Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 May 1965


Senator BENN (Queensland) .- I have heard various opinions expressed here tonight about the provisions of the Bill. I have deduced that as a Senate we are prepared to try any means at all to settle the industrial unrest that occurs at different times in the Commonwealth. There have been strikes in past years, there have been strikes quite recently, and I am sure that there will be strikes again in the future. But I believe that the people of Australia more or less have become accustomed to industrial conciliation and arbitration and that they do believe in such a system. I do not think they could have any alternative to believing in it. It is interesting to look back over the years and see how wages and working conditions were fixed. We did not always have the system of wage fixation that is now operating. It has been built up, piece by piece, just as tonight we are dealing with provisions which will be added to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I have said before that if good people in the community believe that these provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act are worthwhile, there is no reason why they should not become law and be given a fair trial. It seems to me that anything which will prevent the loss suffered by wage earners in industry, employers and the economy of the country generally when strikes occur is preferable.

It is interesting to turn back to 1903 and examine what was then the attitude of the Australian Labour Party to industrial arbitration and the fixing of penalties. In 1903 Mr. Watson was the Leader of the Australian Labour Party. He supported compulsory arbitration then and said that 12 years before he had formed a different opinion. He said -

It seemed to me that considering the class bias which prevailed in the Legislature of those days, and bearing in mind that that bias was to some extent reflected in the appointments to the Judicial Bench, it was not a wise thing for us - when we had some chance of winning by means of a strike - to hand over to a body in which we were unrepresented the power to determine all the industrial troubles which arose. Further I had doubts at that time as to how we could insure that a strike would terminate with the pronouncement of any judicial decision. In this connection I am glad to acknowledge that the first inkling which I gained of a satisfactory way out of that difficulty was ... the proposals to make trades unions responsible ... to make their funds responsible. . . .

That seems remarkable to us now, but in 1903 it was the opinion that unions should be penalised in some way or other when members of the unions failed to observe an award.

I have examined some provisions of the Bill and I have noted that the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) in his second reading speech referred to the proposals of the Government. He said that they were discussed last year with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and that they related to the sanctions provisions contained in sections 109 and 111 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I shall now read section 109 so that its provisions will be available in " Hansard " for those people who wish to read them. It states - (1.) The Court is empowered -

(a)   to order compliance with an award proved to the satisfaction of the Court to have been broken or not observed;

(b)   to enjoin an organisation or person from committing or continuing a contravention of this Act or a breach or nonobservance of an award; and

(d)   subject to section one hundred and fortyfour of this Act, to determine a question as to the eligibility of a person to become or remain a member of an organisation. (2.) The Attorney-General may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and in the public interest, apply to the Court for an order under paragraph (a) or (b) of the last preceding sub-section but this sub-section does not prejudice any right which any other person has to apply for such an order.

Those are the provisions that have caused so much trouble in the past, together with those contained in section 1 10. In his second reading speech the Minister said -

First, sanctions in one form or another are an essential part of our arbitration system. The Government has no intention of removing them. Secondly, proceedings before the Commonwealth Industrial Court under sections 109 and 111 should be used only as a last resort.

Those sections have been invoked considerably in recent years. I shall continue to quote from the Minister's speech to indicate to what extent they have been invoked. He continued -

It is necessary that we keep the sanctions provisions of our legislation in perspective . . . Over the last 15 years the average time lost by every wage and salary earner in Australiahas been just under21/2 hours a year. Of course, there have been fluctuations. Last year, the figures showed a worse record than the previous seven years.

I ask honorable senators: Is not the whole purpose of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act first to establish industrial peace and secondly to maintain that peace? To my mind the major step toward establishing industrial peace is the award made by an industrial tribunal. If an award prescribing wages and working conditions is not satisfactory from its introduction, it is impossible to establish industrial peace. The provisions of the Act should aim at maintaing industrial peace. Have the sanctions operated successfully? The fact that the Government is introducing this legislation tonight is concrete evidence that they have not. If the sanctions have operated successfully, why proceed with this legislation?

I believe that it is necessary to have legislation in respect of industrial conditions. It is unwise to have industrial awards made by industrial tribunals breached with impunity. I cannot see how the system could operate without such legislation authorising prosecutions in respect of breaches of awards and the Act. However, the sanctions should not be the dominant feature of an industrial conciliation and arbitration system. The Minister admitted in his speech that the sanctions have become, more or less, a bugbear in the minds of workers engaged in some industries. He referred to the stevedoring industry and said -

The stevedoring industry is a notoriously bad example of an atypical performance.

