assault on Mighell in its pages for another couple of days, changing facts and figures and even dedicating an editorial to the “luxury union junket affair”. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and other publications all carried the story prominently as well. Green Left Weekly’s Margarita Windisch spoke with Mighell about the validity of the accusations.

“Green Left Weekly readers would know that the Herald Sun is probably the premiere anti-union newspaper in the country, which will even get worse with the new editor. The Herald Sun simply wants to get at unions, they have done it for years”, Mighell explained. He said that the most ridiculous part of the attack on him was that no union members’ money had been spent at all. “It was the surplus from the Protect industry fund that paid for the trip. It is the best severance and income protection scheme in the country and one we are extremely proud of.”

Protect was established as a partnership between the ETU and National Electrical Contractors Association and is an employer-funded scheme. By law, members’ entitlement money cannot be touched, but the interest accumulated can be invested. According to Protect’s website the fund is controlled by a legally enforceable trust deed and has a five member director’s board. The ETU is involved in all aspects of decision-making and also has a controlling interest on the board.

Mighell told GLW that aim of the 2006 trip was to investigate how Britain administers a secure and portable annual leave scheme, which the ETU has been trying to get for its members in Australia. “It was a high-level delegation. Three employer body representatives went together with three unionists: two from the ETU — myself and Howard Worthing — and one from the plumbers union, along with a financial systems person and a commercial lawyer. “The ETU has made claims on employers to introduce a portable annual leave scheme for a while. Most of our members’ annual leave is not locked up in a trust fund and we have seen too many companies fold and members loose their annual leave entitlements”, he explained.

During the trip Mighell also took the opportunity to investigate British industrial relations more generally. “They do their bargaining on a national level in accordance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, unlike under to Rudd’s industrial relations laws where we are forced to do individual enterprise bargaining agreements”.

Mighell explained that the campaign against him involves ETU member Vanessa Garbett, who has been quoted in the media, and the ALP. According to Mighell, Garbett had made vexatious claims against the ETU relating to her past employment by the union. The Equal Opportunity Commission rejected Garbett’s claim of discrimination in her former employment with the ETU — a claim not even supported by her own union at the time, the Australian Services Union.

Mighell said Garbett demanded $22,000 of ETU members’ money to be paid to her to “go away”, which he refused. “The ETU has done nothing wrong with her employment and then next week she is the public face of an outrageous and incorrect statement to the media”, said Mighell.

Mighell is convinced that had he been a loyal member of the ALP, the trip would never have been an issue at all. “I have got evidence against several members of the ALP who have been working away at undermining me ever since the Kororoit by-election where we supported an independent candidate against the ALP candidate”, he said.

The ETU also donated $200,000 to the Greens’ 2007 senate campaign and has supported many other progressive candidates in elections, including Socialist Alliance candidates. The ETU has internal elections coming up in 2010, which the ALP will be contesting, Mighell believes. “The ALP people have threatened me at the Kororoit by-elections that if we continued to support non-ALP candidates then their machine — that’s what they called it — … would be contesting us at the next ETU elections and be spending $500,000 in getting rid of me as a leader”, he said. “I have no doubt that elements in the ALP are fundamental in this current attack on me, which is an attack on my union. If I hadn’t been an outspoken union leader and put my members’ interests ahead of political ambition and hadn’t supported candidates that are in members’ best interests but instead the ALP gang, no matter how bad they are, I would have not been under this attack”, Mighell said.

Other trade unionists have come to his support. At a November 12 Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union shop stewards’ meeting in Melbourne, a motion was passed unanimously, condemning the media- and ALP-led attack on Mighell. Gary Robb, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union assistant state secretary of the metal division and Tim Gooden, Geelong and Regions Trades and Labour Council (GRTLC) secretary, agree that the current smear campaign against Mighell is a political witch-hunt against a militant union leader who dared to stand up to the ALP.

Both call on people to support Mighell, reject the tactics by the ALP and focus on Mighell’s achievements for the union movement and his members in particular. Mighell has been invited to be the guest speaker at the GRTLC centenary celebration dinner next year.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #776 26 November 2008.

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