Where has all the union money gone?

Looking deeply into union financing it appears that something strange is happening with money. And there is vast, vast amounts of it.

Just looking at three Unions, the Meatworkers, Andrew Little’s EPMU and the Dairy Workers they have taken a colossal amount of money each year. The rough numbers are:

Meatworkers Union: 23,000 members, approximately $5m per annum

Dairy Workers: 6,000 members paying 0.6% of their pay so likely to be between $2-3m per annum

EPMU: 43,000 members, $7.50 pw for full time workers, $3.65 per week for part time workers, somewhere between $10 -$15m depending on the full and part time split.

So each year these three unions, and it is only three of many, took between $17m and $20m dollars. Over a decade they have taken about $150m- $200m.

$150m is serious money. Especially when unions are making losses. Where has it all gone?

The Financial Markets Authority investigates finance companies and public companies who burn off vast amounts of investor capital, but who looks into the unions? Lawyers have the Law Society, Accountants have the NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants, they are professional bodies but are responsible for professional standards. Real Estate Agents are controlled by the Real Estate Agent Authority…surely there needs to be a Unions Authority considering the huge amounts of money involved.


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  • Geezer

    If they’re anything like unions in the UK then most of that money goes on salaries and benefits (cars, subsidised housing, pension benefits, ‘fact finding’ missions abroad and most hypocritical of all, buying favour from MPs and directing the course of liebour (sorry, labour) party policy) for the board, the so called ‘friends of the working class’.  

    • Mike

       Rubbish! You just make it up don’t you?

      • Owl

        Mike. you are on of the union officials aren’t you

  • Horace the Grump

    The regulator will be the Companies Office – the bit that is still part of the MED and in particular the group that overseas incorporated societies and the like…  not going to get much action from that bunch as they are a group of brown cardigan/socks and sandals wearing no-hopers…

    Might be worth a rark up though….

  • Horace the Grump

    The regulator will be the Companies Office – the bit that is still part of the MED and in particular the group that overseas incorporated societies and the like…  not going to get much action from that bunch as they are a group of brown cardigan/socks and sandals wearing no-hopers…

    Might be worth a rark up though….

  • A-random-reader

    I’d suggest that they’ve been overstating their membership numbers.

    It seems the most likely explanation.

  • Fergus

    New cars, fact finding trips to Cuba, The Labour Party, expensive head offices, new computers, executive meetings at expensive resorts, advertising their industrial action (so as to make it look like industrial action, instead of what it is, polical activism), exceutive slaries and expenses…etc etc..it’s really not too hardto know.

    • Mike


  • LinkinHawk

    go fuck em up whale oil, sounds like more big fat pigs with there greedy noses in the troff!

    • Mike

       sounds like. Whether it is or not is another matter!

  • Timandtim

    These unions need to be investigated. Why don’t parties like ACT and NZ Peters get their act together and start standing up for the 50% of the centre right who you into power. Winston and banks have been so disappointing. National are a little hamstrung on calling for an investigation. Winston is seriously looking like a minor left wing party.

    Get some balls and stop being centre left politicans banks and peters

    • Gazzaw

      Have to agree Tim particularly with NZ First. Apart from a minor burble from the member for Campbells Bay we’ve heard from no one in NZ First except Winston and that largely incoherent. Who is the old trout that sits next to him in the House? It could be Winston’s carer for all we know.

  • Acting Up

    Oh dear. OK, I’ll bite.

    Great to see that people in this site are into probity in financial affairs of organisations.

    Anyway, to put people’s minds at rest, that there is not some vast financial black hole of iniquity for union funds. It’s all pretty straight-forward.

    A union is an incorporated society. To meet the rules, each year a union must present a set of audited accounts to the annual general meeting of its members. The accounts must be checked by an independent and professional auditor.

    Each union will also present to its members (possibly at annual meetings to all members, possibly to its senior democratic body  – its board, for example) – a budget for the year ahead. This budget will be carefully scrutinised before being passed.

    What do unions tend to spend money on? Mostly, staff costs – wages, ACC levies, cars to drive to worksites in, offices, computers and cellphones to be able to contact people, and so on. There won’t be much fat in any of this –  expenditure is pretty closely scrutinised, as I note above, and money will be spent pretty carefully. Most staff will be organisers, who deal with negotiations, individual cases, assisting workpace delegates – all that “day to day” stuff.

    Most unions will be affiliated to other bodies, and pay affiliaton fees. The obvious one is the Council of Trade Unions, the national representative body, to which the unions will pay affiliation fees based upon the numbers of members. Several unions are affiliated to the Labour Party, and will pay affiliation fees – the fact of affiliation and the amount of these fees will be visible to members in those unions. Unions who are not affiliated to the Labour Party will make no donations to that party.

