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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2424

Senator JESSOP(5.42) —The Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment report on technology assessment in Australia was presented last week by the Chairman, Senator Jones. At that time I made a few remarks and pointed to the importance of consultation prior to the introduction of new technology. I pointed to the concern expressed by the trade union movement and others that adequate consultation take place between employers prior to the event. As I said, employers are sometimes reluctant to do this because of security; as they do not want to flag their new technology to their opposition in a particular field. However, the Committee felt that a model should be established whereby consultation should take place. I refer to page 87 of the Committee's report:

The Committee is aware that the drafting of information sharing legislation, discussion of it with interested parties, its preparation and finalisation, will involve considerable lead time. An education campaign promoting information sharing is urgent, and in that light the Committee supports the ASTEC Technological Change Committee recommendations on its report, Computer-related Technology in the Metal Trades Industry, on this issue.

That report states:

That the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations consult with the union movement, employees and employers to produce detailed proposals for the implementation of a voluntary scheme of firm-based consultation between management and workers on the introduction of new and improved technologies, to serve as a model from which other firms might develop more effective consultation mechanisms.

A number of submissions to the Committee, including some from trade unions, said that unions themselves might not be able to participate effectively in the consultation that would result from more detailed information being available.

There has been frequent reference to the fact that in any one enterprise there are often many unions. For example, we found that 28 trade unions are involved with Telecom Australia. So when Telecom, which is a very technologically progressive organisation, introduces new technology-which it does probably more than any other institution in Australia-it must consult with not one but 28 separate unions in order to convince them that the technological improvement will not jeopardise their work, and so on. Mr Mansfield, the Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, discussed this matter during public hearings and commented on the efficacy of the consultation process in Sweden, for example. I told him that the situation in Sweden is quite different from Australia and I highlighted the example of Telecom, where there are 28 different unions. I told him that in Sweden there are industry unions and he said that that would simplify the process. I think that this matter needs to be examined carefully. A few years ago perhaps I would not have agreed with that proposition, but having examined the whole question--

Senator Gietzelt —We can all learn, Senator.

Senator JESSOP —Yes, we can all learn. I think we have to be prepared to learn, even at our age. In fact, I am learning every day. I can recall former Senator Reg Bishop standing up in this place a few years ago and advocating a move towards the establishment of industry unions. I think that that is a progressive move which should be taken. It would certainly simplify consultation and relieve unnecessary anxiety and concern in the work force. When I spoke to this report last week I said that it is quite natural for people to be conservative when it comes to change. When one suggests introducing new technology which may affect the employment of a section of the work force--

Senator Gietzelt —And your career as well, of course.

Senator JESSOP —And one's career; that is quite right. That is a very serious matter which needs to be explained fully. Experience in Japan indicates to me that, if technological change is contemplated, consultation can alleviate concern in the work force. For example, in relation to computers, the Matsushita National radio and television company in Japan decided a number of years ago that, in order to compete with overseas pressure from Korea, Taiwan and other countries with low wage structures, it had to introduce numerically controlled tools on its production line. As a result, the company had to halve its work force in that particular area of its operation within three years. The company had had consultations very early before this change took place and it was able to convince the trade union people of that company-there was only one industry trade union, of course-that the work force would not be retrenched but would be retrained and fitted into other areas of the company's operation as a result of this new technology and that their jobs would be preserved along with their career structure.

I think this is a very important report. We have tried to outline the major problems and we have pointed to the need for technological impact assessments to be made. It was suggested that this could be legislated for. However, because of the difficulties involved I do not think that that is possible. Page 74 of the report states:

Mr Mansfield, representing the ACTU, told the Committee that, in view of the experience with voluntary guidelines, the ACTU had come to the conclusion that rights for employees to be consulted on change had to be established through the Arbitration Commission.

Following that, on page 75 of the report, is a quote from the evidence presented by Mr Mansfield. That may be possible, but certainly all these matters should be examined and the Government should try to take the advice of the Committee and act on the recommendations that we have put forward. The principal recommendations are on page 93. They read:

1. That the Senate review the operation of the Grants for Industrial Research and Development (GIRD) and the National Industry Extension Service (NIES) within two years of its commencing operations;

2. That priority be given to establishing within, or in association with NIES, a Clearing House for Information Material on the potential of new technological applications, and on the various problems that are faced in ensuring rapid adoption of these technologies;

3. That a Technological Change (Sharing of Information) Act be introduced, requiring the provision of specific categories of information to employees and their unions in the course of consultation over technological change, and that such information also be lodged with a restructured `technological change council'.

4. That the Government act urgently to implement the following recommendation made by ASTEC/Technological Change Committee as part of an education campaign on consultation;

I referred to that earlier. The principal recommendations continue:

5. That a feasibility study into the establishment of an industry data bank be carried out by the Government as a matter of urgency;

6. That a Technological Change Council be established by re-structuring the current ASTEC/Technological Change Committee to (a) carry out specifically impact-oriented assessments; and (b) manage a system of funding assistance to non-government organisations wishing to carry out technology assessments as a part of improving consultation in Australia. The Council should be provided with adequate resources; and

7. The membership of such a Council should ensure the representation of women's interests by women.

It is a good report. I was very pleased to work with the Chairman of the Committee, Gerry Jones, and other members of the Committee. I have already acknowledged the help of the staff. I thank the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.