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Friday, 9 July 1920

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) .- I do not propose to say a great deal on this motion, because the state of the coal industry is a matter of such importance that we could well afford to deal with it in more detail on another occasion.

Mr Fleming - The' matter needs a thorough overhaul.

Mr WATKINS - No doubt. The position of the industry is not fully understood by the people. During the period of the war the whole of the export trade was practically suspended, whilst, in addition, many vessels were taken off the coastal trade. As a result, the mines and . the miners had a very rough time. The. war having terminated, shipping is gradually returning to the coast. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell) complained that coal is not being sent to other ports from Newcastle as quickly as it might be.

Mr Burchell - Colliers are being held up.

Mr WATKINS - The honorable mem-, ber and I are both members of the Sea Carriage Committee, and he knows that . the late Controller of Shipping, although he found fault with other ports, had no fault to find with the handling of ships at Newcastle. If there is any hold-up of shipping at ^Newcastle to-day the fault does not lie with the miners or those whoload the ships. The real cause is, I believe, that certain people are putting their heads together to give preference to foreign orders, because of the fact that, coal brings a much higher price in France and other parts of the world than ire Australia.

Mr Burchell - The honorable member means that oversea ships are being coaled.

Mr WATKINS - Yes. Quite a number of Japanese ships have been loaded at Newcastle, and one can only conclude that the profits to be derived by selling coal on the other side of the world are greater than those to be obtained in the local trade. That is a phase of the question into which the Prime Minister would be well advised to look. Whilst I do not wish to hamper or restrict the export trade in any way, I think that in respect of coal, as with any other commodity, Australian requirements should be met first.

Apart from the dislocation of the industry caused by the war, the coal miners have always been misunderstood and misrepresented. They stand in a different position from any other workers, inasmuch as they are, to a large extent, contractors, and although published statements of the gross receipts of a couple of coal miners would make it appear that those engaged in the industry are receiving a very good wage, yet, after deducting the expenses of upkeep of tools, lighting, explosives, and other charges, the net wage is considerably reduced. The wages of the coal miners are usually referred to by the daily rate instead of by the weekly or fortnightly rate. A man may in some instances be receiving £1 per day for three months while he happens to be working in a good place, but, on the other hand, he may be only working two or three days per week. In analyzing the earnings of men employed in this industry, we should take their weekly or yearly receipts instead of the daily pay.

Mr Hughes - How many days per fortnight do they average?

Mr WATKINS - I have not worked out the average lately, but at no time do they work more than eleven days in the fortnight.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member means that the men will not work on more than eleven days.

Mr WATKINS - No; it is mutually satisfactory to the men and the proprietors not to work on the alternate Saturday.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - When the proprietors wanted to work on the Saturday, the men were not agreeable.

Mr WATKINS - The Minister knows that before he or I was born it was found that the wear and tear in a coal mine was so great that one day a fortnight was required to put the mine in repair.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The real reason is that tbe men will not work for more than eleven days.

Mr WATKINS - If the proprietors in my electorate and the Hunter district were asked to work on every Saturday, they would refuse at once. Of course, the men have never looked for work on every Saturday, because they have always been accustomed to work only eleven days per fortnight.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - If they were asked, they would refuse.

Mr WATKINS - Of course they would, because the eleven-day fortnight suits both parties.

Mr Hughes - Eleven days is all right; but where a mine is held up by the action of a wheeler, the union ought to deal with the wheeler and get the mine going.

Mr Considine - Would the Prime Minister have said that on the wharfs?

Mr Hughes - I have done so.

Mr WATKINS - The Prime Minister's statement only emphasizes the need for appointing a special tribunal to deal with this industry, the conditions of which are continually changing. To-day the miners may be working in hard ground; next month they may be working in soft ground. The machinery of the Arbitration Court is not such as will give a speedy settlement in respect of irritation and disputes that arise from the constantly varying conditions of the industry. Prompt decisions by a competent tribunal would keep the industry going continually. I hope there is truth in the press statement that the Prime Minister proposes to consider a method of dealing with industrial disputes that would be more direct and speedy than the Arbitration Court. The coal-mining industry is second in importance to none, and I hope that Before this year is concluded the Government will have appointed a tribunal to regulate the conditions. The differences which arise out of the varying conditions of employment ought to be adjusted, and the industry placed on a basis which will insure continuous employment, so that the coal miners of Australia may be able to earn wages at least us good as those which obtain in the Old World to-day. No doubt, as the result of experience gained under war conditions, the conditions of the industry in England have been so improved that they are now even better than those in Australia. I ask the Prime Minister to appoint, at the earliest possible moment, a tribunal for the control of the coal-mining industry, and to take steps to insure that due attention is paid to local requirements of coal, without unduly harassing the export trade.

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