A call to arms for industry funds: maintain the rage

The big challenge for industry and other not-for-profit super funds is to “keep the flame and the motivation alive and not let their culture die”, Garry Weaven said last week. It was clear from his short talk at an AIST lunch in Sydney that he has not lost that flame.

The lunch included the launch of a book by historians Cathy Brigden and Bernard Mees on the development of the industry fund movement: ‘Workers’ Capital’. It details the big industrial and political battles of the 1980s and early 90s, in which Weaven was a crucial participant.

He said that the combination of strategy and struggle, which the unions, of which he was formerly a part at the ACTU, made for most “transformational” movements.

That struggle meant that almost all industrial awards were covered by the end of the 1980s, although most were still at the 3 per cent initially fought for. This meant that, for the first time, contributions were fully invested in the name of the individuals, that reporting went to their homes rather than their employers, that the “true performance” – what went to the members – was measured.

The system created was a collective of representative trustees. It meant that working people had been empowered to invest as if they were the richest people in the world. They did not have to sell in certain markets for short-term reasons. They could get expert advice. And no deal any longer was too big for them to invest in.

“That’s because of the representative nature of the trustee system and the spread of workers’ capital,” he said.

“It is now more or less assured that the super industry will hit $6 trillion in the next decade… Barring political sabotage.”

The book’s authors captured very well the industrial campaigning and the struggle which allowed legislatures to act, he said.

“Our culture is always under attack. Not just the political attacks but also attacks from within because we are managing a lot of money. We have to be aware that we don’t import the worst aspects of funds management.”

Tom McDonald a leader in the building and construction industry union at the time of the biggest fights, said at the lunch that it was thought economically impossible to ever deliver a scheme which had a 12-15 per cent contribution rate of employee wages. He said there had been four serious attempt at such a scheme over the preceding 50 years but no-one wanted to pay for its cost.

“Your duty,” he told the audience, “is to protect what you’ve inherited and build the future for industry superannuation.”

Sue Jauncey, the founder and director of consulting firm Pulse Australiasia and UK, presented on the theoretical background to cultural change.

She said it was important for organisations to set an “intentional culture” which they designed, rather than allow the development of a “water cooler” culture where employees gathered and tended to complain about their lot.

“Don’t underestimate culture. Take it seriously,” she said.