Kate McClymont April 14, 2012
Handsome earnings ... union leader Michael Williamson is reputed to be the best paid unionist in the country with $330,000 a year. Photo: Ben Rushton
WHEN the lead organiser for the Health Services Union, Monique Irvine, complained last year that she was having trouble meeting her childcare costs, the union's boss, Michael Williamson, gave her a $22,000 pay rise.
Ms Irvine is Mr Williamson's sister-in-law. It is instances such as this extraordinary pay rise, which was not authorised by the union's council and boosted Ms Irvine's salary to an estimated $140,000, that have angered union members.
Mr Williamson himself is reputed to be the best-paid unionist in the country, with his $330,000 year salary boosted by the $150,000 from his various government and union-related board positions.
The union's national secretary, Kathy Jackson, agreed at a Melbourne news conference yesterday that her own salary of $270,000 a year was ''obscene''. She blamed Mr Williamson for setting ''vastly inflated'' wage figures for executives within the HSU and said she would be happy to take a substantial pay cut.
Nepotism and corruption within the union is being investigated by Ian Temby, QC, who was appointed by the union last year to carry out inquiries in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing raised by the Herald last September.
Mr Temby's report is unlikely to be handed down before June as he will be overseas throughout next month.
Apart from Ms Irvine, Mr Williamson's brother Darren is the union's recruitment and marketing manager, and his son Chris receives a union salary as well as the use of a union-owned warehouse in which to run his private business.
His close friend Cheryl McMillan is the procurement manager, and her daughter and niece also work at the union.
Mr Williamson's refusal to co-operate with Mr Temby's investigations, along with allegations that Mr Williamson has been putting $30,000 a month on a secret credit card attached to Ms McMillan's personal account, has led to Ms Jackson calling for Mr Williamson to be charged with gross misconduct at the union's forthcoming council meeting, due to be held on April 30.
The Herald revealed this week that Mr Williamson had been using a black Centurion American Express card, a titanium invitation-only card for customers who put more than $250,000 a year on their American Express cards.
Ms Jackson is also demanding that Mr Williamson face internal charges over the $400,000 for ''secretarial services'' the union has paid to Canme Services, which is registered in the name of Ms Irvine's sister, Julieanne, who is married to Mr Williamson. Ms Jackson said Mr Williamson had never disclosed his family's interest in the company.
But Ms Jackson's request yesterday for the state government to change the way unions run their elections has angered many union officials.
''Big money union elections means that it is now almost impossible for ordinary union members to stand for election in their own union with even a remote chance of winning,'' Ms Jackson said.
''Nowhere is this more clear than in HSUeast. Michael Williamson recently bragged to another official that he had several million dollars for use in union elections. I believe the rampant corruption in HSUeast is caused in part by inadequate union election laws.''
The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said he was ''happy to pursue what options are available in NSW to give the members of that union … the relief they're seeking, which is the chance to actually have an election''.
The general secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon, said the union movement was going through a difficult period but the HSU did not reflect the broader movement.
It would ''need to see a stronger case made of systemic problems with the financing of union elections before we would consider a proposal of this nature''.
With Sean Nicholls
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