Senior HR manager calls out Shorten in court

by John Maguire15 Oct 2015
An HR manager has been called upon to give evidence in an ongoing case probing corruption allegations against Thiess John Holland and the Australian Workers Union (AWU).

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is investigating payments allegedly made by the construction company to the union during a 2005 project.

Julian Rzesniowiecki, the former HR manager for Theiss John Holland, was asked on Monday about invoices detailing payments for items including advertising and sponsorship.

Rzesniowiecki affirmed that these were made out to help the AWU with costs of funding an organiser and organising resources on the project.

Media reports stated that he went on to admit that the company “didn't want to say they were funds for providing an organiser”.

“I guess the joint venture (TJH) and AWU didn't want that to be made public,” he said.

“It might have had an impact on the other unions working on the project.”

Rzesniowiecki also defended the payments, saying that the project was efficient and peaceful thanks to the side deal.

Allegations have included claims that the company paid the union almost £300,000 after Bill Shorten – the then head of the AWU – struck a deal that was detrimental to workers’ conditions and saved the company up to $100 million.

The deal was alleged to have cut conditions around rostering and weekend work to allow builders to work all day and night.

However, the deal was also praised for speeding up the project's completion and providing higher wages for workers involved.

Rzesniowiecki also told the commission that he had attended a 2004 meeting during which Shorten mentioned providing “resources to help them put … organisers and officials on the job”.

The ABC reported that following Rzesniowiecki’s testimony, Shorten told a press conference that he had never made any such deal.

“I haven't seen the evidence today, but I certainly stand by the 900 questions and answers I gave to the royal commission,” he asserted.

The commission also heard that although the Leader of the Opposition was initially involved in the industrial negotiations, he later handed these responsibilities over to his deputy Cesar Melham.

Melham, now a Labor MP in Victoria, was mentioned as having potentially been involved in the alleged false invoicing.

Rzesniowiecki was questioned about whether the training listed on one of the invoices had taken place.

“I didn't recall us organising that quantity of training, so the individual invoices where the person attending was named, I think they were very likely to have happened, but this seemed a bit more unlikely to me,” he told the commission.

“You know, I couldn't confirm that [the training] was [delivered], that it was or it wasn't.”

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  • by Susan 15/10/2015 12:40:52 PM

    I don't know what I find more offensive in this story...The fact that a the leader of the Labour party allegedly brokered a deal that reduced workers rights or that HR were compelled to make a payment of such a size to ensure a faster project build. Both business and Unions should be ashamed of these practices. Politicians on both sides need to get over their fight over the Royal Commission and workers and companies need to realise that these commissions provide the transparency that is so evidently needed for a us to have productive and safe workplaces. Its quite apparent that both Unions and companies use the workers as pawns in their game. A game of Power, Capitalism and Politics. It's disgraceful and I work in HR.

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