Superannuation rip-off

Issue 

This will come as little surprise to most workers, but their workplace superannuation is being systematically rorted and they are on the losing end of the "bargain".

But rest assured: you are helping prop up our capitalist system.

A line caught my eye in a December 18 Sydney Morning Herald article by Stuart Washington and Michael Evans: "When investment bankers needed cash, it was workers' super that rescued them ...

"Australian companies found A$68 billion in fresh cash this year to reduce their debt burdens and beat a path towards survival.

"The fresh cash is thanks to an unsung hero in Australia's response to the [global financial] crisis: a wave of superannuation money that supported the capital raisings."

Washington and Evans said: "Australia's wave of 9% on wages paid as superannuation cash, which continues to slosh into funds every week in fair weather or foul, helped save the captains of industry.

"In effect, the workers' paradise of compulsory superannuation built by the [Australian Council of Trade Unions —ACTU] and the Keating Labor government provided the mother of all bail-out funds for an over-geared, over-risky corporate sector."

The authors suggest: "The business lobby should think about that next time it makes a submission opposing an increase in workers' wages."

Fat chance.

This issue of workplace super was discussed at the January 2-5 Socialist Alliance national conference. The outcome was proposals that, if implemented, would lead to an end to this misuse of workers funds: placing super funds under workers control; guaranteeing the value of workers contributions as a minimum; using super funds for social, environmental and economic benefit to the working class at a reasonable rate of return.

As the midwife of workers' super in the early 1990s, the union movement has a responsibility to set this matter to rights.

For nearly 20 years, we have had employer-contributed compulsory superannuation (ECS), now at the rate of 9% of gross income. This was sold as part of the social wage and an expansion of enhanced retirement benefits for workers.

It is another example of the ALP-ACTU Accord betrayal of Australian workers. It sounded good, but was a con.

In negotiating their terms of employment, workers sacrificed pay rises in exchange for employer-contributed superannuation incrementally increasing to 9% today.

The Australian Office of Taxation, as the administrator of the ECS, has failed miserably to enforce this provision on employers. Many workers, particularly casual workers, are being robbed of their super entitlements.

The promise of the ACTU in negotiating this employment "benefit" has failed to meet expectations.

When first introduced, with union-employer industry superannuation funds being established, all looked rosy — especially for the ACTU executive members and senior union officials who found seats as well-paid trustees of these funds.

Former right-wing ACTU assistant secretary Garry Weavan is now chairperson of the Industry Funds Management Association. You've seen its ads on TV accurately extolling the superiority of its funds over those provided by the non-union finance industry version.

After all, the regulatory system imposed on the finance sector in Australia would be laughable if it wasn't such a cruel fraud.

The super funds of Australian workers have been purloined by the finance industry as a lucrative source of commissions and charges, suffered poor investment strategies, and likely negligent or criminal behaviour by those charged with administering their funds.

As treasurer in the Hawke Labor government, Paul Keating teased us all with the prospect of the national cumulative pool of super funds being used at a lower-than-market interest rate for national infrastructure investment.

This has never happened.

The election of the free market Howard government in 1996 didn't help. But witness the behaviour of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's finance minister Lindsay Tanner recently offering our national "Future Fund" to the "market" on its terms free from government "interference" or oversight.

Score: people nil — capitalist oligarchs 1.

It has become evident that our super is more likely to register a loss rather than a gain year by year. Capitalism will squander it for its benefit.

Workers sacrificed cash-in-hand for what for many has become the chimera of an income in retirement. The ATO's "superannuation guarantee" is no guarantee at all.

The greedy, profligate "super industry" is even lobbying hard to get the percentage of income put aside for super increased to 12%.

Since government mandates the payment and collection of 9% of workers wages in super funds, government should guarantee that the indexed value of those contributions is maintained.

If private banks can be given government protection, workers should expect nothing less.

This requirement may even motivate the government to regulate this industry stringently. At the moment, it's a thieves' picnic.

Trillions of dollars are at stake here. Workers' funds are being squandered by a privileged minority.