The Health Workers Union has threatened a last-minute injunction to block Labor’s online national conference on Tuesday because it claims it will be unfairly unrepresented at the event.
Lawyers representing the Right-faction HWU, have written to ALP national secretary Paul Erickson threatening legal action unless the union’s voting numbers are bolstered by 2pm on Monday.
The legal letter, written by Phi Finney McDonald principal lawyer Brett Spiegel and addressed to Mr Erickson, said Labor’s national executive had”unjustifiably derogated” the voting rights of the HWU and other union members by installing the same delegates from the 2018 conference.
Health Workers Union secretary Diana Asmar said in a statement that Labor was”scared of debate”, and accused the party of not listening to the concerns of frontline health workers.
The party’s leadership decided last year to shift it to an online event because of state border restrictions and potential coronavirus outbreaks, such as the 72-hour lockdown in Brisbane.
About 400 delegates from across Australia will meet online to renew Labor’s National Platform, and chart Labor’s agenda ahead of the next federal election, due between August and May.
Delegate numbers for the conference are weighted based on the size of unions and party branches, with the largest unions getting more representation. But because of the new format, a decision was made to use the same delegate numbers used at the 2018 national conference.
The union, which bolstered its membership base during the pandemic, argues its members are being denied full representation at the decision-making table.
“All union ballots, including those of the Health Workers Union, should be counted and included in this ALP National Conference,” Ms Asmahr said in a statement.
“Health workers have been the heroes on the frontline during this COVID19 pandemic – they have a right to be heard! In Victoria, we’ve got public hospital jobs being contracted out to the private sector. The HWU is vehemently opposed to this. The ALP National Conference ought to be vehemently opposed to this.”
The HWU has had a fraught relationship with the state and federal ALP executives in the past year following the fallout from branch-stacking allegations, which led to Victorian branch members losing their voting rights.
In September last year it publicly called on Victorian Premier Daniel Andress to sack then-health minister Jenny Mikakos and said her”incompetence” had turned the union from a “once supportive stakeholder” of the government into”an actively hostile one”.
Ms Asmar said the entire Labor membership should debate the decision of the Andrews government to contract out Victorian public hospital jobs to the private sector.
“Why is the ALP National Conference scared of debate? National ALP Conference is once again being turned into a carefully scripted and staged managed event full of motherhood (parenthood) statements, rainbows and lollipops,” she said.
“There’s a reason Federal Labor keeps losing elections. It never takes anything of substance to the electorate.”
The legal letter describes the HWU as a “prominent and longstanding member” of Labor and gives notice that it will pursue all legal options to ensure its legal representation at the conference unless the parties come to an agreement by 2pm.
“National Executive reliance on the 2018 Delegate List and refusal to count and rely upon the 2020 Union Ballots to determine representation at the 2021 National Conference would result in a legally significant loss of representation by the HWU,” it says. “There is no legal or practical basis for ignoring the 2020 Union Ballots.”
Mr Erickson has been contacted for comment.