Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 20 August 1920

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) .- From public men we hear from time to time expressions of opinion which are a reflection upon the working man, and are especially a libel upon those who attach themselves to industrial organizations. Some people are always desirous of holding the working community responsible for industrial unrest,' and, sometimes, for trade depression; in fact, anything that goes wrong with the industrial and social system is debited to the account of the working man. Unfortunately, our means of protecting the worker from these gross libels are limited, because' of the fact that those who constitute the real driving force of dissatisfaction control the newspapers and means of propaganda. As one who has worked in the factory and workshop I have known what it is to be deprived of my legitimate rights, because of the commercial pirates of society who, by excessive charges, usurped the advantages momentarily received. Even the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford), who has been associated with the working class movement all his life, has . so far fallen from grace as to have failed to appreciate the conditions with which the workers now have to contend; and he is actually willing to aid and abet those agencies of employerdom which are always making inroads upon the working community while, at the same time, endeavouring to place the entire blame for social disturbance at their door.

Mr Bamford - I did not suggest anything of the sort.

Mr MAKIN - I leave the public to judge of the remarks of the honorable member, and to say whether or not he evinced a desire to saddle the industrial community with the blame for to-day's unrest.- A few weeks ago I heard Professor Meredith Atkinson express views very similar to those of the honorable member for Herbert, whereby a solution for much of the present unrest, the learned gentleman thought, could be found. If we are to bring about normal conditions we must first grant justice where it is due, and the forces creating industrial unrest must be eliminated. Many times I have been compelled, together with my fellow workers, to take a strong stand against what we have deemed injustice. Working men do not take extreme action, calculated to bring suffering and deprivation upon themselves and their families, unless they consider they have very good reason for so doing. If, however, there is good cause for dissatisfaction and extreme action is decided upon, it is always the working community that contends with the greatest sacrifice and sufferings in their noble attempts to right many a wrong and thus pass on to posterity more congenial conditions of labour and higher standards of living. The capitalist loses nothing. Because of his sharp practices in the manipulation of our economic system he passes on to the general community the extra charges for the inconvenience occasioned by social unrest. Strikes merely provide the medium for greater profits. I am not now referring to the retailer, who very often is also a victim of circumstances to the wholesale firms, which have proved so indifferent to public interests. There are, ' however, ' honest business men and traders, for whom I have the greatest respect. If there is some medium whereby an adjustment of existing conditions can be secured it is our duty to discover that medium and make full use of it. I hope that this Bill - for which honorable members on this side have been so long waiting - will be made as effective as possible. I candidly admit that before we can secure a really satisfactory form of arbitration there must be an alteration in the Constitution. If the people were taken into the confidence of the Government this Parliament would soon be given power to make laws much more effective.

I was disappointed with the remarks of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams). He expressed no appreciation of the services rendered by the Arbitration Court. True, it has not done all that could have been wished, but it has made an honest attempt to overcome existing difficulties. Circumstances have been against it. Its Judges have been hampered and circumscribed by decisions of the High Court. They have been limited by the narrow scope of the Constitution; and, generally, the Federal Arbitration machinery has proved so cumbersome that the principle itself has been placed at a discount in the eyes of sections of the community. It is for this Parliament now to restore confidence in the Court. Delay in securing awards has been very largely responsible for existing dissatisfaction. Once, the social legislation of Australia was held up as an example to the world ; but experiance has revealed faults and anoma- lies. I desire to place before honorable .members some features of the arbitration law which ought to be removed. I repeat that the delay in securing awards has been a prime cause for criticism. I propose to relate the procedure by which a plaint comes before the Court. First, a log has to be prepared. It is collected and compiled as an outcome of the preliminary views expressed by various branches of an organization. A composite log is then framed by the central executive, and it has to be returned to the branches for indorsement or otherwise.

Mr Groom - You could not well dispense with that.

Mr MAKIN - Agreement upon the log is, of course, essential. I may say that I firmly believe in a basic wage rate being fixed, and for a corresponding percentage to be conceded over and above that to skilled trades, according to ability and capacity, and for a quarterly adjustment of all rates on a percentage equivalent to the increased cost of livings To continue with the procedure: the log has next to be served upon the employers concerned, after which the organization must further intimate to the employers that if they do not choose to comply with the rates and conditions set forth, the matter must go before the Arbitration Court. Next, in order to establish in the eyes of the Court that there is a dispute, the trade organization must secure from an employee in each of the workshops involved a signed and witnessed affidavit that he has> a grievance and desires an amendment of his working conditions. An affidavit must then be signed by the person collecting the signatures, in the presence of a justice of the peace. With regard to the organizations of engineers to which I am attached, two months were occupied in securing necessary signatures before a plaint could be presented to the Court. Unfortunately, under' our present form of arbitration, a common rule cannot be established, and it is possible for one employer to be cited by a particular organization, and required to observe the terms of an award, while his neighbour, employing members of another organization engaged in the same form of industry, or even persons who are not members of any organization whatever, may be quite im mune from the responsibilities attaching to the award.

Mr Groom - Provision was made iu the original Act empowering the Arbitration Court to make the common rule, but the High Court decided that our constitutional powers in that regard were limited.

