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Thursday, 12 August 1920

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- It must be granted by the Prime Minister and others that the amendment raises a very important question in connexion with this Bill, or, indeed, any Bill having for its object the prevention of industrial unrest. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act rests upon the principle of the organization of employees and of employers. It was sought in that measure to do away with a kind of guerilla warfare between individuals or isolated bodies of workers and employers. For that reason we based the Act upon organization. It was to that fact that we owe some of those brilliant defences of the principle of preference to unionists with which at various times the Prime Minister has favoured this House and the country. In the Bill as introduced there was no definition of the word " employee," and no reference to any organization of employees. That was a curious, and, it seems to me, a most sinister omission, lt must be apparent that if that defect were not remedied, it would be fatal, because it would be hopeless to expect honorable members on this side to recommend the Bill to the favorable consideration of the country unless we knew how far the Government was prepared to recognise organized industrialism, and how far it was prepared to recognise certain kinds of organizations of industrialists. I think that the Prime Minister was not ingenuous yesterday when, -first of all, he told the honorable member for Adelaide that he could not accept his amendment, because we would have to deal with employees who were npt organized, and when afterwards he told me that he would accept the definitions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act so far as they applied to organization. The definition, if I have gathered aright, not having had the advantage of hearing the observations of the right honorable gentleman, which he is prepared to accept as the definition of " employees," is sub-section b of section 55 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which reads -

Any association of not less than 100 employees in, or in connexion with any industry, together with such other persons, whether employees in the industry or not, as have been appointed officers of the association and admitted as members thereof.

Those persons are not organizations within the meaning of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, but they are a class of persons who may apply to be registered as an organization under that Act.

Mr Hughes - They are an association until they are registered.

Mr BRENNAN - They are an association only, and may qualify themselves to be registered as an organization. On the other hand, they may be rejected as an organization for any one of the large variety of reasons set out in the Act under the rules and regulations framed under the Act.

Mr Maxwell - They need not be registered in order to come within the purview of this Bill.

Mr BRENNAN - That is so. But the Prime Minister, if I- understand the matter aright, proposes to accept the subsection I have quoted from the Conciliation and Arbitration Act as a definition of " employees."

When we come to consider the Commonwealth Council, we find that it is proposed that it shall consist of a chairman and an even number - not less than six-- of other members, and that of the members other than the chairman one-half shall be representatives of the employers, and one-half shall be representatives of the employees. When we put that to a practical test, and come to make appointments to the Council, we shall have claims for representation from organizations, that is to say, registered bodies, and also, perhaps, from any number of bodies that may have been refused registration altogether. There is no limit to the number of bodies which may be formed as "employees" under the definition of that term which the Prime Minister is prepared, I understand, to accept, and they may all claim the right to representation upon the Council. I can see that while the employers will be in a perfectly satisfactory position, having their full measure of representation, the representation of employees will be cut up amongst a number of contending bodies who will have no interest in common at all, and it is possible that representation supposed to be of the employees will be more repugnant to organized labour in this community than are the employers themselves. The organizations truly representative of labour may be outnumbered and outvoted by various bodies of employees.

Mr Hughes - Supposing a de facto dispute, and that one of these fragments of an industry secures representation on the Tribunal, and the Tribunal gives a decision of some sort. Would it bring about industrial peace if the fragment securing the decision represented, it might be, only one-tenth of the industry?

Mr BRENNAN - It would not. But that is an argument against the whole policy of conciliation. The same argument might have been used, though I have never heard it used by the right honorable gentleman in connexion with the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the registration of organizations. There will always be a certain disgruntled few who will not join any organization, unless it be an association from which they hope to get some special advantage when trouble arises. If we hope to bring about industrial peace we .cannot expect to con sult every individual. We must recognise some class of organization as standing for labour in a particular industry. I cannot imagine any scheme under which the Prime Minister could expect to have every employee and his eccentric opinions and claims represented on this Tribunal.

Mr Maxwell - What chance would such a person have for appointment if he were so unrepresentative?

Mr BRENNAN - He would have no chance of appointment if, as I understand, the Prime Minister is now prepared to limit the definition of " employees " to associations of not less than 100 members.

Mr Maxwell - I do not think that he is. '

Mr BRENNAN - I confess myself still in doubt as to what is going to be the effect of this measure if " employees" is to be defined in the terms of the subsection I have 'quoted. .If that is all that is necessary to constitute employees entitled to representation on these Tribunals we shall be pursuing a retrograde course from that which we shaped when we said that- employees means registered organizations, and that in order to become registered an organization must satisfy the proper authority that it represents the majority of employees and interests in connexion with a particular business. It must show that it occupies the ground as employees, and if others come in rivalry to obtain the benefit of registration, they must show that there is not already in existence an organization to which they might conveniently and properly belong. If they can show some special reason why they should be regarded as a separate organization they may be entitled to registration. Under this measure, so far as I can gather, the persons who are to be called "employees" are any loosely associated bodies of 100 members. The ground may already be occupied by a registered organization, but the Government propose to recognise a rival body, and it might be a rival body which has been created in a moment or in an hour for a special purpose in connexion with a dispute, and merely in order to outvote and destroy the influence of the genuine employees in an industry.

I confess that I have never had very great confidence in the Bill. It has always appeared to me that if this effort had been devoted to amending the Conciliation and Arbitraion Act on the lines suggested by the Judges, and, perhaps, also by incorporating some of the provisions of this Bill, we might have done some really useful service for the community. I am afraid that, however much we approve the object of this Bill, which is supposed to function parallel with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, but which will really be found to conflict with it and create a desire on the part of employees and employers to pass from one Tribunal to the other, we are doomed to be disappointed by its effect. It is upon the definition of " employees" and " organization " in this Bill, and the exactness of the definition of those terms, that any possible success from the operation of the measure will depend. Those definitions should have been included in the Bill. They should have been printed and circulated before we were asked to proceed further with its consideration.

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