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Thursday, 1 July 1920

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Exactly, but I wish to deal with both sides. It is and has been for the last thirty years a common occurrence that when strikes occur in Broken Hill the best men leave the town on the following day, and seek employment in South Australia. Being good men, they easily obtain work and they remain in South Australia until the strike i3 settled. Why do they leave Broken Hill so hurriedly? Simply because their only alternative is to remain there idle and speechless; they would not be allowed to tell the truth. Nobody knows that better than does the honorable member for the Barrier (Mr. Considine). ' I know those men, and I have seen scores of them at work in South Australia during the currency of this strike. They get employment there, and are appreciated as good workmen. This strike is not the fault of the rank and file miners; it was caused by the officials and a relatively -small section of the miners.

The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) referred to the sufferings incidental to mining operations, and to the health of the children at Broken Hill. In that regard most unjustifiable and exaggerated statements have been made, as has been proved by the severe resentment expressed by the Broken Hill Municipal Council. 'That council is a body which would not be likely to be prejudiced against the miners, or to do anything detrimental to the health of citizens and their children. But the council unanimously stated that the statements that had been made were a slander, and that, in respect of health, the children of Broken Bill were a fair sample of the children in any, big Australian town. That is the opinion of a Labour council at Broken Hill.

Mr Considine - There is no Labour council there.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Not according to the honorable member's view of Labour; but the ordinary working men in Broken Hill do not indorse the honorable member's views by a long way. I know that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) is as fair a man as there is in this House, and that he would not wilfully make misrepresentations. But the inference to be drawn from the honorable member's statement is that nothing effective has been done by the State authorities in the interests pf the health of the people and in order to cope with the sickness that is caused by" underground work. The honorable member knows that there is sitting at the present time an ex-pert Committee, ' which is conducting one of the most effective investigations that has ever been attempted by any people in regard to industrial matters in relation to health.

Mr Charlton - Would not the findings of the Committee be good evidence to place before a Royal Commission?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - This talk about a Royal Commission is all humbug. If a Royal Commission is. required to investigate the conditions of a town in New South Wales, why not apply to the New South Wales Government? In that State a Labour Government is in power, and surely honorable members opposite, can trust their own people. The Federal authorities have no right to interfere in a matter that is purely within the province of the Government of New South Wales. The expert Committee, which has been at work for many months, is now bringing its investigation to a close. This motion was very effectively dealt with by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell).

Mr Considine - He .was at Broken Hill for twenty-four hours.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - He was there long enough to get a lot of truth that the honorable member did not want him to get, and which enabled him to riddle the honorable member's arguments through and through. I remember that when the honorable member for Barrier was moving this motion the honorable member for Fawkner was becoming distressed; and I urged him to visit Broken Hill and get the facts for himself, and not be misled by the unfair and biased statements which were being made. The honorable member for Fawkner did go to Broken Hill for the week-end, and he obtained a lot of valuable information. He came back and gave the House his impressions. I have known the conditions on the Barrier for the last thirty years.

Mr Considine - On the Stock Exel lange.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I have never been inside a stock exchange. Today, South Australia is losing a revenue of £500,000 per annum through this iniquitous strike.

Mr Considine - I thought the honorable member said that this was a matter for the New South Wales Government.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - So it is, because Broken Hill is situated within the State of New South Wales. The revenue of the South Australian Railways from the Broken Hill traffic is a mighty big item in the finance of that State. South Australia has been losing for some time railway revenue to the amount of £10.000 per week; surely that is not in the interests of the people of Australia. Through the cessation of mining operations at Broken Hill for fourteen months, the smelting works at Port Pirie have been idle, and South Australia's revenue from that source, too, has been stopped . It is my intention to place before the House an authoritative statement concerning this disastrous strike at the Barrier, and I warn the people that such conflicts will have to cease. The working men of this country are beginning to realize 'that the leaders of their unions are the real menace to the progress of this country.

Mr Makin - We want a better form of arbitration.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - The present arbitration system was placed upon the statute-book by a Government supported by the honorable member's party.

Mr Riley - But it has been riddled by the lawyers.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I agree it is about time we had a more effective form of arbitration.

Mr Makin - Absolutely.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - And I am very glad to know that the honorable member is with me. No question is of greater magnitude than this need for an amendment of our arbitration system.

Mr Considine - How can you oppose direct action on the part of the men, seeing that you raised your own salary by direct action ?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I did nothing of the kind. I repeat that it ought to be dinned into the ears of the workers that their so-called leaders are leading them to ruin, and this country into grave difficulties. There will have to be a weeding-out of these leaders. If the workers at the Barrier weeded out about 100 of these men, Broken Hill would be a workers' paradise.

