Union membership rip off

Has anyone in Choice Land had anything to do with the Health Workers Union? I am uploading this topic not only to get further input for my own issue but to put it out there as a warning for others and to see if this is an area worthy of a Choice investigation in general terms.

I joined the Health Workers Union last year after speaking to them on the phone explaining who I worked for and what I did and that I was employed casually. They said they could represent me. I filled out a form with the details they required writing both my employers down. This was sent back to them and I was contacted via email to say I was now a member and a card would be sent. This was the first and last response I ever got from them. They then started taking money out of my account fortnightly but did not provide any services whatsoever. They refused to return any of my calls or emails over the next few months and I found out they were not attending the Bargaining Agreement meetings with my employer.

They did not get back to me when I emailed my concerns to them regarding work conditions to be raised at the upcoming bargaining meetings with my employer, they never sent me a membership card despite this being raised on 2 separate occasions, they did not update my file correctly after I notified them (they had me working for a company who I have never heard of), and they were not representing my interests at the Bargaining Agreement meetings because no one from the HWU was turning up. In short, they have taken my money but there has been no service and no communication from HWU whatsoever. The last time I phoned 30/01/18 I asked to speak to the manager saying I would be cancelling my membership. I did not get to speak to the manager and was told to send my cancellation in writing to her email. In hindsight I actually don’t think it was even the manager that I was given the details for. I emailed her saying I was cancelling my membership and I wanted all money paid to be reimbursed. They stopped taking the money out of my account but I didn’t receive a reply or any reimbursement.

I sent a letter mid March via registered post to the head of HWU (Diana Asmar) regarding the matter and she has not replied either.The only thing I have received from HWU is their magazine posted to me, big headaches,money and time wasted.

I lodged a complaint with Consumer Affairs who got back to me saying that the matter is ‘not reasonably likely to be settled utilising the voluntary and non-binding conciliation services offered’. They said if I want to take the matter further I can use the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). They also gave me the Law Institute’s phone number. I don’t earn much so spending money on solicitors and applications, plus time off work attending hearings doesn’t sound appealing.

It seems I have reached the end of my options. The Health Workers Union is a few hundred dollars richer for having effectively stolen from me and they know they can continue to conduct this rort by ignoring member complaints and not suffer any consequences at all. There is something very suss about this whole thing and I’m disgusted that realistically there is not much in the way of consumer protection when it comes to unions. How much money are they raking in from unsuspecting workers?

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As they are a Union you should contact the Fair Work Commission (FWC). I believe the Union is called the Health Services Union (HSU) not the HWU. The HSU has in the past been involved in some investigations, you may remember Craig Thomson’s case.

To contact the FWC you should visit their website at https://www.fwc.gov.au/ which has a number of options on how to contact them or you can phone them on 1300 799 675. They should be able to give you more guidance about what steps you may be able to undertake.

You may also wish to contact the ACTU (https://www.actu.org.au/) about your issues and/or The Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, The Hon Craig Laundy MP in his responsibility for those matters (https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian?MPID=247130).

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If you find the direct debits recommece, try speaking to your bank about placing a block/stop on the direct debits on your bank account.

While I am and have never been a union member, one gets the feeling like many other institutions, some unions are about themselves rather than those who they are alleged to support.

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There is an HWU. Diana Asmar is the head.

As @phb wrote

but it is important to point fingers in the correct directions.

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She is part of the Health Services Union
Health Services Union (HSU)
HSU
VIC No 1 Branch (HWU)
Telephone (03) 9341 3300
Fax (03) 9341 3334
Email info@hwu.org.au
Street Address Level 5
Suburb South Melbourne
Postcode 3205
Postal Address PO Box 1088
Suburb South Melbourne
Postcode 3205
Diana Asmar

As they are an ACTU affiliate I suggest that you contact the ACTU at 1300 486 466 and see if they can resolve your problem.

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The HSU Victoria No. 1 Branch trades as the Health Workers Union (HWU).

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Same. We have a looming enterprise bargaining circus here at the moment - and the unions are definitely the clowns of the outfit, even with some stiff competition from ‘other people at the table’. The only thing they appear to do with ruthless efficiency is extract money from members.

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Anecdotally I am a witness (once removed) whereby the business-side has no negotiating skills nor industrial relations experience in place, nor appreciation of anything beyond ‘this is our position and it has to be right’ in developing a new enterprise agreement. eg a stonewall without supporting evidence.

While the union is essentially a company union it appears to have achieved traction refuting the real clown at the table. My observation is that even ordinary unions can do good things once in a while, although as time goes on that once in a while could be longer and longer between ‘a whiles’.

I once read the main difference between a pollie and a union official is that pollies are elected by a larger electorate than union officials but otherwise share many characteristics.

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Ahh Ty Phil for finding that, they perhaps didn’t want to be associated with the HSU tag?

I wonder if it still places them under the HSU controls though and I think they would still be obliged to meet the requirements of the Fair Work Act and the ACTU membership rules.

It is also illegal for a party to an Enterprise Bargaining negotiation to not act in “Good Faith” ie
“Bargaining representatives are required to act in good faith in the process of bargaining for a proposed enterprise agreement”.

