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Thursday, 5 August 1920

Mr NICHOLLS (Macquarie) .- There is no immediate hurry for 'this Bill. Had the proper course been pursued the Government would have given the industrialists an opportunity to thoroughly study the Bill and suggest the amendments which they think desirable. As that has nott been done, we must make the best we can of the measure. No Bill can be framed that will assure- industrial peace. Various attempts to do so have failed. The Federal Arbitration Court has given justice in many cases, but it has never created that industrial peace for which the community longs. The State Wages Boards have similarly failed. No legislation that does not assure to the workers the full result of their labour will produce industrial peace. Only when the workers are given that reward shall we have continuity of employment, industrial peace, and, perhaps, a better state of society. One of the first steps to be taken is an investigation of the causes of industrial unrest, in order to discover the defects of the present economic system. Give the worker sufficient food and clothing and good environment and there will be no industrial strife.

Mr Austin Chapman - Is he to have no amusements?

Mr NICHOLLS - Yes; he is entitled to amusement and to a share in the luxuries of life. The worker asks for nothing to which he is not entitled; give him what is his due and there will be no industrial dislocation or cessation of production. If he and his family are denied sufficient food and clothing and necessary comforts industrial unrest will continue." This Bill will in no way assist to remove that trouble.

Mr Austin Chapman - What does the honorable member suggest?

Mr NICHOLLS - That the worker be given the full product of his labour.

Mr Bell - Who is to be the judge of that?

Mr NICHOLLS - The worker himself. The man who produces an article should be entitled to, if not the whole, at least a fair proportion of it. This Bill does not assure the worker a fair proportion of the result of his labour; it assures him nothing. It leaves him in practically the same position as he is in under the Arbitration Act and Wages Board system. The one improvement that this Bill proposes to make is that the cases, may be heard more speedily than at present. That is certainly some advantage. I am not condemning the Bill entirely, but I wish to point out the weaknesses in ,it. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) said that the provisions of this Bill would be no menace to organized labour. The measure does attack organized labour, because it gives the same privileges to the non-unionist as to the unionist. That is clear from the definition clause, which speaks of persons "being or not being members of any organization, association, or body." The Bill gives the same privileges to the man who is commonly known as a "scab" as to the man who is continually contributing to the upkeep of an industrial organization.

Mr Bell - Has the non-unionist no rights?

Mr NICHOLLS - He has no right to the protection of any Government or individual.

Mr Bell - That is very interesting to hear.

Mr.NICHOLLS.-It may be, but it is also very logical. Wo provision : at sail should be made for the "scab." Xf a man is too miserable to contribute to the upkeep of 'an organization, let him go away ito ; a . country where iunionism idoes not -exist. There -are men who have ; a gneat idislike for labour organizations, and who think they can get a better ideal from the employer by 'not joining any union. The Government haiwe no right to 'make any provision for . such a man. Unionism (has 'received legislative recognition. The Prime Minister realizes that it has come to stay, and that it is . a legitimate 'organization that should be fostered. Holding ithose views, he icannot at the same time logically -make provision for the non-unionist and (encourage bogus organizations. 'But '.the Bill . gives the " scab " and the bogus organizations everything they desire. That is one of my objections tto it.

The proposed special tribunals are to Ibe igiwen power to pa?o'be rktto the domestic -conditions of the worker; they are to have 'the Tight to 'inquire as to the weekly amount 'of money that a man requires to keep himself, his wife, and family. But there is no pretence of giving the tribunals power 'to inquire into the profits made 'by she 'employers.

Mr Fleming -The -employers' profits can be arrived 'at . through the income-tax returns.