Mr Considine - We would not have anybody to manage the mines then.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - We could manage the mines quite well enough without the assistance of the honorable member. If I had my way, he would be one of the first to be weeded out. If these so-called leaders were removed from Broken Hill, the Barrier, "industrially, would be one of the most attractive places in the Commonwealth. No one knows that better than the honorable member for the Barrier; but he is having a very good time himself.

Mr Considine - Of course I am, and I want others to have a good time also.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Concerned as I have been for the general interests of my own State, and for those of the men who have made Broken Hill, so many of whom have come into South Australia for work until the mines resume, I urge the House to resist this sham concerning the appointment of a Royal Commission. I think the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has overlooked the fact that an inquiry was made by a costly and effective Commission of skilled specialists; and I may interpolate here that one-half of the cost of that Commission was borne, voluntarily, by these " wicked " owners of the Broken Hill mines. In order that the people of Australia may have the truth, I asked the company's representatives to prepare for me a statement of the real position concerning this record strike.

Mr Considine - A " cooked " statement.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I am satisfied that the verdict may safely be left to the people of this country. The company, in their statement, say -

The stoppage of work at Broken Hill was brought about originally by an inter-union dispute, for which the companies were in no way responsible, and it was only after the mines had been idle for several weeks that the A.M. A. decided to make a strike of it. As a matter of fact, the Federal arbitration award, under which work had been satisfactorily carried on for three years, had still a month to run when the A.M.A. issued a manifesto announcing that it was out on strike for the full demands in a new log it had framed. This log claimed -

(a)   £1 per shift for all men and boys alike, whether working underground or on the surface; (b)six-hour shifts on surface and underground worked only on 5 days per week;

The honorable member for Hunter was corrected on that point. I know he would not have wittingly made an incorrect statement on this matter.

(c)   abolition of night shift on surface and underground ;

(d)   abolition of contract system on sur face and underground;

(e)   compensation for occupational diseases in addition to the provisions of the existing New South Wales Workers' Compensation Act.

The companies' reply was that the industry could not carry on under these terms, as they involved a reduction of actual working time for miners underground to under 21 hours per week, and the output would be reduced by 60 per cent., viz., 1,180,000 to 472,000 tons per year. The companies, however, offered to give every facility to enable the A.M.A. to submit its case to the Federal or State Arbitration Court, and to make any increases awarded retrospective to 16th June, 1919, the date the old award expired.

The member for the Barrier did not explain that all the suffering by men, women, and children in Broken Hill during the last twelve months has been caused by the A.M.A. refusing to submit these claims to any form of arbitration. Several conferences were held with the leaders of the A.M.A., and the companies made substantial concessions. From first to last the A.M.A. gave no indication of receding from any of its demands, some of which the men themselves admit were utterly impracticable.

In his desire to create an impression, Mr. Considine quoted the total amount of dividends paid by the mining companies in the past. This money, however, has not been banked as a fund out of which future wages might be paid. It has been distributed among the thousands of shareholders in the mines, many of whom are women and wage-earners who have been thrifty enough to save a little money for investment. Future wages must come out of future production. References to the dividends paid in the past are utterly futile. While the companies have never contended that they were unable to pay increased wages, they know that if the A.M.A. demands were granted, involving only 21 hours' work underground for miners, none of the mines could any longer be worked as ordinary business undertakings.

Reference was made by Mr. Considine to the Broken Hill companies' investments in other companies. The whole of the mines are owned by public companies, which, under the Companies Act, publish half-yearly or yearly complete statements of their profits and their assets and liabilities. These balance-sheets, of course, carry the certificate of public auditors, whose professional position is accepted by shareholders, 'business people, and the Taxation Department, as a guarantee of correctness of the information given. In this respect the Broken Hill companies are in the same position as all other public companies, or the Commonwealth Bank; but to a suspicious mind like Mr. Considine's any business practice established on the world's accumulated experience is all wrong. It is true that the Broken Hill companies have invested large sums of money in other companies, viz., Broken Hill Associated Smelters, at Port Pirie, and Electrolytic Zinc Company, at Risdon, Tasmania, both of which are essential to protect the silver-lead-zinc mines of Broken Hill.

Without the smelters at Port Pirie to convert the concentrates produced at the mines into market metal, there would have been no work at Broken Hill during the war. Concentrates were unsaleable. In accordance with the policy of making the British Empire selfcontained

Mr Considine - Hear, hear !

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - The honorable member does not want it to be self-contained.

Mr Watkins - The Germans got most of it. The honorable member knows that, surely.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - The honorable member is talking nonsense.