Mr MAKIN - 5Yes; not only are there gross anomalies in the original Act, but we are also circumscribed by the limitation of our Constitution, demonstrating the need for extending to the Commonwealth Parliament greater power to deal with such matters.

Reverting to the procedure an organization must follow before it can approach the Arbitration Court, after the signing of the authorization and the affidavit, a list of all persons to be cited to the hearing of the plaint before the Court must be prepared and printed; and if there is a mistake, even to the extent of a printer's error in the spelling of any employer's name, it is possible that the employer thus wrongly indicated may escape the responsibility of adhering to any award which is given. In the case of the Federated Engine-drivers and Firemen's Association, C. and G. Hoskins Limited were cited ; but, as the proper designation of the firm is G. and C. Hoskins Limited,' the error would enable it to escape the responsibilities attaching to any award.

Mr Groom - Firms must be properly identified in legal proceedings, otherwise innocent persons may suffer.

Mr MAKIN - Quite so. The next step the society has to take is to serve a plaint upon the employers. It is well known that a legal summons is usually delivered into the hand of the person to whom it is addressed; but, to overcome the difficulties attaching to personal service, it is necessary for ari organization to apply to the High Court for an order for substituted service, which will enable plaints to be served by registered post. Its ease must be sufficiently clear to show that there is a dispute in existence, otherwise the Court will not sanction substituted service. The organization must next make an application for a chamber summons, and so on. It will be readily seen that there are continual delays and many difficulties in the way of employees having recourse- to the existing forms of arbitration. Not only is there a great loss of time; great expense is also involved. Although the case of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers has been under way for twelve months, it has not yet been heard.

Mr Groom - Has it been set down for hearing ?

Mr MAKIN - There is a conference about to meet on that point, and matters may now be facilitated; but, although the case has been ready for presentation for some weeks, it has not yet been heard in Court, and the organization has already been involved in an expenditure of approximately £2,000 in obtaining evidence and preparing it for presentation to the Court, and in going through all the procedure required to enable employees to gain admission to the Arbitration Court.

Mr Groom - How much of that expenditure is represented by travelling expenses ?

Mr MAKIN - None of it, so far as I can see ; but £517 6s. 8d. has been spent on witnesses in respect to the case of urgency connected with the Broken Hill dispute, which also affects the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.

Mr Groom - Witnesses' expenses always seem to be the heaviest, item in these claims.

Mr MAKIN - The cost of printing and stationery is considerable, and legal expenses amount to a good deal.

I have no desire to unduly delay the proceedings to-day, but I felt it my duty to place before honorable members the views held by many members of the working community. It is our desire to obtain a medium of redress which will be expeditious and will not involve the necessity for taking that action which requires the greatest sacrifice on the part of the workers when endeavouring to uphold the claim for improved conditions in industry.

Mr Gregory - An award ought also to he made binding.

Mr MAKIN - In thatrespect there is a difficulty in the Act, which I am hopeful we shall be able to overcome. An award is made for a certain period, although circumstances may afterwards arise considerably altering affairs, and which in normal circumstances would have governed the award.

Mr Gregory - Provision is made for such alterations.

Mr MAKIN - I am inclined to think that the provision in clause 10 is too ambiguous, although the phraseology may appeal to the great majority as being sufficiently effective. I do not think it is explicit enough to absolutely guarantee that it means what it endeavours to express. In Committee, I shall move to add the following words to the clause: - " Provided that the period so specified can, on application to the Court, be varied if the Court be satisfied that such variation is just." If we had had such a provision in the Act, many of the past outbreaks of industrial unrest anight possibly have been avoided. Another requisite is to make awards retrospective. It can be readily understood that the employees in the engineering trade are greatly dissatisfied when they realize that, although their case has been in preparation for over twelve months, they have not been able to obtain admission to the Court, and that when any award is made it will date only from the time of its delivery. Awards should date from the time of the submission of plaints. There would be much greater satisfaction in the industrial sphere if ample provision were made in this Bill to make awards so retrospective. Dissatisfaction exists at the present time because the workers feel that continual delays, which are brought about by legal technicalities, are not only depriving them of their just dues, but also involving them in a great expense in litigation which they should not be asked to incur when endeavouring to obtain justice. I am hopeful that, in Committee, the various amendments suggested by our experience of the operation of the Arbitration Act since this method of settling industrial disputes has been accepted in this country will be adopted, thus enabling us to mould the Bill in a form that will give the greatest amount of satisfaction to the great body of men who are subject to the decisions of Arbitration Courts, but who, unfortunately, owing to the limitations of the existing Act, as well as our Constitution, have been seriously and severely handicapped time after time by being deprived of their just dues. I have felt it my duty to place before honorable members the grave in- justice suffered by my fellow workmen, who have time and time again shown us that they are prepared to take extreme measures to make manifest their disapproval of the conditions under which they live, if not provided with an adequate medium of redress constitutionally. If we have a sincere desire to minimize those industrial disturbances which from time to time prevail in this and other countries, we must do our part in so remodelling our Arbitration Act that it will again provide for the world a pattern-piece of legislation for the restoration of industrial peace.

Suggest corrections