Honorable senators appreciate that he was saying that the Waterside Workers Federation is not inclined to observe the award. Over the Easter period a strike occurred on the waterfront in Brisbane.

If one examines the cause of the strike it will be found, I feel sure, that management in that case was at fault. In past years, the employees in the industry had been granted a certain amount of leave over the Easter period; but when application was made to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority in Brisbane for a certain amount of leave to be allocated to employees over the recent Easter period, the request was refused because of the extra shipping business in the port. In the industry, a custom of allowing a certain number of waterside workers to take leave over the

Easter period had been established. Suddenly, the practice was curtailed and the industry had a strike on its hands. I feel sure that if that matter had been referred to me when it arose I could have settled it in a matter of minutes. It was not something that was insoluble. However, the matter was not settled and the strike caused some people a great loss.

The Minister, giving some information about holdups in industry, said that over the past 15 years the average time lost by every wage and salary earner in Australia had been just under 2i hours a year. He went on to say -

Of course, there have been fluctuations. Last year the figures showed a worse record than the previous seven years.

That is what I commented on a while ago. Here we have sanctions. They are easily applied. The law is very easily brought into action and made to apply, and somebody has to pay a penalty. Because it has been so easy, the Government is trying to undo the sanction provisions of the Act. Of course, it would not be relevant to this matter for the Minister to supply us with information relating to unemployment over the past seven years. If he had given us the unemployment figures for 1960, 1961 and 1962, they would have been very illuminating. If time has been lost through strikes and holdups in industry in the past seven years, there has also been a considerable loss of working time because of unemployment, due lo the inability of honest workers to obtain employment.

At various times a question has arisen as to whether judges should be the persons to decide industrial questions, whether they should be appointed to hear applications from unions in respect of wages, working conditions and so forth. It is rather interesting at this stage to look back and see that the propriety of judges acting as industrial arbitrators was sharply criticised by Justices Stone and Hensman, in a document printed in the Western Australian " Hansard " for the year 1900, at page 1001. In the course of their statement, they said -

The duty of the judges is to administer justice, according to law, to decide upon the legal rights and duties of litigants, according to the established rules of taw and of legal evidence and procedure. By this Bill it is proposed that the judges shall assist in the decision of disputes between workmen and their employers, not as to their mutual rights and obligations under contracts of service or at Common Law, but rather as to what ought to be their relation to each other, according to tho principles of natural justice, or of expediency, or political economy. . . The judges have devoted their lives to the study and practice of the law, and they do not profess to have made a study of those innumerable social and economical questions which will arise in the near future in disputes between capital and labour.

Many people in a community would agree wholeheartedly with every word that I have said. The Minister said -

Now it is difficult to argue from these figures that there has been an excessive resort to sanctions.

That is a matter of opinion. I should like to see the sanctions modified considerably. I know that we cannot extirpate them, but I should like to see them modified for a trial period of five or six years. We might then get better observance of the law. We do know that when a body of men working in an industry make up their minds to go on strike because of some grievance nothing in the world will stop them from going on strike. It is such an easy matter for them to do it; they have only to withhold their labour and a strike occurs. Everything is done by the Government to prevent that.

The Government honestly thinks that by establishing sanctions which can be readily applied to the unions and to the employees engaged in industry it is doing something in the best interests of the country, whereas when sanctions are created and administered harshly, as I should say they were in some cases, something is presented to a group of men which appears to them as a challenge. They meet that challenge and they do not care a snap of the fingers for the sanctions. When they feel that there is some grievance which should be corrected immediately, they take the only action which they can take promptly, and that is to go on strike.

Senator Wrighthas returned to the Senate chamber. I heard him speak a while ago about the strike at Mount Isa carrying on for five or six months. I thought that he might have been using that as an illustration for some purpose, but I do not think that he really meant that the sanctions embodied in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act could have been used against the strikers at Mount Isa.


Senator Wright - I was complaining that the Federal Parliament was without power to extend its jurisdiction to that type of strike.


Senator BENN - That is quite true. 1 know that. It did not have the power. The Minister continued -

In some cases real grievances exist.

