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Thursday, 1 July 1920

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) .- I have listened with interest to the advocate of the companies at Broken Hill, and it seems to me that if the statement he has read is correct it is a wonder that the strike continues.

Mr Richard Foster - Yes, that is what the country is wondering.

Mr WATKINS - One wonders why companies who have made millions of pounds in this country would stand out against giving an extra 3d. per day to the men, according to their own figures.

Mr Richard Foster - Is the honorable member taking into consideration the increases offered ? What is the use of endeavouring to bamboozle honorable member's by referring to 3d. ?

Mr WATKINS - I am taking the honorable member's own figures.

Mr Richard Foster - What has 3d. to do with the question ?

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member pointed out that the companies had offered 19s. 9d., and that the men were demanding £1.

Mr Richard Foster - Give whatever is demanded I suppose?

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) brought it up to a difference of 3d., and it would have been better if he had dealt with this question quite apart from the general industrial situation throughout Australia.

Mr Richard Foster - It would not.

Mr WATKINS - This question should be considered apart from all other industrial undertakings in this country, because those engaged in lead mines in all countries of the world have to experience disabilities that are unknown to those working in other mines.

Mr Richard Foster - That is admitted.

Mr WATKINS - The companies are late in admitting it.

Mr Richard Foster - They are not.

Mr WATKINS - Let me inform the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) that I have seen in my own electorate strong and healthy men who were handling lead go to their graves within a period of three years. That has been the experience in New South Wales, quite apart from what has happened in the Broken Hill mines. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) should know something of mining and the conditions under which the men are employed. I visited the Broken Hill mines, where I saw the men at work, and after my return I described the mines as the " leaden hells " of this country.

Mr Richard Foster - When was that?

Mr WATKINS - A few years ago.

Mr Richard Foster - And they have been improving ever since.

Mr WATKINS - The companies were quite satisfied to allow the men to work under those conditions at that time. I am informed by the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) that the wages - apart from the contract rates - of the day men working underground at Broken Hill were 13s. per day. Let honorable members compare that rate with the wages paid in other classes of employment throughout the country.

Mr Richard Foster - Be fair, and deal with the present position.

Mr WATKINS - I am giving the position when the trouble began.

Mr Richard Foster - It originated in a quarrel between two unions.

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member is merely endeavouring to side-track the question. Whatever was the cause of the dispute, the fact remains that 13s. per day was being paid to day men working underground, and honorable members know very well that that rate does not compare at all favorably with the rate paid for more attractive work elsewhere more particularly in connexion with other classes of mining in Australia. When we consider the difference in the rate, and the risks incurred - I am not suggesting that the company have not endeavoured to improve the conditions - it must be admitted that it is unreasonable, as there is always a risk incurred by those working in a lead mine.

Mr Richard Foster - That is admitted.

Mr WATKINS - If that is admitted, why has there been so much opposition to a fair wage and reasonable working hours? The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) pointed out that the wages in future, must be based upon the profits derived from now on, as profits derived in the past have been already disbursed.

Mr Richard Foster - They have all been paid in dividends.

Mr WATKINS - The Broken Hill companies have made millions of money.

Mr Richard Foster - Absolutely.

Mr WATKINS - The admission, then, is that nothing has been put aside to guard against the time when profits are reduced owing to the increased depth at which operations are being conducted, and that, in order that the mines shall pay, whether the yield is satisfactory or not, the men who work by the sweat of their brow must bear the burden.

Mr Richard Foster - Why does not the honorable member adhere to the wages question ?

Mr WATKINS - I am dealing with the statement of the honorable member.

Mr Richard Foster - It is not my statement, but one supplied by the companies.

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member evidently supports its contents.

Mr Richard Foster - I submitted it to the House for the information of honorable members.

Mr WATKINS - Then the honorable member for Wakefield must not object if I reply to certain statements which he read from the document. I do not think any honorable member considers that such industrial troubles as this are of any benefit to the community, particularly to those engaged in the industry. Does the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) expect to convince the House that men are likely to deliberately refuse to go to work for fifteen months, particularly when their refusal is causing hardship to women and children, if they had not a grievance?

Mr Richard Foster - I have told the honorable member that they are not allowed to return to work.

Mr WATKINS - Does the honorable member think that it is possible for any men, whatever their opinions may be, to keep men from their employment for fifteen months if they believe that they are being justly treated? I do not think it would be possible for any organization, however powerful, to take such a stand under the circumstances I have indicated. Accordingto the speech of the honorable member for Wakefield, it would appear that there area number of philanthropists ready and willing to come forward, not only to improve the conditions of their working people, but to pay them the handsome wages that he has quoted from the report. If that is the position, why should there be any objection to a Commission ?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why is it necessary to' appoint a Royal Commission to ascertain facts which are admitted ? The Commission, if appointed, would be similar to a number of other Commissions.

Mr Burchell - What about a Commission in New South Wales, which made certain recommendations fifteen months ago, and nothing has been done?

