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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr CURTIN - Yes. Honorable gentlemen opposite drew a picture of the tyrannical hand of the Allied Works Council grabbing white-collar workers, although they had had no experience of hard manual labour, and sending them to various places in Australia to take a pick and shovel in their hands.

Mr McEwen - A red herring!

Mr CURTIN - The honorable member for Indi hopes that Heaven will be a place in which there is no such thing as unionism. Otherwise, he will not recognize paradise. I have never heard the honorable gentleman say one friendly word about unionism, but I have heard him say thousands of things intensely critical of unionism. The Allied Works Council calls its labour from lists supplied from the Department of Labour and National Service, and it has to take the labour available from, in many instances, industries that have been reduced in their scale by my colleague the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman), who is finding from the resources of this country the labour forces indispensable to the carrying out of these major enterprises. I know how unpopular his work is and, when the story of survival is told, men who have earned unpopularity, but who have done the job, will be those whom history will extol. I say quite clearly that the whitecollar man, the tailor, for instance, is called up, but he is not given a pick or a shovel. There are jobs such as timekeeping and clerical work to be done, and those white-collar men are more or less equipped but not completely equipped for them. I concede that a great deal of hard labour is being done by men who, but for

Mr Anthony - No one disputes that.

Mr CURTIN - No, but honorable members opposite argue that we compel men to be unionists.

Mr McEwen - No. We ask whether the Government compels them to be unionists.

Mr CURTIN - The Opposition has made the charge. The adjournment of the House was moved by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) because our policy was compulsory unionism. It may surprise the committee, though of course it will be no revelation to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, when I say that I have received repeated communications and deputations from that body requesting the Government to enact compulsory trade unionism.

Mr Spender - Commanding rather than requesting, perhaps.

Mr CURTIN - There is a degree of courtesy in the relations between the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and governments, which enables the council to choose appropriate words in submitting representations or requests. The Australasian Council of Trade Unions has made no demand on the Government. It has submitted its proposals fairly and squarely. No charge can be sustained against this Government of having compelled nonunionists to become unionists. The Australasian Council of Trade Unions knows that the Government has not enacted compulsory unionism. It has been asked to do so but it has not done it.

Mr Spender - 'Will the right honorable gentleman answer this question: When a person is called up by the Allied Works Council and sent to Queensland, where compulsory unionism operates, what has been the policy of the Government in respect of that person and union membership ?

Mr CURTIN - When a man who has been a unionist is called up and is sent to Queensland, where the rates of pay that he will receive are prescribed by the appropriate Queensland authority - an authority established by the Queensland Government, not by this Government - that man is expected to continue his trade union membership. I should imagine that a man, knowing the conditions of the award, and having been a trade unionist, would have no objection to continuing his membership.

Mr Spender - Is he compelled to do so?

Mr CURTIN - If such a man refused to pay his subscription to the organization which had been responsible for securing the benefits which he was enjoying, there could be nothing wrong in requiring him to observe conditions that he would have continued to observe had he remained in his previous place of employment.

Mr Spender - In other words, he is compelled to join a union!

Mr CURTIN - The honorable gentleman wishes me to give a certain type of man a licence to avoid paying dues to a union which he should- pay. I do not propose to give such a licence. Honorable gentlemen opposite know very well that every person who buys a glass of beer in Australia pays a contribution towards the Liquor Trades Defence Union's political fund.

Mr Harrison - I do not know it.

Mr CURTIN - How sweetly innocent are the men elected to this Parliament as the result of the publicity campaign of big business! They would have us believe that they know nothing about their origin. I say to the committee, and to the country, that any man who has been a unionist in his civil life and is called up to work in accordance with awards made by the courts, which awards prescribe that trade unionism shall operate, is expected to continue to be a unionist and to pay his dues to the union.

Mr Spender - Expected by whom?

Mr CURTIN - By the Allied Works Council, which is responsible for the enforcement of awards. Awards prescribe that certain work shall be paid for at certain rates. They may also prescribe that employees engaged on such work shall be members of unions. This Government has undertaken to observe awards. An integral part of the covenant made between the Allied Works Council and trade unionism generally is that awards shall be observed.

Mr Spender - A person called up for service in Queensland who previously had never been a unionist, is thereby compelled to be a unionist!

Mr CURTIN - I have not said that. The honorable gentleman wants to be counsel for the prosecution and witness at the bar, at the same time. I say clearly that any man going to Queensland in connexion with a job of the Allied Works Council is expected to remain a unionist if he has been one previously. A man who has never been a unionist and who has conscientious objections to being a unionist - that is, a man. who is bona fide-

Mr Harrison - Who is to decide that point?

Mr CURTIN - It is a point that could be decided easily by the management. I have been a trade union secretary - an office which is not novel to honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber - and I have been in places where the workers on a job have desired that every body on it should join the union. I have at times encountered individuals who would not join a union. Some have given a miserable, sneaking excuse, but have desired to enjoy the conditions obtained by other unionists on the job. On other occasions I and other honorable gentlemen on this side of the committee have met men who had a genuine and bona fide objection to joining a union, and I have accepted their objection. In my experience, such objections have always been accepted by honorable gentlemen on this side of the committee, for they respect humanity and good conscience.

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