In this opening address to the ACTU Superannuation seminar for fund managers SDA Secretary Joe De Bruyn outlines the union involvement in superannuation over the last 15 years.
Firstly can I welcome all of you to this Seminar organised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in the form of a dialogue between the ACTU and the investment community.
We have people here from many parts of the Superannuation Industry, including in particular fund managers, asset consultants and representatives from Superannuation Funds.
My name is Joe de Bruyn, I am the Senior Vice-President of the ACTU, the
National Secretary of the retail union, the Shop Distributive & Allied
Employees Association, and I am also a Trustee Director of R.E.S.T., the Retail
Employees Superannuation Scheme.
You will have noticed that in recent years, unions have become more active
and involved in all of the issues arising out of Superannuation. This has
included a range of issues dealing with investment, the running of
superannuation and corporate governance. The Trade Union Movement collectively
has almost 2 million paying members in Australia, making it the largest single
organisation in this country representing working people with superannuation and
covering all sectors of the Australian economy.
Trade unions of course conduct their traditional role of bargaining with
employers on wages and working conditions, achieving increases in minimum award
rates of pay, and in dealing with industrial issues such as job security, hours,
rosters, health and safety, and so on at the workplace – all this designed to
achieve the well-being of working people and their families, and a fairer
society for all. The role of unions in superannuation is a natural and logical
part of their overall work.
The union involvement in Superannuation is relatively recent. In fact, the
spread of Superannuation through the whole of the workforce through the
Superannuation Guarantee Charge arguably represents the single most important
social advance in this country over the last 50 years.
Let me talk a little bit about union involvement in Superannuation, using the
Retail Industry as the example with which I am most familiar.
Fifteen years ago, most workers in the Retail Industry had no access to
Superannuation at all. Superannuation was entirely at the discretion of the
employer, and it was mostly limited to managers and executives of the company.
Some retailers did offer super to full-time employees after a defined period of
service, but many ordinary shop floor employees declined to participate even
though they were eligible because of the lack of information and knowledge of
Superannuation at the time.
The Company Funds with their extremely limited coverage had poor vesting
provisions, no portability, and provided little real information to members. I
remember on one occasion asking a major retail company for a copy of the Trust
Deed of the Company’s Superannuation Fund in order to assist a union
member with a question about her Superannuation. The company refused to provide
the information, and this left the union with enormous difficulty in resolving
any Superannuation issues which were brought to it for resolution.
In 1987 all this changed forever. The union movement decided it would pursue
an entitlement to the benefit of a 3% increase in productivity, not by seeking
an increase in the award rates of pay, but instead by claiming Superannuation
calculated on the ordinary time earnings of each employee. This claim had been
preceded by a decision of the High Court that, despite previous decisions to the
contrary, Superannuation was now to be regarded as an industrial matter and
therefore within the jurisdiction of the Australian Industrial Relations
Commission to consider.
In the Wage Case that was run, the Commission decided that each union was
entitled to claim Superannuation at a level of 3% of award earnings but it had
to be negotiated directly with employers, award by award.
By 1990, as a consequence of the intense work of unions, most workers covered
by awards had an entitlement to Superannuation. Suddenly Superannuation had
changed from being a privilege for the few to an entitlement for the vast
The original 3% award superannuation grew to 9% last year in the
Superannuation Guarantee Charge Legislation passed in the early 1990s. We know
that 9% superannuation is not enough, and one of the big debates for this
country in the future is how we can increase Superannuation further to a new
target of say, 15% of Ordinary Time Earnings.
The other major issue in the late 1980’s was where this Superannuation
money would be paid. While many employers and employer organisations were
prepared to enter the Industry superannuation Funds that were established at
this time with equal representation from employees or unions, and employer
organisations, other employers expressed their fears about these new
arrangements and claimed the right to have Occupational Superannuation paid into
specially constructed company funds. In the Retail Industry, this issue was
argued out in the Federal Industrial Relations Commission and in each State
Industrial Commission around Australia, with the result that, with few
exceptions, the Superannuation paid by retailers was to be directed towards
R.E.S.T., the then recently established Retail Employees Superannuation Trust.
As the money flowed from employers into the Industry Funds, a new vehicle for
Superannuation for working people in Australia was born.
Today, the Industry Funds are a well established and prominent feature of the
Despite any concerns that may have been held by either side, there is an
extraordinary degree of consensus in the decision making on the Trustee Boards
of the Industry Superannuation Funds. Employee and Employer representatives
come together and make decisions in the best interests of the members of the
Fund, and almost invariably reach unanimity in their decision making.
The Industry Superannuation Funds have shaken up the Superannuation Industry.
They are characterised by low fees and efficient administration. They provide
cost effective insurance for Death, Disablement and Income Protection. They
also provide competitive returns. The frequently heard suggestion that this is
“the second year of negative returns” is unknown to the Retail
Employees Superannuation Trust, where we have credited 3.5% and 4% respectively
in the last two completed financial years.
Industry Funds provide additional benefits to their members, including Member
Investment Choice, Allocated Pensions and many other benefits. Many Industry
Funds now are Public Offer Funds and some have ventured into providing a
Corporate Division to take in Corporate Superannuation Funds looking for a new
home for the future.
The Industry Funds have shaken up the Superannuation Industry to make it more
transparent and more efficient, forcing it to lower fees and charges, and to
stimulate better returns. There is also a far more constructive and open debate
about the real Superannuation issues to which I hope this Seminar will make a
The significance of Superannuation for ordinary working people should not be
underestimated. A shop assistant today, with the benefit of the recent $17 per
week National Wage Increase won by the ACTU, is entitled to a minimum Award rate
of pay of $507 per week. Such an income is, of course, miniscule when compared
with the incomes of most people in the Superannuation Industry. Think of the
significance, then, of Occupational Superannuation which is now providing a
small, but significant nest egg for the retirement of these low income workers
in the Retail Industry. The $15,000 or $30,000 that a shop assistant might
retire with today in their R.E.S.T. Superannuation account is money that would
not have been there had Occupational Superannuation not been won.
We obviously have a long way to go to make sure that this Superannuation
becomes a significant contribution to the retirement income of ordinary working
people, but we have made a big start and we intend to build further on this in
Having established Superannuation, we are very proud of what has been
achieved. We are obviously interested in how the funds of working people are
invested in their long term interests. That is why we are talking to you
directly as trade unions. We believe that we will all gain from establishing
and maintaining a dialogue about issues of mutual interest. We have structured
this Seminar today in such a way as to provide time for discussion as well as
questions. We want to hear from you as well as speaking to you direct.
In conclusion, can I welcome you once again to this Seminar and I trust that
you will find it an engaging and engrossing discussion with some of the most
senior representatives of the Trade Union Movement on the issues facing
Superannuation today and tomorrow.
Opening/Welcome by Joe de Bruyn, SDA National Secretary/Treasurer Melbourne
24th July, 2003