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Friday, 20 August 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) . - I suppose that we are pledged to compulsory arbitration until such time as some conference can take place between employers and employees in this country to discover whether other means cannot be adopted. We must make the law compulsory upon every section of the community or adopt an entirely different principle and repeal its compulsory provisions. We have had compulsory arbitration in this country now for a fairly long time. I do not know whether honorable members generally will agree with me, but I am certainly of the opinion that the operation of our compulsory arbitration law has been detrimental to the development of this country. I say without fear of contradiction that it has helped to embitter the relations between employer and employee. If the law had been based upon the principles of the Industrial Peace Bill which we have recently considered, or had embodied some of its provisions, I believe we should have much better industrial conditions prevailing today than we are experiencing as a result of the operation of the compulsory principle.

Mr Gabb - Does the honorable member not think that our industrial conditions compare favorably with those of the United States of America, where they have not compulsory arbitration ?

Mr GREGORY - I do not think that they do. The very operation of our compulsory arbitration law tends to create dissatisfaction and trouble between the two parties in the industrial world. If we had an Act based upon the principles of the Wages Board system we should have men preparing an award who would know the conditions of the industry with which they were dealing from A to Z. They would know all its ramifications and the difficulties that confront employer and employee. The award drawn up by such a body would be much more likely to give satisfaction to all the parties interested than any award drawn up by one person, no matter what his qualifications or how able he may be. I have no wish to reflect in any way upon any person who has been President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court or of any of the State Arbitration Courts, but I say that there is no one man in Australia who can claim to possess a complete knowledge of the ramifications of industries whose operations exfend throughout the country in all the States. No one man can claim to possess so complete a knowledge of a particular industry as to be able to make an effective award that will be satisfactory to all connected with it.

When the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was first brought into operation, evidence had to be brought forward by both parties to a dispute. It was found that the President of the Court, though he might be a very able man, having no technical knowledge of an industry, was dependent, in preparing his award, upon the evidence submitted to him. As a consequence, the trade union organizations on the one hand, and the employers' federations on the other, found it necessary to appoint secretaries and organizers to prepare evidence in connexion with any appeal made to the Court. The President of the Court listened to the evidence so prepared, and the side that could swear the hardest obtained the greater benefit from the subsequent award.

If I summon a man or he summons me before a Court that must lead to a feeling of eni bitter ment between us, and so I say that the operation of our compulsory conciliation and arbitration law has itself been responsible for intensifying the feeling of bitterness between the two sections of the industrial community. This is not as it should be. Labour and capital should work hand-in-hand, and the successful carrying on of industries in this country can only be accomplished by creating a better feeling between employer and employee.

I believe in arbitration and in trade union organizations. I honestly believe that the worker would have had a particularly bad time if he was not organized.

I know that mining managers in Kalgoorlie have welcomed the opportunity to make agreements with labour organizations. They do not like dealing with individuals. They prefer to deal with organizations. For many years in Kalgoorlie there was never an appeal to the Arbitration Court. We had there a Mr. Jabez Dodd, secretary to the goldfields organization, who was one of the best and truest Labour men to be found in any part of Australia. Bte "was a man in whom the mine managers placed the greatest confidence. When he made a promise to them they could rely that he would do his utmost to see that it was carried into effect. For years business was carried on on the Kalgoorlie Field by industrial agreements that were registered in the Arbitration Court. All matters in dispute were settled between organizations of employers and employees without any appeal to the Court. It has been only in later days that appeals have been made to the Court, and that has given rise to some of the bitter feeling that has grown up.

