At last, a year after I started my efforts to discover the true state of the Union’s finances, the consolidated accounts have been posted on the Incorporated Societies’ website. In contrast to the original set of accounts which showed the national office as having net assets of less than $1 million, the true picture incorporating all the branches shows net assets of over $5 million.
The Union’s October newsletter accused me of ‘unscrupulous reporting, journalistic ethics apparently abandoned’, just because I had the temerity to ask a perfectly reasonable question which the Union and its auditor refused to answer. The next sentence referred to ‘persons outside the Union’ wishing to slander and smear the Union with the aim of discrediting and destroying it.
I feel a certain amount of satisfaction at having finally succeeded in getting the Registrar of Incorporated Societies to require the Union to include its branch income and expenditure, as well as their assets and liabilities in what it reports publicly. But I absolutely reject the implication I wanted to destroy it, because I have always acknowledged the right of the workforce to have union representation.
Graham Cooke, General Secretary, insists on linking me to AFFCO and Talley’s which have made a point of getting employees to resign from the Meat Workers Union and sign an Individual Employment Agreement. That is not an argument I have any intention of getting involved in or taking sides, but I reserve the right to ask legitimate questions and to keep digging, if I don’t get an answer.
It puzzled me how the Union could think it complied with a legal requirement to report on its activities, when it ignored all its operating units. This is a bit like a meat company reporting only those financial details relevant to its head office and leaving out all the details of its processing units.
However there doesn’t appear to be anything suspicious in the corrected accounts. The Union makes the valid point the branches have always reported their individual accounts to their members at an AGM which has provided the opportunity to ask questions, stating this system has worked well since the formation of the Meat Workers Union 100 years ago. However incomplete reporting has been more evident since 2005 when the Aotearoa Union which represented most NorthIsland plants was taken over by the national union.
The consolidated accounts provide an accurate picture of the annual membership fees, expenses incurred on behalf of the membership and the assets owned by the Union. While the Union claims members of the various branches and sub-branches have always had access to that information for the branch to which they belong, members throughout the country will now be able to see details of income, expenses, capital investments and commitments by the Meat Workers Union as a whole.
Key indicators from the consolidated accounts show a deficit of $146.3k compared with $199.2k in 2010 after payment of tax of $49.7k on interest bearing investments, most of which was paid at source as Residents Withholding Tax.
These investments include current assets of $4.38 million, mainly term deposits and cash at bank and fixed assets of $1.051 million, of which 481k is an interest free loan to the Canterbury Meat Workers Welfare Society. This loan has been used to buy holiday cottages which are available for the benefit of all the union’s members, according to the annual accounts. The fixed assets consist of land, buildings and motor vehicles and are fully depreciated where appropriate.
Matters of interest, whether to members or outside observers, are not numerous, but two items of particular interest are the substantial amount of money in the bank, reported as well in excess of $4 million, and the fact the Union as a whole has run at a loss for at least the last two financial years. Whether this trend goes back beyond 2010 will become clear when the remaining accounts are posted.
Annual subscriptions, almost certainly falling in line with lower livestock numbers and efficiency improvements, are not quite enough to cover the level of expenses; however these appeared to be under control with savings in salaries and most other items apart from a substantial increase in legal costs, higher accountancy fees and donations, when compared with 2010.
So other than the cost and inconvenience of being required to present consolidated accounts for all branches and head office, this all seems as though it will be a fairly painless exercise in future. Unless the Union was unwilling to disclose its healthy financial position, I can’t quite see what all the fuss was about.
Perhaps some North Island union members will be keen to enjoy a break in the holiday cottages owned by the Canterbury Union Welfare Society, if they aren’t already aware of the opportunity. But apart from that I don’t believe the unscrupulous journalism the Union accused me of will have done any damage. It has merely resulted in shedding some light on what could have been considered an attempt to disguise the true financial position.