Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2236

Senator COONEY(4.22) —The report of the Committee of Review of the Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems has rightly received wide publicity and appraisal. The relationships between employer and employee, between management and the shop floor, between organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and between peak councils are crucial to the functioning of this community and to the perception which the community has of itself. Aluminium, iron ore, wheat, meat, machinery and manufactured goods are all commodities. The legitimate subject matter for debate is whether their sale should be subject to free market forces, to a regulated market or to some other system of disposal. However, labour cannot legitimately be considered as a commodity in the sense that those things are. Work is the activity of people, of citizens. People are not inanimate objects but thinking and feeling human beings who experience emotions, who have ambitions and who know hardship and disappointment. The job a person does is seen, whether rightly or wrongly, as a measure of that person's worth. If someone is denied employment or treated unfairly as a worker his dignity and standing are grievously injured. Work is vital not only for the well-being of a person who earns a livelihood but for the spouse, children and other dependants of that person. The breadwinner who brings home wages earned at work sustains the well-being and morale of the whole family. The well-being and morale are prejudiced when that work is lost or its rewards are reduced.

Those matters must be kept in mind when appraising the Hancock report. The structure by which industrial relations is regulated in Australia is aimed at adjusting the rights and obligations placed on employers and employees so that fairness is maintained in the work place. Although the rate of remuneration is a crucial issue in establishing that fairness it is only one factor involved. The establishment of proper hours, of a proper work environment, of a proper provision for recreation and of proper employment security are other crucial issues with which the structure deals. Fairness in the work place is put at great risk if it is deregulated. Some employees will gain and some will suffer. The relative industrial strengths of different unions and different employers will affect the quality of employment offered to different workers. The ability and industry of two workers may be the same but the conditions of their employment may be incongruously different and a just society will avoid that situation.

The report prepared by Professor Hancock, Mr Polites and Mr Fitzgibbon is happily more consistent with the proposition that human and spiritual dimensions are involved in a person's work than with the proposition that work is solely the subject matter of the market-place to be bartered for a price. The report has recommended reform rather than abolition of the present system which has become embedded in our society. In this context it is to be remembered that because a system has faults it does not follow that another used to oust it will have no or fewer faults. The report of the Committee of Review of the Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems deserves calm and exhaustive consideration. It should, as far as possible, be considered in that light apart from the political content that we all might want to put in it.