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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 906


Senator SIDDONS(4.53) —I rise to speak only very briefly on this vitally important question of union preference. It is not a new question. Indeed, in October 1982 the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation spent a large percentage of its time addressing this very question. That Committee, under the very able chairmanship of Senator Harradine, wrestled with this problem and came out with a very firm recommendation of what should be done on this very difficult issue which embraces human rights and the fundamental principles of our centralised system of conciliation and arbitration.

There is no way that we can fix wages in this country without representation of trade unions. That is fundamental. But what do we do when trade unions are responsible for fixing wages on behalf of workers in a whole industry and yet people in that industry say: `We do not want to join the union'? There has to be equity on both sides. The Committee recommended a broadening of the definition of a conscientious objector. It was a suggestion that I put to the Committee. It was debated at length and the majority report of the Committee embraced the suggestion of simply broadening the definition of a conscientious objector to include also a person who holds principles or beliefs which prevent membership of unions. A person who has a legitimate objection to joining a union, other than a conscientious objection, could refrain from doing so. But a condition of that objection to joining a union would be that the union fees that would normally be paid to the union for representation before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission would be paid to the Registrar. By this means we avoided the problem of an employee sitting back, not joining a union but getting the benefits of the union's representation on behalf of the whole work force before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and paying nothing for that service.

My position very clearly is in line with the majority recommendation of the Harradine-chaired Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation in 1982. It was a very enlightened Committee which conducted a very thorough investigation of the whole of industrial relations problems. I am sure one cannot solve the conflicting problems of union preference without adopting a position that ensures that a fee for service is paid by those members in the work force who, for reasons that are reasonable and arguable, do not wish to join a union. They should be allowed to pay a fee for service in lieu of paying a fee to a union.