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Thursday, 5 August 1920

Mr RILEY (South Sydney) .- I am in favour of taking every opportunity for improving- the machinery for the settlement of industrial disputes, but in the past the Government have not shown any special, desire to amend the Arbitration Act in order- to give facilities to the unions to approach the Arbitration Court. If Ministers were really sincere in their endeavour to break down the existing prejudice against that tribunal, they had ample opportunity of displaying their- sincerity by amending the Act. Almost all the provisions of the Bill before us to-day are to be found in the existing Conciliation and Arbitra. tion Act. The- measure certainly provides a few moire tribunals for the settle^ ment of disputes which should relieve the congestion at the Arbitration Court, but their powers are so limited that it is questionable whether they will succeed in giving us industrial peace. To, secure industrial peace we must have tribunals in which the whole of the workers- will have confidence. I believe that a. great reform would be effected by amending the Conciliation and Arbitration Act in order that two laymen might be appointed to assist the President of the Court, one representing the employers and the other the employees. Furthermore, the elimination of lawyers from the Court would effect a great improvement. The appointment of practical men to assist the President would shorten the time occupied in hearing disputes very considerably, because technical matters would not require to be fully explained.

Mr Maxwell - The Judge would still require to hear all the evidence, although there were two assessors sitting with him with a practical knowledge of the points at issue.

Mr RILEY - Yes, but apart from the hearing of evidence the assessors could give great assistance to the President in matters of detail. If all the parties to industrial disputes leave the Arbitration Court, and take their cases to the proposed Commonwealth Council, it will lead to just as much congestion as ever. In my opinion the .best course to adopt is to amend the Arbitration Act, and appoint two laymen to assist the Judge in the way I have suggested. In the early days of arbitration in New South Wales laymen assisted the President of the Arbitration Court, and in the first three years that Court did splendid work. The only trouble was that most of the employers doubted its jurisdiction, and so riddled it with Full Court decisions that it was rendered practically useless. However, it was able to do good work in making awards, because it was clothed with the power to call upon the employers who were parties to disputes to produce their books and disclose the capital invested in their businesses, and the profits they were making. Naturally the employers objected to a Court which sought to inquire into their profits and losses, and set themselves up against such methods of conducting inquiries, with the result I have already mentioned. However, unless the tribunals proposed to be created by this Bill are clothed with the power to inquire into the profits of any industry, and distribute a large portion of the wealth made by it among the employees engaged in it, there will be discontent among the workers. Evidence of this nature may be taken in camera, as was done in New South Wales.

I was a member of the New South Wales Arbitration Court, and I know that, although we exercised to the fullest our power to inquire into an industry's profits, we carried out our solemn obligation not to disclose to the public outside the position of any firm.

Mr Bell - What is the position of an industry that is making no profits?

Mr RILEY - If it can be shown to the tribunal that an industry is not being carried on at a profit, and that it cannot, possibly pay a living wage, it is better that it should not be in existence.

Mr Bell - Then, what would be the position of the mining industry?

Mr RILEY - The honorable member knows the definition of a mine, that it is " a hole in the ground surrounded by liars"; but we cannot ask the men engaged in a mine that is not paying to work for nothing. If an industry cannot pay a living wage we should not endeavour to keep it in existence, because the mcn engaged in it could be better employed in more profitable operations. The Labour party welcome any machinery providing for the settlement of industrial disputes. Notwithstanding what the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) has said, we stand for arbitration, and we are anxious to help the Government to pass legislation that will bring about the settlement of industrial disputes by that means. However, at the same time we ask the Government to pay some regard to what we say, and to any amendments we may put forward. We would like to have the words " and profits " inserted in the definition of "industrial matter," thus enabling a Board to secure complete information as to the profits made by an industry. No man .will mind what a Board may learn about his profits so long as it is prepared to give him a just return upon his capital, while seeing, at the same time, that every person engaged in the industry gets a fair return for his labour.

Mr Maxwell - Does the honorable member' believe that the amount of profit made affects the industrial peace in any industry?

Mr RILEY - Yes.

Mr Maxwell - Then that is provided for in clause 7, sub-clause a. If the profits earned in an industry affect the peace of that industry, a Board can have cognisance of them.

