Rodney Hide: Union bonus rort continues

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State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / NZPA
State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / NZPA

For years government departments have been running a scam for the unions. The amounts involved total in the millions. The scam diverts your tax dollars away from their proper purpose to the union movement. The scam thereby indirectly assists Labour. It's shonky.

The latest Government outfit engaging in the scam is Parliamentary Service. This is surprising. Parliamentary Service employs MPs' staff and the many legions of people who make Parliament work. That includes MPs' electorate agents, their office staff, the librarians, the cleaners and the messengers. To ensure a sound democracy and proper government the Parliamentary Service must be scrupulously fair and even-handed.

And here's where it has fallen down. Badly.

The service has just settled a new Employment Agreement for all MPs' support staff. The deal involves a kick-back for joining a union. There's no other word for it. Staff who are members of the union receive a one-off payment of $1000. Non-union members receive a one-off payment of $500. The result is a $500 bonus for joining the union.

The two unions involved are the Public Service Association (PSA) and the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU). The $500 bonus more than pays the annual membership fee.

Parliamentary Service dresses up the union bonus as reflecting "the significant input of union members to the process of developing and agreeing the terms and the agreement itself". But that's phooey. The payment's purpose is to pump union membership and fatten union bank accounts.

These unions are highly politicised and the Service and Food Workers Union directly affiliates to the Labour Party and pays levies for the privilege. The union even had a vote in choosing David Cunliffe as the new Labour leader.

The union's webpage runs the banner, "Let's Change the Government!"

And so your tax dollars find their way to Parliamentary Service. Their purpose there is to help our MPs help us. Instead, they fund a bonus for staff to join the union, the union pays the Labour Party, and uses its money on campaigns to dump National. The union bonus applies our tax in a highly political and partisan way.

Think about what this means. The Parliamentary Service is offering the Prime Minister's electorate staff a cash bonus to join the PSA. And, further, a bonus to the Parliamentary cleaners to join a union dedicated to dumping Key as Prime Minister. That union also directly funds and is involved in the running of the Labour Party.

That's not what we pay our taxes for. And it's not what the Parliamentary Service is about.

The previous Labour-led government started the bonus-to-union-members scam. The State Services Minister at the time, Trevor Mallard, was clear on its purpose: he said the Government wanted to encourage public servants "to be part of a co-operative, collaborative process, which improves the public service and makes public servants' jobs more secure. We do believe unions have a role to play".

An Inland Revenue spokeswoman defended the payments, saying they ensured there was a financial gain from being a union member.

Back then National went on the warpath against the payments, questioning their legality and declaring them a bribe to join Labour-friendly unions. It was a reasonable expectation that they were to be dumped on a change of government. Oh what a difference government makes. The rort remains in place and, indeed, has been extended to Parliament itself.

The minister in charge is State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman. He's overseeing a rort that funds the Labour Party and bribes the staff of his own MPs to join unions dedicated to defeating them. Go figure.

- Herald on Sunday

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