The following are the good faith bargaining requirements that a bargaining representative must meet (Fair Work Act Division 8 Subdivision A Section 228) :

  • attending and participating in meetings at reasonable times
  • disclosing relevant information (other than confidential or commercially sensitive information) in a timely manner
    
  • responding to proposals made by other bargaining representatives for the agreement in a timely manner
    
  • giving genuine consideration to the proposals made by other bargaining representatives, and giving reasons for any responses to those proposals
    
  • not behaving in a capricious or unfair way that undermines freedom of association or collective bargaining
    
  • recognising and bargaining with the other bargaining representatives for the agreement.
    

If HWU didn’t turn up they’re in breach of that part of the Act (but perhaps it was HSU as the parent Union who were turning up?).

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There is nothing on the HWU site about the HSU and their history page omits anything about the HSU, but the site indicates ACTU affiliation.

In contrast the HSU site shows 4 branches in Victoria, each apparently operating as a separate business. Looking at other states the branches represent themselves as ‘state HSU’ excepting Tassie where there is yet another local name. Each appears to replicate a similar bureaucracy while only those with an HSU name seem to reference the national umbrella organisation.

The list of roles the HWU claims to cover are mostly healthcare workers, but a few are curious in the mix, and one could be reasonably sceptical about their membership numbers and thus the HWU interest in working on their behalf beyond tokenism and collecting dues.

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The HWU site does include the HSU rule book which sets out how the branches operate and do not operate under HSU rules. So yeah it appears that HSU is the parent at a Federal level for the Vic branches, but the HWU get some autonomy from the parent.

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Good eyes mate! char-char

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I was a union member for my working life and am still a supporting member. Maybe I was lucky but my union served great service to members, before the era of EBA in arguing conditions at the high table, and later in pushing for EBAs withl good outcomes. Not always the big salary rises, but trade offs for better conditions etc. Aside from this the union supported members with issues against management. This even extended to representation in tribunals etc. But often a direct approach from the union was able to resolve issues with management satisfactorily and quickly.
I have been out of the workforce several years but still see that in most employer/employee situations the power balance is tilted away from the worker and the support of other workers can be valuable.

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A family member was in the requisite union because it was felt to be the right thing to do. That was until a bit of routine help was needed and they advised not their problem, so sad, too bad. Unions have evolved but not usually for the better as I see them.

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Thank you for those contacts, I will follow up with them. When I first started looking into joining a union I was confused about the HSU vs HWU but on closer inspection they seemed to be separate entities.

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I phoned my bank (Commonwealth) to cancel the direct debit and they told me they couldn’t do it, I would have to organise it with the HWU. They said the only way I could stop the payments otherwise was to cancel my credit card and get another card! How ridiculous and inconvenient. What the Commonwealth bank told me is quite different to what it says in that ASIC link you posted.

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Thanks for that, I’ll give them a call and see what they say.

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I’m pretty happy with my main employer and they pay better than most but as a casual worker there is no security and as you say, it’s not always about wages but getting or maintaining good conditions. With the government approving the loss of penalty rates for hospitality/restaurant/etc industries and the rapidly casualising of work I think there is a growing need for unionism but after this experience I think I’ll take my chances without.

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That introduction indicates the debits have stopped and your issue is seeking a refund on monies paid, correct?

Notwithstanding you are trying to get reimbursed for all monies taken

A debit to a transaction account or debit card is a direct debit, but one to a credit card is a recurring payment ! Note the difference in treatment, from Combank’s web site.

and reflected by

However you started by indicating

It seems you had a ‘recurring payment’ as defined under law. FWIW it has been reported that some banks will migrate recurring payments from old to new cards so beware if you chose to go that route.

However your OP states

If they stopped taking money what is the issue with the card/account? If they did not stop taking money you need to send HWU a letter specifically rescinding their authority to do so, with a cc to Combank. If they then continue to take money they would be breaking the law.

But it appears your issue is a refund of dues paid not that they continue to take money. Is that correct?

Even though it would be a few hundred dollars and that might be a significant amount for you or just principle that the HWU apparently did not provide any service, you will probably end up writing it off as an educational experience unless you can get a refund under their good will. (I will refrain from commenting on the likelihood.)

To mitigate your loss you probably understand you can deduct the union membership from your income tax.

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Yes the debits were stopped by the union when I emailed them. No problem there. As you point out, the debits would have been regarded by the bank as a ‘recurring payment’ because it was coming out of my credit card. The fact that I did not have control over my money (ie the ability to block a payment) without cancelling my card was a side issue in my OP.

However, if as you say, some banks are migrating recurring payments to a new card then this negates any control a person has over their credit card when something goes wrong regarding a recurring payment, unless the bank gets the card holders permission to to transfer the payments first of course. This is hypothetical in my case as I didn’t need to block the card, but it is worth keeping in mind for future reference.

My issue is that I was paying to be a member of HWU to represent me and give me a certain level of peace of mind but they took money for services not provided. I am one of the growing number of underemployed so it is about the money, it is also about the principle, it is also about saving other people from getting burnt.

STOP THE PRESS! I had a voice message left on my phone today from HWU saying the branch committee of management have approved my refund and that it may take up to 4 weeks to process. It is a month since I sent the registered post letter and this is the first communication I have had from them, but at least it is a start. I will keep the forum informed regarding further developments.

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