     Unions may also be affiliated to other organisations – ranging from overseas bodies such at Public Services International, to perhaps an affiliation with the local HR network. Pretty normal business stuff.

    Unions are all voluntary to join. If they don’t satisfy the needs of their members, they don’t last long. They are private sector organisations, and not-for profit (by law). All money is required to be applied to the work of the union, and to investing for the future of the union. So no vast pockets of cash being salted away for the revolution!

    Sorry to dispel the fantasy that NZ unions are some Jimmy Hoffa-like, mafia-supporting hot beds of unreconstructed marxism. The reality, like most things, is pretty mundane. About 400,000 or so Kiwis are in a union, paying a few dollars a week. They’re pretty mainstream things, actually. Some have been around for quite a while (one is nearly 100 years old – not many organisations in NZ can claim that).

    • Owl

      Thank you. You have clarified what WO has been working on. Can EMPU file their 2005 and 2006 audited accounts please. Let’s just see if the one they filed equals the real audited accounts. Why has MUNZ travel costs increased 5 fold? Also there is a union which has $1m in funds and hasn’t filed their returns in 4 years…that information will be laid out next week.
      NZCTU gets millions in government funding under contract set up under the labour govt. Take thoses numbers out of their accounts NZCTU would be broke.

      • Acting Up

        There are checks and balances in the system; the biggest one is the ability (and responsibility) of union members to take an interest in the affairs of their union, and to make sure that their union acts in a business-like and correct fashion. I have no personal patience for any organisation that risks its duty of care to its members- be it a trade union, a business association, or even the local drama club.

        If some unions have fallen behind on returns, they had better sort that out pretty quickly. If true, not a good look.

        MUNZ – a relatively small union – and normally with not much of  a need for its people to travel. Given the recent upheaval they have been through, wouldn’t take much for a five-fold increase to take place.

        About the CTU – different issue – as any contracts with govt agencies would be carefully monitored and would need to be delivered on. These “millions in govt finding” (if correct) won’t be for just existing. Any govt money will be to deliver things. For example, the  Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) will provide money for the delivery of tertiary training courses, which to get funding will need to meet requirements such as delivery by trained people, NZQA – approved qualifications, and audited assessments.

        I presume these contracts would refer to things like the delivery of health and safety training, for example? A number of organisations (CTU, Employers and Manufacturers Assoc, Industry Training organisations, and others including private providers) tender for govt training money for those sorts of things. If an organisation tenders for education delivery and wins a contract, all pretty business-like and ordinary.

      • Guest

        So pretty much, they can be as corrupt and money-orientated as any capitalistic corporation, we all know how easy it is to fiddle the books, you’d have to be a moron if you thought you couldn’t get it past all the other union idiots

      • Acting Up

        Hi Guest, that’s a long bow to draw from what I said. Organisations where the books get fiddled are few and far between – and when that does happen, people tend to get caught out. Things in NZ, especially where there is govt mechanisms involved, are pretty transparent.

    • Troy

      Doesn’t really answer the question tho – they have bundles of money, aside from the sundries you mention it still leaves a lot of money remaining.  Anyone that thinks there’s no corruption in unions are about naive as Matt McCarten purporting to know something about politics.

    • Owl

       Acting up – firstly want to thank you for your sensible answers – your detailed descriptions tell me you have a working knowledge of things in the union set up. That is great and respect that.

      Though you have to agree if it wasnt for the Labour/Govt department projects the NZCTU would be broke. They clearly state they make a profit but dont disclose the margin made. Accounting standrads state you have to have gross accounting – they just net off expenditure against income – not a good look at all.

      The Unions call for transparency (refer the recent call by Fenton) – we are just asking the same of Unions. It wasnt until NZCTU, UNITE, MUNZ were called to order did they file their returns – years late by the way.

      I have no doubt the AGM calls into question of the Union Executives – but the Unions have a legal obligation to file returns correctly – is that all too hard – No.

      And once they file their returns their accounts are available for public scrunity.

      If they dont want questions asked – then failing to file returns just add fuel to the fire – it is their own making – even you would have to agree.

      • Acting Up

        Owl, yes I must agree. If you call for transparency and honesty from others, you must be able to demonstrate transparency and honesty yourself if challenged; otherwise, you lose all credibility.

        Getting financial returns in correctly and on time is important, to show that things are run properly and above board.  

  • Butts_McButts

    The accounts posted by Cam suggest a union base of 14,500 or thereabouts based on the figures in the accounting notes. That could quite easily be higher if some of those dues need to be split between part-time workers and full-time workers.