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Health Services Union: why union members deserve better

Former Health Services Union head Craig Thomson represents a vital vote for the Gillard government. AAP Image/Penny Bradfield

The ACTU yesterday voted to suspend the Health Servives Union from affiliation until they can prove that issues of governance have been dealt with appropriately.

Although it does seem to have been a slow process for the ACTU to get to this point it is the right decision to be taken at this time for reasons which I will outline.

As a union member all of my working life in a variety of unions it has been difficult to hear so publicly that some members of the executive of the Health Services Union (HSU) have allegedly misused their union credit cards which is after all member’s funds.

It would seem to me to constitute a complete blurring of any boundaries between the personal and the professional made even more incomprehensable alongside basic moral concerns about acceptable behaviour as a trusted public figure.

I am the President of the La Trobe University Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union and as such represent staff who work across a broad range of different areas within my university.

As occurs in all unions I am democratically elected as the President and I can say quite clearly that it is an honour and a privilege to work with and on behalf of members so it seems way off beam for HSU officials to be treating members with such disdain.

Union members need to be confident that dues paid to their respective union are being used in their best interests so that they can be assured that the behaviour of its officials does not bring disrepute to the very organisation that has pledged to represent them in negotiating wages and conditions.

Since this situation has become so public I have been challenged, in the main in a jocular manner, as to what types of purchases I make with my union credit card. Whilst I can take the joke and laugh this off it does bring home the stark reality that as a leader in my union I am responsible not only to our members but also to myself so that when I sign off a communication “In Union” that I am continuing to represent them in ways that makes them proud to be unionists.

If there is anything to be learned from this debacle it is that members are our lifeblood and that without them a union could well pass into irrelevance. For the union movement to continue to be the negotiator of wages and conditions for all workers, leaders need to operate with honesty and integrity so that the long tradition of unionism can continue to be the light by which workers navigate their employment.

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