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Thursday, 7 December 1905
Page: 6519

Mr FRAZER (Kalgoorlie) - I must confess that I do not like this amendment. The extraordinary enthusiasm with which it is received by honorable members, who have endeavoured in every possible way to break down this provision, is sufficient to convince me that it should be very carefully considered. I think the amendment is one to which the trade unionists and organized workers generally of Australia may take serious exception. We have always asserted our willingness to welcome with open arms any person who will come to this country with a desire to improve the conditions of labour, or, at least, without any desire to drag them down.

Mr Deakin - The remuneration clauses and those' affecting terms and conditions remain.

Mr FRAZER - That is so, but under this amendment, notwithstanding the fact that there may be hundreds, or thousands, of unemployed available for employment in any particular industry, it will be possible for an employer to go outside, and import men under contract to still further swamp the labour market.

Mr Lee - And pay their passages?

Mr FRAZER - There are any number of unscrupulous employers, who would be prepared to take advantage of this amendment, to import contract labour to break down the trade unionism that exists in this country, or to lower the conditions of labour. I am not surprised that the amendment should meet with the approval of honorable members who desire to open wide the door, and to drag down the unionism whose power they fear at election times. But those who are desirous of maintaining a high, standard of living in Australia, and who believe that persons already here should be provided with employment before others are admitted to swamp the labour market, will not be so ready to accept it.

Mr Deakin - Persons cannot be introduced in connexion with, or in contemplation of, an industrial dispute

Mr FRAZER - There might be no contemplation of an industrial dispute. Suppose that in an industry one hundred men were out of employment, and the employer imported fifty men. Could that be interpreted to be in contemplation of an industrial dispute. This amendment is submitted at 3 o'clock in the morning; it ;s practically sprung upon the Committee.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yesterday morning I said that I intended to move the amendment, so that it cannot be said to have been sprung upon the Committee.

Mr FRAZER - I did not hear the honorable member announce his intention. I hope that the amendment will' not be accepted, because it would enable a number of unscrupulous employers, if they were to get into a federation, to break down the conditions with which the workers of the Commonwealth are blest. If we are to extend any preference, .1 am prepared to go so far as to disallow a contract made under any conditions with a foreigner; but I am not' prepared to give an employer the right to import labour when the home market is already supplied.

Mr. WATSON(Bland). - I do not anticipate from this amendment any dangers such as those which are apprehended by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. What, in my view,.. was aimed at in the first place by the prohibition of contract labour was the prevention of the introduction of men to participate in a labour dispute which was either pending or in existence, or to work at a lower rate of remuneration or for longer hours or under worse conditions than those which were current here, and also to insure that men were not deceived into accepting conditions which they would not have accepted if they had been aware of those which existed here. These were the arguments which were advanced in support of the provision when it was submitted in the first session of the Parliament. To my mind, there can be no possible objection to the amendment, because I do not consider that the employers would be likely in any large degree, if at all-, to bring in a number of men at great expense to receive the same rate of wages, to work the same number of hours, and under the same conditions generally as were current, unless it was in a case where a dispute was pending, and where they might be prepared temporarily to observe all the conditions, with a view to breaking the back of a strike. I have known blacklegs to be paid temporarily much more than the standard rate, and much more than the strikers were asking for, in order to break the back of a strike.

Mr Frazer - And this amendment would give encouragement to that.

Mr WATSON - No. Evidently the honorable member has overlooked the fact that paragraph a provides, not only against a strike which is in existence, but also against a strike which is pending, and that covers all the ground.

Mr Carpenter - In actual practice it is not worth much.

Mr WATSON - If paragraph a, which refers to a strike which is pending, or v.i existence, is worth very little, then paragraph b, which does not refer to either of those two cases, which may be determined with comparative ease, cannot be worth anything, so that, on my honorable friend's showing, it is not worth bothering about. In my view, however, paragraph a is worth a very great deal, because it should be easily demonstrable to the Minister that a strike was either in existence or pending. Assuming that men would come out to Australia, and that on their arrival no strike was in existence or pending, the only excuse for a strike afterwards would be that it was proposed to pay them lower remuneration, to work them longer hours,, or to observe other conditions which were unfair or improper.

Mr Tudor - Suppose that they gave the contract men full work, and put the free men off three days a week, as has been done here?

Mr WATSON - If the contract men were unionists, I take it that they would not be prepared to accept an advantage of their fellow-employe's.

Mr Watkins - They might not be able to help themselves.

Mr WATSON - If the men were unionists they would observe the current conditions, and not take an unfair advantage of their fellow-employes. But if they were non-unionists I assume that there would be a strike, whether they were under contract or not. So that practically the position is not altered by the fact that the men may be under contract. So long as they are working under Australian conditions, getting Australian rates of wages and observing Australian hours of labour, it does not seem to me that there is any justification for insisting upon this provision.

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