Mr WATKINS - Whose fault is that?

Mr Burchell - I .am merely drawing attention to the fact, and am not suggesting it is the honorable member's fault.

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) states that the men who are involved in this dispute will abide by decisions of the Commission.

Mr Considine - I did not say that. I am not going to speak for 3,000 or 4,000 men, as they will have to decide that matter themselves.

Mr WATKINS - It will be admitted, I think, that if a Royal Commission were appointed to investigate the whole question its decisions would go a long way to solve the difficulty that at present exists between the two parties.

Mr Richard Foster - I do not admit that, as the future depends largely on the report of the scientific authorities.

Mr Considine - The scientific report has nothing to do with the question.

Mr WATKINS - I have no doubt that the scientists will be able to submit some valuable facts regarding the conditions under which the men have to work. The work of raising lead and silver ore is not in any way comparable to that of obtaining stone from a quarry or minerals from other mines. "Under the conditions that exist at Broken Hill it is unreasonable to ask men to work for more than five days a week.

Mr Richard Foster - And' the underground men have that.

Mr WATKINS - I was not under the impression that they were working only five days a week at present.

Mr Considine - Five days of eight hours and four hours on Saturday.

Mr WATKINS - That makes five and a-half days per week.

Mr Fenton - The short day on Saturday is recognised everywhere.

Mr WATKINS - When men working underground in a lead' or in any other mine commence to perspire it matters very little if they work four or six hours per day; it means another shift. The four hours on Saturday is generally recognised, and is referred to as a shift of work. An effort hae been made in New South Wales to solve this problem, and after some days of deliberation it appears that the companies refuse to act on their own recommendation.

Mr Considine - After agreeing to accept.

Mr WATKINS - Yes; and it is useless for the honorable member for Wakefield' (Mr. Richard Foster) to endeavour to place the responsibility upon the State Government in connexion with a dispute of this magnitude, because, if ever there was an industrial disturbance that concerned more than one State, this is one. Tha*; has been proved by the remark of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), who has already pointed out that it concerns South Australia to a considerable extent

Mr Richard Foster - And they have the Arbitration Court to settle it.

Mr Considine - A State Arbitration Court cannot deal with the questions that would be considered by a Royal Commission.

Mr WATKINS - Certainly not. The question, therefore, comes under the purview of this Parliament. I can see no reason for the Government, or this Parliament, where a trouble such as this has continued for fifteen months, has thrown men out of employment, and has dislocated a great industry-

Mr Richard Foster - Newcastle has had as much to do with that as the Broken Hill men.

Mr WATKINS - How does the honorable member assert that?

Mr Richard Foster - By providing the sinews of war.

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member has raised a point which shows me exactly where he stands.

Mr Richard Foster - I stand for putting an end to this kind of thing.

Mr WATKINS - That is to say, that should any body of men become involved in a dispute, they should not be helped by their fellow workmen elsewhere.

Mr Richard Foster - I did not say that.

Mr WATKINS - But that should a body of employers become involved it is quite light for their fellow employers in other parts to come to their aid to the fullest extent possible. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) has referred to the help which Broken Hill men have been getting from the coal miners of New South Wales. The Coal Miners' Federation officials set out to try to settle this trouble.

Mr Richard Foster - And well they might, in the interests of their own monetary affairs.

Mr WATKINS - They were the same officials who, in effect, brought about the conference, which proved abortive. Their efforts in that direction having failed, they and the coal miners behind them are at present helping to the very best of their abilities the women and children of Broken Hill ; and they will continue to do so.

I do not want to depart from the terms of the motion except to deal with one remark uttered by the honorable member for Wakefield in regard to the efforts of Great Britain to become self-contained respecting metal output. Such an assertion makes one think. Prior to the recent war--

Mr Richard Foster - I was not speaking of the period prior to the war. My statement referred to the present moment.

Mr WATKINS - The people concerned only woke up when it was found that Broken Hill lead was being fired by the Germans at our own soldiers.

Mr Richard Foster - That is no news to anybody.

Mr WATKINS - There were some members of this Legislature who, years before the war, tried to secure an export duty upon metals, particularly on Broken Hill lead.

Mr Richard Foster - Hear, hear!

Mr WATKINS - But who was it that fought such a proposition?

Mr Laird Smith - Who prevented Broken Hill lead from getting into the hands of the Germans?

Mr WATKINS - I am referring to a period long before the war. It was the influence of the mine-owners which got the New South Wales Parliament to quashour efforts in the direction of placing an export duty upon Australian metals. However, it is good to know, even at this late hour, that British people are beginning to wake up and realize that the British Empire should be self- contained in the matter of vital war necessities and similar products.

Anything in the direction of an inquiry, or indeed, any action inaugurated by this Parliament, would be justifiable if it tended to bring about a termination of the unhappy dispute at Broken Hill. A Commission could do no harm to any one, so long as there was nothing to hide, and I strongly press for its appointment.

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