Mr NICHOLLS - Even r£he employer does not attempt -to dispute that his profits ure high ; but, if the Bill permits inquiry into the workers' conditions of living, the same inquiry should extend to the men who 'are making the profits. The Tate -of pay that a man receives Should in 'very many cases be 'based on -the 'amount of profit made out. of the particular industry in which he is employed. Besides the coal industry, there 'are thousands of others in 'this country from which enormous profits are 'derived, -and 'the conductors of which at the same time are "trying to -obtain employees for the lowest possible wages, on the [ground that they are receiving . sufficient to supply them with the necessary comforts . of life. . The clause referring to 'the special . tribunal is as follows.: -

A special tribunal shall have power to hear and . determine any industrial dispute of which it has cognizance; and for that purpose shall have (in addition to any other powers con ferred , on it under 4his Act) 'all powers -which by . the Commonwealth . Conciliation . and . Arbitration Act 1904-1918 are expressed to 'be given -to tine Court or the President as regards -a-n industrial tdispute of . which ithe Court )has cognizance ; . and -any . act %or . omission on ithe . part of any , person which would, if the hearing or inquiry were the 'hearing of -an industrial dispute before the iCourt, . be an loffence : against !tbe Commonwealth Conciliation and . Arbitration Act 1904-1918, shall be an offence against this Ajt.

This means 'that the special tribunal may deal severely with 'an employee, while inflicting no penalty whatever on the 'employer, irrespective of 'whether '-the 'latter may have . committed the gravest possible offence.

Mr Fleming - Have you read . clause 7?

Mr NICHOLLS - There . is -nothing in that . clause to suggest that ithe fullest investigation would be made in connexion with the workdng of . any industry. . If we are to . have . industrial peace,

We should remember that 'before any of the proposed tribunals can deal with a dispute it must 'be an Inter-State dispute, and there, are scores: of industries in New South Wales, for instance, which will escape- the* operation of the> Bill.

Mr Austin Chapman - Does it occur to you that, amendments may be made in Committee ?

Mr NICHOLLS - Yes; but while, it has been stated that this is not a party measure,, I. venture to say we shall find honorable members opposite voting against any amendment proposed by the Opposition. I am particularly pleased that it is sought to make this a non-party question, because if ever there was a time in history when useful industrial legislation was necessary it is to-day, and the only effective way to afford some relief is to keep the whole matter free from party influence. Otherwise, it will simply mean that whatever the Government desire to provide in t the Bill will be inserted, whereas if we are- free to vote according to our conscience, there is a possibility of doing some good. At the same time, no matter- what legislation we introduce, there can be no guarantee of industrial peace in the present state- of society. If we could limit profits we would have a better chance of improving- matters, bus if we allow the employer to exploit his employees as in the past, there is no hope of improvement.

Mr Austin Chapman - The employee of to-day is the employer of to-morrow.

Mr NICHOLLS - There' are very few employees of to-day who- can become the employers of to-morrow, owing to present conditions and the lack of opportunity.

Mr Bell - Are there any employers to-d'ay who were not employees a little while ago? .

Mr NICHOLLS - There are employers to-day who have been employees in the past, but the conditions have now totally changed. In -the past a man could live comfortably on £2 5s. a week, whereas he cannot do so now on £5 5s. or £6.

Mir. Bell. - He must have- very extravagant tastes!

Mr NICHOLLS - There is nothing extravagant about the figures, and if ever the honorable member himself has to face the ordeal of keeping a wife and three children on £4 a week under present conditions I sympathize with him.

As to the appointment of the chairmen of the proposed bodies, while I have no desire to- cast any reflection on the Go vernor-General, we cannot fail to see that those appointed will- be men whose ideas are identical with those of the Government of the: day. If a chairman should be appointed whose sympathies' were with the worker,, and who gave him a. better deal than the Government approved, his tenure of office,. I predict, would not be a long one; These appointments ought not to be. made by the- Governor-General, and in any case they should be filled by men with a thorough knowledge of the working conditions,, and otherwise practically acquainted with, the industry. I have a strong objection to any man being appointed to adjudicate unless he possesses those very necessary qualifications. Judges have, been appointed to Arbitration Courts who were ignorant of the actual conditions of the workers, with the result in many cases that they have, confined themselves to an investigation, as to the least amount the worker could possibly live; on,, and have decided accordingly. I sincerely hope that if amend- ments are moved from this side of the House in the direction of assisting, the workers, they will receive the wholehearted support of the Government and their supporters.

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