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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

In December last, the writer, by direction of the executive, laid before you in Melbourne particulars of a proposal for amendment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act to enable graziers to make binding shearing engagements prior to the arrival of the men on the stations. The necessity for the amendment of the Act is brought about by the action of the Australian Workers Union in adopting a rule imposing a penalty of £2 upon each member who enters into a signed agreement prior to roll-call. It has already been pointed out that it has been customary in the industry for very many years to sign agreements some considerable time before commencement of work, as it is only by such means that binding contracts can be made, and the employer on the one hand be enabled to definitely arrange his shearing operations, and the employee on the other hand to be definitely assured of engagement prior to travelling long distances for the purpose of securing employment. As an award of the Commonwealth Court is in operation providing more favorable terms for employees than have previously prevailed, it is inequitable that the union and employees should, by the use of the rule in question, be placed in the position of being able, while taking full advantage of the award, by force of the employer's necessity, to also demand additional concessions on arrival at the station. The rule can only exist for this purpose, and has already had the effect in this State of enabling members to demand in some cases increased rates of payment, in others adult wages for boys; and in other cases various concessions. The fact that general trouble has not yet arisen is no argument for the maintenance of such an unjust rule, which is disadvantageous alike to employer and employee, and which is also diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Arbitration Act. All means other than an alteration of the Act have been exhausted endeavouring to secure the withdrawal of this rule. A conference with the Australian Workers Union has proved unavailing, the Arbitration Court has held that the rule is not at present contrary to law, and although many employees have ignored the rule they have been penalized by the union and pre- vented from entering into signed agreements prior to roll-call.

In December last, when I placed the position before you and before many members of Parliament, each member agreed that the union should be prevented from maintaining the objectionable rule in question. You, however, stated that your Government could not so late in the session introduce a debatable clause in the amending Act, and in addition raised doubt as to whether the proposal could constitutionally be enacted. The question was submitted to eminent counsel, and the attached opinion by Mr. Adrian Knox, K.C. (copy of which has been previously sent you), indicates that there are apparently constitutional difficulties in the way of adopting this Association's proposal.

In view of the above, I have, by direction of my executive, again to , ask that the proposal should be incorporated as an amendment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act at the earliest possible date, in order to avoid industrial difficulty in the pastoral industry.

The suggested amendment is as follows: - " The rules of an organization registered under this Act and the officials of such an organization shall not during the currency of an award in the industry concerned prevent or impede any members of such organization from entering into written agreements in accordance with such award at any time prior to the commencement of service."

The opinion referred to is as follows: -


In my opinion, it is within the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament under the Constitution to prescribe the conditions under which associations or bodies of persons may become and remain organizations for the purposes indicated in that Act are themselves within the powers of the Parliament. On this ground I am of opinion that section 55 (2) of the Act prescribing the conditions to be complied with by associations applying for registration as organizations is within the powers of the Parliament, and it appears to me that the High Court so decided in the Jumbunna case -6 C.S.R. at pp. 340 and 347 perC.J. and Barton, J. If this be so, I see no reason why Parliament should not have power to prescribe that no organization shall be registered or continue to be registered, the rules of which contain any provision hindering its members from entering into agreements in accordance with the terms of an existing award. Moreover, it seems to me to be involved in the decision above referred to, even if not expressly decided in that case, that section 9 of the Act is within the powers of the Parliament. If this be so, I can see no substantial reason why it should not be equally within the power of Parliament to prescribe that no member of an organization should be subjected to any penalty of any kind by reason of his having entered into an agreement with an employer before commencing work provided such agree ment conformed to the terms of any existing award.

I think that Parliament might also prescribe that the rules of the organization should contain provision forbidding any official of the organization from hindering or preventing a member from entering into any agreement in conformity with any existing award. 2 and 3. The proposed amendment could not be effectively introduced by statutory rule, because as the Act stands at present the power to prescribe conditions by rules only extends to associations applying to be registered as organizations - section 55 (2).

Mr Gregory - That is over twelve months old.

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