Mr Watkins - No, I am not.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Let me repeat -

In accordance with the policy of making the British Empire self-contained in regard to metal supplies, the Electrolytic Company has been established, and the smelters extended, with the result that the prospects of being able to give continuous work to 10,000 men at Broken Hill and Port Pirie are greatly improved, and employment provided for up to 1,500 at Risdon. The companies' investments in these allied companies require no other justification.

With reference to the health question, Mr. Considine was not fair or candid. He did not appear to think it worth while to explain to the House that the companies are just as anxious as the men to learn the facts of the position. He might have explained that the companies joined with the A.M.A. in making representations to the New .South Wales Government to appoint a Commission of experts to inquire into the whole subject. The New South Wales Government delayed its decision, and the companies then offered to the A.M.A. and other employees to find all the money necessary to enable a joint medical committee, half of its members to be appointed by the employees and half by the companies, to investigate fully the effect of working conditions on the health of the employees. Arrangements for this committee were under con sideration when the New South Wales Board of Trade inquiry again became a possibility. This purely official inquiry was preferred to the private committee previously arranged for. The Board of Trade estimated that its inquiry would run into at least £15,500, and the late New South Wales Government demurred at the expense. At the suggestion, however, of Mr. A. C. Willis, secretary of the Coal and Shale Employees' Federation, with which the A.M.A. is affiliated, the companies agreed to bear half the cost, despite the fact that the proposed inquiry is -to cover Cobar, Ardlethan, and other fields besides Broken Hill.

That Commission commenced its investigations at Broken Hill in January last, and during it3 three and a half months' work has dealt with about 1.700 men, involving 5,000 examinations, made up of X-ray, 1,300; medical, 950; industrial histories, .1,150; and hookworm, 1,600. The Commission is comprised of Dr. H. G. Chapman, Professor of Pharmacology in the Sydney University; Dr. W. A. Edwards, of Macquarie-street, Sydney, roentgenologist; Dr. W. Sawyer, senior State Director of the International Health Board of the United, States of America (Rockfeller Foundation) ; Dr. S. A. Smith, of Macquariestreet, clinician and consultant; and Dr. Halcro Wardlaw, bio-chemist. On the staff of the Commission are Dr. John McKee, Dr. Rosenthal, Dr. Rushton-Smith, Dr. W. T. Nelson, Dr. Packham, Dr. Pfeiffer, and Dr. Waddell, as well as microscopists, laboratory attendants, X-ray photographers, registrar, clerks, &c. The Commission has the most uptodate X-ray outfit in Australia, and there is every reason to believe that its investigation will be more searching and complete than any similar inquiry previously carried out in any part of the world. The intention is to examine all the employees, and the companies will review conditions at Broken Hill in the light of the Commission's report. Unfortunately the Commission cannot complete its task until the mines resume operations, as the companies and the men desire the Commission to examine the actual working conditions. Thus we have the curious position of the A.M.A. leaders complaining of the health conditions, and yet making it impossible for the Commission to finish its work.

Many improvements have been made in recent years in the methods of working the mines, which are equipped with the most modern appliances for protecting their employees' health. The companies will gladly take any further steps towards this end that the Commission's report may indicate. Meantime, the companies have offered to co-operate with their employees in establishing a sickness fund, and are prepared to formulate a scheme on the lines contemplated \ by the New South Wales Act, under which contributions by the employers and employees may be subsidized by the State. This would, of course, be in addition to the statutory obligations of the Workers' Compensation Act. Recently the companies, in view of the increasing cost of living and the postponement of judgment by the Federal Arbitration Court in four cases brought by the companies' employees, decided to review wages and conditions generally. An offer of increased wages and reduced hours was made to all.

A comparison between the rates earned by members of the A.M.A. before this strike, and what tho companies have now offered, should show whether the A.M.A. has taken up a reasonable attitude. The claim of the A.M.A. in respect to wages was £1 a shift for man or boy above or below ground (based on 44 hours). Before the dispute the minimum rate for a miner on wages was 14s. Od. This has now been increased to 18s. for those on day shift, and to 19s. !Jd. for those on afternoon or night shift. The minimum wage for contractors underground was 13s. Id. This has been raised to lGs. 4d. for the day shift, and 18s. for the afternoon shift. Miners on contract previously earned an average of 21s. 5d. a shift, and, in view of the above increases, there will now bc a proportionate advance in the earnings of contractors.

The claim for the abolition of tho night shift was met by the companies agreeing to abolish it so far as the stop in: and breaking of ore was concerned, but continuing it for necessary work. Tho offer of the companies in this regard must be viewed as a substantial compliance with the request of the men.

