Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Transport Workers Union and its failure to represent Taxi

4. The Transport Workers Union and its failure to represent TaxiDriver Interests

From the outset it must be stated I am not a "union basher" but anactive unionist and someone who fervently believes that unions mustserve those who pay their wages - the membership. In the early part of this campaign I helped build the TWU Taxi Drivers Sectionme mbership up into the hundreds. The fall off in TWU membership renewal subscriptions was directly related to their complete dereliction of duty to their members and sabotaging of members initiatives. A letter was sent to the head of the ACTU (Jenny George) pointing out nine (9) specific breaches of the law by the bailors (as identified by the Justice Edwards investigation into the taxi industry in 1940 and which were identified by the Full Bench of theIndustrial Commission in 1960 as still existing). These concerned matters such as the employers/bailors having responsibility for the payment of fuel and wash, the overcharging of drivers -beyond the gazetted rate, etc. The letter pointed out that these practices were still continuing in 1995.[A1-4]

It is self-evident from all the correspondence between myself and government instrumentalities that the NSW Transport Workers Union is regarded as the industry-wide advocate of employee/bailee drivers and the legitimate counterpart to the employer TIA/Taxi Council" body before industrial courts. Indeed, Commissioner Connor in various hearings has attempted to maintain that the TWU is the only employee/bailee representative with locus standi during his hearings.

The TWU internal structure consists of sectional interest membership groups that represent the different types of transport workers inNSW. The (TWU) Taxi Drivers Section to which I was elected Secretary for the period 1993-96 and President from 1996 until now has actively pursued the interests of bailee drivers both inside and outside the Industrial Courts despite the fact that the full time TWU executive has attempted to undermine honest and genuine trade union organisation.

The problem that ICAC must confront relates to examining the implications that flow when the TWU full-time Executive (includingTWU/TDS organiser(s}) have been compromised by their "Taxi Council" counterparts to such an extent that no fair-minded person would consider they are still acting in their members interests. Consider their stand on the following issues: Contract Determination/84 that denied a basic wage to bailees, Variation/85-89 that approved unfairpay-in rises, Interim Variation/April 96 legalised seven years of illegal pay-in collections, /Appeal to Full Bench/96, appeared before court to assist TIA case against their own members, Business expensesof Bailors shifted to workers/Sept'96 (i.e. who pays for gas/wash),The $1 flag fall Rise sellout Sept'96 (pay-ins rise $40 a day, takings down 20% or more).

The issue of bribery and acceptance of gifts and other financial inducements are documented in various political science text books and press articles on certain occasions when the NSW Branch of the TWU has come up for mention. (Two examples here are Marian Wilkinson's, `The Fixer', Heinemann, 1996, at p.xi and The National Times revelations in the 1980s). While it would be wrong to expectthe ICAC to canvass the relative merits of the collectivist versus individual contract argument currently raging in the broader political arena, or even examine whether the industrial relation stactics of the NSW TWU leadership are defensible from the viewpoint of the union's own self-interest, there remains examples where apparent conflicts of interests could be legitimately examined byICAC as part of a broader study of the public service-Ministerial-employer-union interactions that preceded all major decisions concerning the taxi industry.

In the light of all this history, can the ICAC regard the ongoing response of Minister's offices, the DOT and the DIR alike, where by they refer back to the TWU virtually all legitimate bailee complaints and pleas for help concerning industry wrong doings. Is this simply acase of naivety or even containment? The evidence suggests that this practice is corruption of public office if only in the sense that itis a denial of natural justice and a fair hearing of individual stakeholders interests within the taxi industry? I cite my own attempts (on behalf of numerous taxi drivers) to obtain information/actionfrom public servants who constantly refer me back to the TWU evenafter I have explained that such an avenue is not open.

In reality it amounts to a policy of shoring -up and protecting aunion leadership to prevent the emergence of any group who wish to democratise their union leadership in the interests of workers/bailee drivers and the community as a whole who are served by those same drivers. In short, if there is, as alleged by many drivers, a "protection racket" between the TIA and TWU leadership, why doesthe government and its departments actively foster and encourage it? For example, a full time union organiser, in denying the Union's complicity in the $1 fare rise conspiracy, went as far as alleging to two separate newspaper journalists, that it was the "Taxi Council and not the union, that "bought off" the Minister into accepting the $1rise. (details available). Another example here is the issue of whether the TWU leader Steve Hutchins brought pressure to bear on the NSW Labor Council Secretary Michael Costa to cancel a meeting planned between the Health & Safety Officer of the Labor Council, the Minister for Industrial Relations, Jeff Shaw and a delegation of 5-6 legitimate representatives of the TWU Taxi Drivers Section to discussthe crucial issue of taxi driver safety on 13th August 1996. [STD-10], [V-15]

Source: Sydney Taxi Corruption

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