Mr RILEY - The provision in the Bill is already contained in our Conciliation and Anbitration Act, and the Arbitration Court has laid it down that it has not the power to investigate the profits of an industry. It is in order to make sure that a Board would have this power that I suggest the insertion of these words in this particular definition. There are other anomalies' in the Bill which will require attention. Any one without experience of brickmaking could easily inquire into the cost of making bricks. There is not much labour required in brickmaking; it is merely a question of raising the clay, and that is mostly done by machinery. The number of bricks that can be turned* out each day can be easily estimated, and under the new process known as the Hoffman kiln, the burning does not require much skilled labour. But the point I wish to make is that any tribunal inquiring into the brickmaking industry with a view to fixing the wages of the employees should also have the power to fix the selling price of bricks.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Does the honorable member suggest that we have the constitutional power to do so?

Mr RILEY - I believe so. "We have the power to settle the conditions of labour, and they cannot be settled satisfactorily unless we are able to fix the selling price of commodities. A tribunal may fix the wages of employees in the brickmaking industry on the present selling price of bricks, but when an award is given, up goes the price of the bricks, and the public begins to complain about the high cost. The New South Wales Arbitration Court gave an award in the cement-making industry. It examined the pay-sheet of every man engaged in the industry, and knew exactly the cost of producing each bag of cement. In making its award it estimated that the extra cost of labour would amount to about 3d. per bag. But ithe employers immediately advertised that the price of their cement would toe increased by 9d. per hag because of the increased wages they had been called upon to pay. The Court, having based its award on the profits made in the industry, knew well that they would permit of an increase of wages being paid equal to about 3d. per bag of cement, but it had no control over the selling price of the commodity. This is a power the Court ought to have in order to protect the public from profiteering. A Court can ascertain quite accurately the average number of pairs of boots each person engaged in the bootmaking industry can turn out per day, and can also inquire into the cost of material and supervision, and make allowance for a fair amount of interest on capital invested, but it should also be empowered to fix the price of boots to the consumers. Thus, the interests of the consumers as well as those of the workers will be safeguarded. I think that the parties should be given the right to nominate the chairman of a Board. Of course, if they cannot agree among themselves, the Government should step in and make the appointment. I strongly urge the Government to consider the advisability of amending the Arbitration Act, and not let it get into the minds of the employees that this Bill has been brought down with a view to undermining that Act and getting rid of the President of the Arbitration Court.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The Prime Minister has already announced the intention of the Government to amend the Act by inserting in it all the provisions which the President of the Arbitration Court has asked for from time to time.

Mr RILEY - The longer such an amending Bill is delayed the worse the position will be. It would be better to have such an amending Bill considered concurrently with this Bill.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The next notice of motion is for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Arbitration Act.

Mr RILEY - I hope that the Government will push on with that measure. There is a feeling outside that the purpose of this Bill is to do away with the Arbitration Act. Some persons say that the object of the Government is to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins. I have no particular axe to grind for that gentleman, or for any one else; I believe that he has done good work, and he has won the confidence of the employees up to a certain point. But in some instances he has failed to grasp the real issue. For example, the engineers applied to him for an increase, which he declined to grant, although there was ample justification for it in the high cost of living. The result was a strike which tied up all our shipping. Had he had a layman to assist him, that strike would not, I think, have taken place. I hope that in future we shall have laymen as members of the Court whose powers will be, equal with that of the Judge. The members of the Commonwealth Council should hold permanent appointments, and should receive salaries which would put them above the temptation to accept bribes, and beyond suspicion. I have known men connected with important tribunals who have been thought weak, and have been under the suspicion of leaning to those who have done them some favour.

Mr Bell - What salary would the honorable member suggest?

Mr RILEY - Not less than £1,000 a year.

Mr Gabb - We could have two. or three more Judges for the money which that would represent.

Mr RILEY - If we can prevent strikes, the communitv will be glad to pay that money.

Mr Poynton - A week's strike, in an important industry would cost ten times as much.

Mr RILEY - The members of this Council will be continually employed in considering industrial matters. No sooner has judgment been given in one case than another set of disputants will come forward, perhaps the seamen, or the bakers. Each dispute means a new inquiry into the conditions of a fresh industry, and much labour and. attention is needed to master the facts presented.

Mr Burchell - A man has to become an authority on very many subjects.

Mr RILEY - Yes. As experts the members of the Council should be well paid.

Mr Gabb - Would there not be a tribunal for each trade?

Mr RILEY - I am speaking of the Commonwealth Council.

Mr Gabb - That is an advisory Board; it will not have the power of final determination..

Mr RILEY - I think that whatever it advises will become the policy of an industry. I hope that in Committee we shall have the assistance of Ministers and their supporters, so that the Bill may be amended in such a way that the people of the country will have confidence in it.

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