Health Services Union wants to charge non-members $500 each for wage deals

Sydney Morning Herald, 12 January 2023

The national president of the Health Services Union wants to charge workers who aren’t members an annual $500 fee for any pay rises won through wage deals.

Gerard Hayes, one of several major union figures to call for the scrapping of a Howard-era ban on charging bargaining fees for people who aren’t paid-up members, described the building argument within the movement as a “moral issue”.

“We are here on the back of other people, and I think free-riding is not the Australian way,” Hayes said.

Hayes said an ongoing case before the Fair Work Commission to land aged-care workers a 25 per cent pay rise could raise some workers’ pay packets by $10,000 a year.
“That $10,000 you just get for nothing,” he said of the non-union employees who would receive a pay rise as a result of the union-led case.

He named $500 a year as an appropriate sum, close to the $577.20 annual fee charged to HSU members.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union made a similar calculation, saying in a statement that bargaining fees should be set at the same level as union memberships.

“The very purpose of bargaining fees is to ensure that all workers pay for the bargaining that will result in them receiving improved pay and conditions. If bargaining fees are not set at the same level as union membership fees, they could inadvertently become an alternative to joining a union which was never their intended purpose.“
Hayes and the Rail Tram and Bus Union’s Mark Diamond have joined the United Workers Union’s secretary Tim Kennedy and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union’s Steve Murphy in calling for the government to overturn the 2003 law banning unions from seeking recompense for pay deals.

The position is backed by the NSW and Victorian trades halls, while Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said she supported revising laws to enable workers and bosses “to negotiate and reach agreement over issues of concern to them.”

Murphy said the fee amount “should be decided by the union members who negotiate the collective agreement”.

“The more fundamental problem is that our laws at the moment actively discourage union membership and activism. That’s what we need to change,” he said.
The collective push, launched as national union membership hits a record low of 12.5 per cent of the workforce, has sparked criticism from the Coalition and the business lobby, who say it compromises the right to freedom of association.


Deputy liberal leader Sussan Ley described it as a “new tax on workers”.

“Instead of trying to force workers to join their union - currently illegal - union bosses need to demonstrate their relevance in the modern workplace and make the case for membership,” Ley said in a social media post on Wednesday.

Opposition workplace relations spokesperson Michaelia Cash described the push as “a disgraceful demand which trashes the fundamental right of all Australians to freedom of association”.
Hayes said the joint call wasn’t about increasing his union’s 95,000-member base, which he said had a 50 per cent and 25 per cent share of the health and aged-care sectors respectively.

He said the push was about respecting and maintaining the workplace rights achieved by the union movement’s forebears: “It’s a moral issue of who we are.”