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Outraged members abandon union after allegations

Date

Nicole Hasham

Disappointed ... Health Services Union hospital workers Toula Kyriazopoulos, left, Gina Fook, Sureksha Aryal, and  Virgina Aranzamendez yesterday.

Disappointed ... Health Services Union hospital workers Toula Kyriazopoulos, left, Gina Fook, Sureksha Aryal, and Virgina Aranzamendez yesterday. Photo: Kate Geraghty

THE Health Services Union is haemorrhaging members as workers react with anger to reports that Craig Thomson repeatedly misused members' funds over five years, including the procurement of prostitutes.

The release on Monday of Fair Work Australia's report on the federal MP has shaken the loyalty of the union faithful to its core.

''They are outraged about their money being used, they are outraged about the allegations and the lies they've been told,'' an HSU delegate, Katrina Hart, said.

Independent MP Craig Thomson during question time at Parliament House in Canberra.

Independent MP Craig Thomson during question time at Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

''A lot of them don't earn that much money, and the $600 a year that they pay in membership fees is a lot of money for them.

''Some members have dropped out. They are refusing to have their membership fees paid into the pockets of someone else.''

Members - many of whom are in low paid jobs in the health sector - bubbled with anger when they spoke to the Herald yesterday.

''We might be low-income earners … but we're not stupid,'' Andrew Thompson, 43, a long-time union member said.

Andrew Kelty, 67, a hospital linen room worker, described himself as a ''unionist through and through''.

As a child in Ireland, he attended union meetings with his father, a dock worker, and has been a HSU member for 20 years.

''I didn't want to believe [the allegations] when it all came out. I thought it was all a load of rubbish,'' he said.

''We are working-class people … I really do think we need unions to protect us. There are just a few bad apples in there that need to get thrown out.''

The HSU Hunter sub-branch president, Peter Rumball, said disenchanted ambulance officers are walking away following the scandal.

''If an organisation has no obvious corporate or financial governance, you are certainly worried about where your money is going,'' he said. ''The union itself is still functioning, but they are disillusioned that it got to this extent.''

A Sydney paediatric registrar, Victoria Ward, joined the HSU eight months ago after becoming concerned with the long hours assigned to junior doctors.

The controversy surrounding the organisation was not ''a good selling point'' for a union which ''already wasn't functioning well for junior doctors'', said the 28-year-old, who planned to terminate her membership.

A food services worker, Toula Kyriazopoulos, 54, questioned why union membership fees were not being refunded following the misuse allegations.

The HSU sub-branch president at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Colin Lee, said despite the problems plaguing the union's leadership, members were satisfied with the handling of the hospital's present staffing levels dispute.

The Unions NSW secretary, Mark Lennon, said the union movement was facing ''dark times''.

''We're as concerned as everyone about the alleged actions of the HSU leadership,'' he said. The HSU East branch was unable to comment late yesterday.

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