I ask honorable members to use their own judgment in the light of these figures, and say whether this is not about as handsome an offer as has ever been made in connexion with any industrial dispute. The statement proceeds -

The demand for a six-hours day, bank to bank, five days a week, could not be granted. Previously the hours were 44 underground and 48 on the surface. The companies offered to underground workers a 44-hours week on day shift, and 40 hours on afternoon and night shift. At tho same time it was pointed out to the men that tho Arbitration Court was making an exhaustive inquiry into the question of hours, and the promise was made that, should a further reduction be granted to other unions, the concession would be extended as far as possible to the whole of the employees of the companies at Broken Hill.

In regard to abolition of contract for the production of ore the companies could not see their way to make any compromise on this system which is fair to both sides, and meets with the approval of many of the men. The companies, however, agreed that a joint committee, comprising managers and union representatives, should be appointed to see what improvements could be devised in the existing system.

In addition to the above concessions, the companies agreed to periodically adjust rates of pay in accordance with official cost of living figures, and to finance a co-operative store, to reduce the ruling high prices. They also offered a scheme whereby every employee whose attendance reached a prescribed standard would be granted a fortnight's holiday on full pay each year.

All the other unions at Broken Hill have gone to arbitration, and their members, mim boring a majority of the companies' employees, are not participating in the strike.

Mr Considine - The statement needs revision, because the engineers have joined the miners since it was written, a couple of months ago.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - It was not written a couple of mon'ths ago. The statement proceeds -

Amicable conferences have been held with them, and no difficulty is anticipated in mutually satisfactory agreements being arranged, outstanding points being left to the Arbitration Court. The companies' offer to these' unions was to reduce hours for surface workers from 48 to 46, and in continuous processes to 44 per week. Compared with pre-strike rates, the basic wage will be increased from 12s. to 15s. per day, and employees will receive 48 hours' pay for 46 hours or 44 hours' work respectively. Carpenters, fitters, turners boilermakers, &c, will receive 18s. 6d. per day, as against 13s. per day prior to the strike, and main shaft engine-drivers go up from 16s. 6d. to 22s. On day shift, and 24s. on night and afternoon shifts.

The companies recognise that, in the past, rising cost of living has been imposed on employees for some time before the statistician's index figures were available, on which to base an increase of wages. To meet this position the companies have taken the latest available figures, and made a generous addition to them to justify the new basic wage of 15s. per day. The companies have endeavoured to grant a wage ahead of rising cost of living instead of having the wage rate dragging behind cost of living. These now rates will be retrospective to 1st January last, and will be reviewed at the end of the year.

In the view of Mr. Considine and the A.M.A. strike leaders, however, the concessions offered amount to nothing, although they will probably involve the companies in increased wages of over £500,000 per year. In addition, all mining stores and machinery have greatly increased in price, but as the reduction of hours offered will, according to past experience, inevitably reduce the production of the mines, it is impossible to estimate the full effect of the new conditions.

Mr. Considinecould find only abuse for the companies which have done these things to bring about a resumption of work, and only admiration for the union which has done absolutely nothing in that direction.

Ho applauds the actions of a small body of men who have scorned the principle of arbitration that their own party was instrumental in having embodied in the law of the land, and who have, instead, preferred to take the course of direct action, thereby bringing privation and misery to a thriving city of 30,000 inhabitants solely dependent on' the mining industry of Broken Hill, as well as inflicting hardship upon a further 70,000 people directly and indirectly dependent on the industry.

I commend this statement to the consideration of honorable members - I know what the verdict of the people of the country will be upon it, and I ask honorable members opposite, who represent the unions, to say whether the concessions made by the companies, are not very handsome indeed. It is about time the people of the country knew where members of the National Parliament who represent :the unions stand, because we are drifting to ruin if we do not pull up. We all know the stringency of the financial position, the burden the country has to bear, and the debts it has to liquidate, but there is no need for pessimism if every man and woman will do his or her duty. If, however, ;the industrial conditions which have prevailed during the last six or twelve months are to continue there is trouble ahead of us, and no one will feel it more than will the worker. It is not to be wondered at that, to-day, the great majority of the industrial workers of Australia are sorting out their men and balancing up accounts after every strike. They are beginning to realize who are their friends and who are their enemies.

Mr Makin - The honorable member was never regarded politically as a great friend of the worker.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I was never regarded as an enemy of the worker.

Mr Makin - We shall ask some of the South Australian railway men.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I am prepared to accept their verdict ; not the verdict of the loafers, but the verdict of the workers; and I know what it will be. I have a record, as Minister of State handling the South Australian railways for six years, and I challenge my budding young friend opposite to point to one single instance in which I have done anything against the interests of the railway workers in South Australia. I know them, and they know me. I am proud of the great bulk of them. It is useless for the honorable member to indulge in such talk. If it is a sample of what we are to expect from him, I am afraid his work in this House will not be in the interests of the same railway men, or of any other workers in this country.

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