By Maurice Sibelle
BRISBANE - Outgoing officials of the Queensland Transport Workers Union awarded themselves pay-outs totalling more than $500,000 just a week before a newly elected administration took control. Some estimates put the amount at around $700,000, as the officials also committed the union to pick up the tax bill on their pay-out.
At an April 14 meeting, the union's Queensland committee of management, the highest decision making body, decided to award the payments to 15 officials, six of them voting members of the committee.
The issue captured front-page headlines in the daily Courier Mail on April 16 and continues to make news following attempts by the Transport Workers Action Group (TWAG) to stop the payments through the Federal Court. TWAG won every position it contested in recent state elections, declared on March 4.
The Federal Court ruled on April 16 that the payments were "not unlawful", lifting a freeze on the funds, but TWAG leader Hughie Williams, has vowed to pursue all avenues to stop what he calls the "pay grab".
In the court hearing, it was revealed the pay-outs to individuals were between $10,000 and $56,000, with Alan McPaul, re-elected unopposed as secretary, receiving the largest amount. Secrecy clauses were inserted in the agreement to conceal full details from union members and the public.
One of the 15 officials, TWAG member Paul Hooper, refused the payment. The Williams team took control of the union on April 20 and immediately called a meeting of the new committee of management to review the union's finances. "An era of extravagance by TWU officials has come to an end", Williams declared on April 21. "Union dues are too high and members are not getting value for money."
Williams criticised extravagant spending of members' funds by officials who, he said, put their own interests before those of members.
"A union doesn't have to be extremely wealthy to do a good job for its members. You don't need exorbitant staff numbers, some of the late model cars they drive around in and air-conditioned buildings to run a union - all you need is a ton of dedication."
In another development, on April 23 the new officials agreed to keep only $450 of $700 they found in their first pay packets. Williams described the payments as a set-up to bring the incoming officials' pay into line with pay-outs to outgoing officials.
"I think this union and unions generally have become too extravagant and too wealthy", says Williams. "Conditions for TWU members have deteriorated in recent years because members weren't properly represented - we will get out into the field and ensure that they are."