Of course they do, and it is a costly way of getting them remedied. Applications to the Court and hearings are not free of charge. There are fees to be paid. These continue and they have created further unrest. One thing that causes more unrest than anything else in industry in the Commonwealth at the present time is the operation of different basic wage rates. There is a Commonwealth basic wage. Operating in Queensland is a State basic wage which is considerably more than the Commonwealth basic wage. Another basic wage rate operates in New South Wales, and so on throughout the Commonwealth. Employees doing similar classes of work are receiving different rates of wages. An employee may be sinking post holes, or doing labouring work, a carpenter's job or some other kind of skilled work. If he is engaged in Queensland under a Commonwealth award he will be receiving a lower rate than the employee governed by a Queensland State award. Does it not promote dissatisfaction and industrial unrest when several rates of wages operate in respect of one class of work? I cannot think of anything more likely to cause a measure of industrial unrest than that situation. I deal with this matter because it has been brought up before and evidently it is not the function of anybody in the Commonwealth to deal with the situation. The late Mr. Justice McCawley, one time President of the Queensland Industrial Court, has written -

The desire to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Justice Higgins was one of the reasons which induced Judge Heydon of New South Wales to urge the abolition of unco-ordinated wages boards. Mr. Justice Higgins resigned from the presidency of the Arbitration Court in 1920 as a protest against the creation of special tribunals under the Industrial Peace Act of 1920. He made a statement as to his reasons for resignation, in which he criticises this Act -

Part IV of the Act enables the Government to appoint a special tribunal for the prevention or settlement of any industrial dispute. This is to be a temporary tribunal for a particular dispute, and it is to be the creature of the Executive Government. From the nature of the case, any such temporary tribunal must be merely opportunist, seeking to get the work of the particular industry carried on at all costs, even the cost of concessions to un just 'demands from other quarters. On the other hand, a permanent court of a judicial character tends to reduce conditions to system, to standardise them, to prevent irritating contrast. It knows that a reckless concession made in one case will multiply future troubles. . . . Nothing creates more industrial troubles than contrasts in conditions, unless it be an intermeddling and pliable Executive.

That was something that occurred years ago, but the matters that were commented on by Mr. Justice McCawley are still with us.

I wish to refer to another aspect of the Bill. Some time ago I asked a question about the welfare of two youths who were charged in the court at Alice Springs with a misdemeanour. They had been employed on a cattle station and had been ill treated. They had been threatened by the manager of the station, They were forced finally to clear out from the station. There was nobody in Alice Springs to whom they could complain about their bad treatment and non-receipt of wages. I ascertained that there was no officer in the whole of the Northern Territory to whom they could turn for assistance. Much to my pleasure I find that this Bill will overcome that deficiency. Under the Bill the Government may appoint ex officio inspectors to deal with complaints as they go about their daily tasks. The inspectors will not be required to invite complaints or to unearth complainants at the various places at which they call. It will be known that they have authority to deal with complaints relating to wages and working conditions. Employees who have a grievance may approach them. This work will not cost the Government one extra penny, because the Government employs stock inspectors, road inspectors and other officials who travel around the Northern Territory, all of whom are capable of doing this work. I am pleased to see this provision in the Bill.

I conclude my remarks by referring to some of the things that have guided people in a general way in the fixation of wages and the establishment of working conditions. When the United Nations came into being the old League of Nations passed out of existence, but the International Labour Organisation continued to function. It is still functioning in Geneva. To guide the peoples of the world in applying proper working conditions and rates of wages and in giving a measure of common justice to all human beings the I.L.O. laid down the following principles -

1.   The guiding principle that labour should not be regarded merely as a commodity or article of commerce.

2.   The right of association for all lawful purposes by the employed as well as by the employers.

3.   The payment to the employed of a wage adequate to maintain a reasonable standard of life as this is understood in their time and country.

4.   The adoption of an eight hour day-

Of course, these principles were laid down a long time ago - or a 48 hour week as the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained.

5.   The adoption of a weekly rest of at least 24 hours, which should include Sunday wherever practicable.

6.   The abolition of child labour and the imposition of such limitations on the labour of young persons as shall permit the continuation of their education and assure their proper physical development.

7.   The principle that men and women should receive equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Although those principles were laid down many years ago the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work has not been recognised to any great extent in the Commonwealth or in other countries.

I am prepared to give a fair trial to anything relating to industrial conciliation and arbitraton, no matter what it is. If there are any steps that we can take to permit ships to be loaded with Australia's produce for overseas markets, or to permit overseas vessels to be unloaded in our ports, without hindrance or industrial unrest, let us take those steps. I have always advocated that the waterside workers should be put on a substantial weekly wage. There is no reason why they should not be on a weekly wage. As conditions apply on the waterfront today, once a ship is loaded the waterside workers may be out of work. A man may be unemployed three or four times in the one week. If ships enter a port less frequently than usual, if they carry fewer goods than usual, or if fewer goods are exported from this country, there is less work for the waterside workers and they suffer a measure of unemployment. Give them good working conditions and substantial wages and you will not have the industrial unrest on the waterfront that we occasionally read about.







Suggest corrections