Right-wing pseudo unions with links to conspiratorial movements on the rise

The 'unions' spawned from the anti-vaccination movement which rose during the pandemic.

The 'unions' spawned from the anti-vaccination movement which rose during the pandemic. Photo: AAP

The Red Union is making waves with some workers in Australia, but seemingly for all the wrong reasons.

Its members are quoted in the media as experts, and online ads promote the various associations as a cheap alternative to traditional unions, but this web of businesses has deep links to the Liberal-National Party (LNP) and the pseudo-legal conspiracy movement.

Launched by former LNP industrial relations chair Graeme Haycroft before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Union group has bolstered its ranks by recruiting a small and vocal portion of members from Queensland’s registered unions who opposed vaccine mandates and lockdowns.

Sky News, Channel 7, The Courier Mail and the ABC have all quoted Red Union members in 2023 in stories, elevating them as experts and advocates in digital and print media and television broadcasts.

Channel 7 has referred to the Teachers Professional Association of Queensland head as an expert and an advocate. Photo: Channel 7

Jacqueline King, general secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions, said the associations do not have the powers of registered unions and should not be quoted as experts in the media.

“People who weren’t vaccinated and were stood down from their government positions in health, education or the police, those people were quite frankly dumped at the end of actions that were initially taken by the so-called Red Unions,” she said.

“They took them on board, promised the world and delivered nothing.”

Without registration with the Fair Work Commission, the Red Union’s horde of industry associations, ranging from nurses, teachers and police officers to drivers and journalists, are unable to bring proceedings for breach of an award or enterprise agreement or enter the workplace.

Advertising blitz

Aside from being quoted in the media, the Red Union is also undertaking an online advertising campaign.

Advertising seen online for the Teachers Professional Association of Australia (TPAA) describes the organisation as a union and links to the TPAA website, where membership includes “protection without politics”.

“We believe unions shouldn’t have any political affiliations,” the advertising reads.

“That’s why it’s in our constitution.”

Online advertising published by NPAQ. Photo: NPAQ

The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) also advertises online as a cheaper alternative to the established nurses union, claiming to offer all the same services as the Queensland Nurses and Midwifery Union (QNMU).

When The New Daily spoke to Jack McGuire, Red Union director, he was in New Zealand, where the group launched several now-registered unions earlier this year.

He said Fair Work laws and Queensland’s industrial relations legislation limit the registration of new unions competing with existing entities, and therefore “rigging the game”.

In an appearance in Queensland Parliament, McGuire said NPAQ has about 10,000 members, therefore representing the vast majority of Red Union’s claimed 17,000 members.

QNMU has more than 70,000 members in comparison, although the Red Union membership cannot be properly verified because they aren’t subject to the same reporting laws as registered unions.

A red flag

The Red Union logo is Australia’s merchant navy flag, known colloquially as the Red Ensign.

Dr Joe McIntyre, senior lecturer in law at the University of South Australia, said while the flag has been used historically, it has been adopted by the pseudo-legal sovereign citizen movement in recent times.

“What we get is a symbol that has some historical antecedents and relevance in Australia and some sort of appeal to national character,” he said.

“From late 2018 to 2019, we start seeing it as a symbol of sovereign citizens and then, come the pandemic, it expands beyond that to anti-vaxxers and public health protests.”

The Red Unions have adopted the Red Ensign flag. Photo: TPAA

The organisations under the Red Union banner were heavily involved in anti-vaccine mandate protests and court cases, helping organise, promote and fundraise on social media for workers blocked from returning to work without vaccination.

When asked about the flag’s connotation and use, McGuire said the associations are “proud Aussie unions”.

“The legacy union movement, you would call it, they have almost become the woke brigade that is afraid of being Australian,” he said.

“We want to own being Aussie and it just happens because we’re the Red Union, the coloured red Australian flag makes a cool logo.”

Ongoing battle

The group, which has registered dozens of business names, has been in a lengthy battle with the Queensland government over its ability to register as a union and represent vaccine-sceptical members in industrial action, with little success.

In July 2021, the Red Union lost a Queensland court case on behalf of a member who argued they were discriminated against for engaging in trade union activity, where the judge ruled the organisation was not a trade union.

That same member was later quoted by Australia’s national broadcaster without any critical examination of NPAQ or the Red Union group.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus has previously called the group of associations “fake unions,” but her comments have done little to stop media outlets turning to them for talent.

King said the issue surrounding Red Union are serious enough that it warrants the examination of the legislation that allows unregistered organisations or bargaining representatives to operate in a federal jurisdiction.

“They have some capacity to be represented, but there is no accountability because they don’t have to be registered,” she said.

“This is another loophole where we have a lot of organisations that are simply out there to make money or to undermine collective registered unions, operating in a system that doesn’t have employees’ benefits at their heart.”

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