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Competition watchdog's extraordinary double standard

Friday, October 17, 2014

Recent newspapers report that Australia’s competition protector, the ACCC, is taking action against giant Coles over the way it treats its suppliers. It’s good to see the ACCC challenging big business practices against small business people.

But just yesterday the ACCC effectively sanctioned anti-competitive collusive behaviour by a business ‘in bed’ with a union. The double standard displayed by the ACCC is extraordinary. The signal the ACCC is sending is that if a business wants to be anti-competitive and they do that through a union, then that’s okay.

The case involves the transport giant Toll and the Transport Workers Union. In July this year Toll admitted to the Royal Commission into union corruption that it was making secret payments to the TWU. The condition was that the TWU harass Toll’s competitors. ICA reported it here.

The same month the TWU applied to the ACCC for a right under competition law to collectively bargain with Toll. We lodged an objection saying that Toll and the TWU are clearly not fit and proper organizations to allow such a right. The ACCC has just handed down its decision.

Amazingly the ACCC says that the fact of Toll admitting to anti-competitive agreements with the TWU is ‘not relevant’ to the TWU’s collective bargaining application. Rod Sims is the head of the ACCC. Dear Mr Sims, when does clear evidence and admission of anti-competitive conduct become ‘relevant’?

For some unexplained reason the ACCC seems to think that anti-competitive conduct by unions is acceptable. This is not a union problem. There’s something seriously wrong with the ACCC.


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