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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

Mr LAVELLE (Calare) !- Although I believe that the honorable members who spoke in favour of the amendment did not intentionally mislead the Committee, I know, that they have not put the real facts of the case before honorable members. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) - said that if this amendment were not- embodied in the Bill, it would be impossible for members of . the Australian Workers Union to write to a pastoralist for employment during the shearing season. That is not so. The organization has merely instructed its members that they are not to sign an agreement. They may make arrangements by letter for employment, but until the Toll-call they must not sign any binding contract. That has been the rule of the organization for a number of years; but until 1918 it remained in suspense. At the Australian Workers Union conference in that year the necessity for protecting members of the organization against, employers who might seek to take advantage of them by getting them to sign an agreement in advance was realized, and the conference decided to enforce the rule. It has been enforced ever smee

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The employer would have to pay the award rate in any case.

Mr LAVELLE - If the honorable member had been engaged in the pastoral industry, as I have been, he would know how easy it is for employers to evade many of the conditions of an award. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) said that the organization made regulations which are oppressive to. its members. That is not the case. This very rule has been enforced as a protection to members of the union. It is well known that ia every workingclass organization there are men who are prepared to accept anything which the boss offers; and it is in order to protect the overwhelming majority of unionists against such men that this rule against signing on has been enforced. With rare exceptions, there are during every strike a number of workers who are prepared to accept the boss's terms and " scab " on their fellow workmen by working for rates less than the majority demand.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Less than the award rates?

Mr LAVELLE - 'There are men who would do that if they were not prevented by law. This amendment is .proposed with the one object of breaking up unionism. 'No just and reasonable employer has ever objected to the union enforcing the rule against, signing on. The majority of employers in the pastoral industry are very reasonable, and are prepared to observe the award in both letter and spirit. But there axe some pastoralists who do everything possible to evade the award. It is necessary to protect members of the organization against unscrupulous employers and disloyal fellowworkers, and I am satisfied that if the amendment were carried the Australian Workers Union would have nothing fur ther to do willi arbitration. Some honorable members have said that not only the rates of wages and hours of labour, but also food and accommodation are. specified in the award. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) read the paragraph of the award which stated that the rations are to be supplied at cost price phis 10 pear cent. I asked what cost price meant, and some honorable member interjected that it meant the cost of' the articles at the nearest township.

Mr Gregory - The wholesale price, 1 said.

Mr LAVELLE - It is not the wholesale price. The majority of pastoralists do not purchase their supplies at the nearest township;, they purchase' them wholesale in the capital cities at rates below those obtaining locally, but they take care that the shearers are charged on the basis of local prices, plus 10 per cent. If the price of food were more definitely prescribed in the award there would be a great deal less < dissatisfaction in that regard. The Court, in making an award, always takes into consideration the cost of living to shearers and shed hands, and as that cost is based upon meat at 3d. per lb. or less, it is' only reasonable to expect the pastoralists ta supply meat at or about that rate. That is the reason why our members have been instructed that prior to commencing shearing operations they shall insist that the meat be supplied at 3d. or 3½d. per lb. The honorable member for Dampier stated also that the award provides for reasonable sleeping accommodation. On one occasion I went to shear at Gundabooka Station, and as the award provided that chaff or straw or some suitable substitute must be provided by the employer for filling the bed ticking, I, as representative of the shearers, interviewed the manager, and asked him what material he was providing for the mattresses. He gazed across the plain, and, pointing to a timber patch about 2 miles away, said; " The men usually gather some of that turpentine bush." We did not gather that bush. In some mysterious way chaff from the fodder-house found its way into the hut, and we slept on it for. the rest of the season. The alternative was to have accepted the turpentine bush and commenced proceedings against the employer for breach of the award, but before our case could have been determined the shed would have " cut out." In the meantime, we should have had to submit to the discomfort of sleeping on either bare boards or mattresses of turpentine bush. The state of the cooking utensils is usually another debatable question at the commencing of shearing. The award provides that good and sufficient cooking utensils must be supplied, and the question arises as to what is meant by " good and sufficient." In quite a number of places I have seen excellent cooking utensils, whilst in others they were such that they could not be used by any decent, self-respectmg man. These may be little things to men not engaged in manual work, but it is little " pin-pricks " of the kind that we wish to guard against, and see our men enabled to enforce their just and legitimate rights. I was pleased that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) admitted that the shearers are a fine body of men, who are quite able to look after themselves. It is to. enable them to do this that we oppose the proposed new clause. No reasonable employer in Australia would object to the rule as it stands to-day, but only the unjust and unreasonable. Judging from the tone of the debate and the utterances of the Minister for Works and Railways, the proposed new clause will be rejected ; but I would have been lacking in my duty to those men and women whom I represent in this Parliament if I refrained from an endeavour to clear away the misrepresentations that havebeen, no doubt unintentionally, placed before the Committee.

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