Former ACTU chiefs Greg Combet and Dave Oliver are embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute between unions and two industry superannuation funds, after a union leader called for $113 million to be withdrawn from one fund in protest at the outsourcing of jobs to India.
The United Services Union is furious at the decision by privatised NSW electricity firm Ausgrid, majority controlled by AustralianSuper and IFM Investors, to outsource 35 jobs to an Indian consortium and compel some of the affected Australian workers to go to India to train their foreign replacements.
Mr Oliver, a former ACTU secretary, is deputy chair of AustralianSuper, and Mr Combet, a former federal Labor minister and ex-ACTU secretary, is deputy chair of IFM Investors.
In letters obtained by The Weekend Australian, USU general-secretary Graeme Kelly says he will push for $113m invested with IFM to be withdrawn given the fund’s support for Ausgrid’s “appalling” conduct.
“There couldn’t be a darker day in Australian industrial relations where a company controlled by industry super funds, being the major shareholders, forces Australian workers to train up overseas contractors to take their jobs and offshores them to India,’’ Mr Kelly told The Weekend Australian last night.
Writing to Local Government Super, which holds more than $10 billion in retirement savings for past and current NSW local government employees, Mr Kelly says his members are questioning why $113m of LGS members’ money has been invested with IFM Investors. He calls on the LGS board to raise the union’s concerns urgently with other superannuation funds that have investments with IFM. He says the union is one of the largest shareholders in LGS and will meet on September 12 to push for funds to be pulled out.
“It is my intention to raise this matter with the USU executive, seeking their support in a resolution that will condemn IFM and AustralianSuper for their support of Ausgrid’s appalling behaviour against workers,’’ he writes in a letter widely circulated across the ALP and the union movement.
“The USU executive will frame a resolution to the LGS board urging them to withdraw all investment funding from IFM and seek more ethical investments on behalf of members.”
In a statement to The Weekend Australian, LGS said yesterday the union request would be considered. It said environmental, social and governance considerations were a key to LGS investment decision-making.
“We acknowledge that the issue has been brought to our attention and is being considered by the trustees,’’ LGS said.
Following action by Ausgrid in the Fair Work Commission, the USU and Electrical Trades Union were forced this week to lift a ban on training the India-based contractors who will replace more than a third of the workforce in Ausgrid’s Geographic Information System section.
Mr Kelly said AustralianSuper and IFM Investors claimed to “ethically invest the retirement savings of Australian workers, yet they are allowing managers at a company they majority-own to slash jobs by outsourcing them to India”.
“I can say that in all my 27 years as a union official I have never witnessed a more appalling act,’’ he said. “What’s worse is the employer, owned by the industry super funds, took the unions to court to force them to lift bans on Ausgrid workers training overseas workers to take Australian jobs.’’
Mr Combet and Mr Oliver did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. ACTU secretary Sally McManus, who received a copy of the letter from Mr Kelly, declined to comment.
Mr Kelly said last night he had the full support of Ms McManus and ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connolly.
The NSW government last year leased a 50.4 per cent controlling interest in Ausgrid to the two funds for $16bn.
IFM Investors chief executive Brett Himbury yesterday noted Mr Kelly’s concerns. He said Ausgrid management was “working with unions to deliver a comprehensive transformation program in the most considered and consultative manner”.
An Ausgrid spokesman said the company had been “open and transparent throughout this process”.
“Back in early 2016, unions and staff were consulted about the option to outsource parts of our Geographical Information Systems function,’’ he said. “Staff and unions, including the USU, were given the opportunity to raise any concerns and provide feedback about the proposal. After a range of meetings the consultation was closed.”
He said the offshoring was “part of a company-wide effort to ensure our business is run as efficiently as possible to help put downward pressure on electricity prices”.
By EWIN HANNAN
The Weekend Australian