I hope that in the near future we shall have an arbitration law framed on the lines I have suggested, and providing for Boards similar to Wages Boards to deal with industrial differences. I am prepared, for the time being, to accept the compulsory provision- of the existing law, but I believe that in framing the measure now before the House the Government have been remiss in not providing that the compulsory provision of the law shall apply to all alike. It is absolutely wrong that one section of those engaged in an industry should be bound by the award of the Court whilst another section is not so bound. In the Bill before us the Government have provided for penalties, but we know what has been the result of the provision made for penalties in the past. I can refer the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) to his cwn experience of difficulties that occurred in connexion with the Transcontinental Railway. An agreement was entered into between the Minister and the. employees on that railway. A strike took place, and after some little trouble the men went back to work and gave their distinct promise to the Minister that if he would overlook what they had done they would abide by any award of the Arbitration Court. At the same time they agreed to give him a cash bond as a guarantee that they would keep their pledge. The Minister did not bother about their cash bond, as he was prepared to take the word of the men. But within twelve months from that time we had the spectacle of men coming here from the western State, some, it may have been, for health reasons and to avoid sickness and death, and others in order to conduct big business transactions, left stranded in the wilderness for a time and then sent back to Kalgoorlie. I am not sure whether the fault lay with the Department or with the workmen in not taking the train right through. Mr. Groom - It was not the fault of the Department.

Mr GREGORY - I have been told on ge track that the men were willing to take the train right through, but that the* Department stopped them. It is absurd to have an Arbitration Court if both parties to disputes do not abide by its awards. No matter what promises are made, it is difficult to get men to give effect to them when the agitators get to work. The great majority of the workers wish to carry out the awards of the Court, but there are certain men who hold their billets only by their agitation.

Mr Riley - You got into Parliament by agitating.

Mr GREGORY - I agitate on constitutional lines, the honorable member does not; but does he not think that when a union gets an award from the Arbitration Court it should comply with it?

Mr Riley - Certainly not,' if it has asked the Court for bread, and has been given a stone.

Mr GREGORY - The unions are not to comply with the awards of the Court ?

Mr Riley - Yes; if they get justice.

Mr GREGORY - Apparently, the honorable member think9 that an award should be complied with if it suits one party concerned, but that otherwise it may be torn to pieces.

Mr Riley - The same thing applies to the employers.

Mr GREGORY - Why talk nonsense? Let us make the law so that both parties must observe it or repeal it altogether. I am pleased with the provision i 1 the Bill which enables the Court to alter its awards. The honorable mem ber for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) BaY, . that it is not quite clear. If that be so, I should like to have it made clear. The Court should have power to alter its award to meet abnormal conditions. The workers have passed through a very difficult period, and the Act should have been amended long ago. Had the Government possessed the business instinct, they wouldhave long since introduced a special provision for the automatic increasing of wages, in accordance with the increase in the cost of living, without any appeal to the Court, the increases being highest for the lower rates of pay. This should have been done a year or two after the war started. Had it been done, it would have prevented much industrial turmoil and agitation, one of the chief grievances of the workers being that they could not carry on under the awards that they have got. I am pleased that power is to be given to alter awards. The law should be binding on every person who goes to the Arbitration Court, whether he be an employer or a worker. An Act which is obligatory on one party and not on another is unfair, unjust, and immoral, and should not remain on the statute-book. In regard to the Federal Public Services, I think we should pass legislation which would prevent any stoppage of the business of the country. The Post Office and the railways are huge Government monopolies. The officials of those Departments have permanent employment, and under no circumstances should be allowed to hold up the business of the country, especially as they have the opportunity of obtaining redress from Parliament.

Mr Gabb - Why, we cannot get justice for the parliamentary employees !

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member is always seeking to make trouble. If he went direct to the President, or to Mr. Speaker, with his grievance, he could get it remedied.

Mr Gabb - I have spoken three times about the matter, without anything being done.

Mr Richard Foster - Strikes in connexion with public utilities should be illegal.

Mr GREGORY - Most decidedly. I think that we might go a little further in the matter of penalties. In all the States there are farmers who shear a few sheep, and, although the Arbitration Court rules may apply to the conduct of the big shearing sheds, they are absurd when applied to the shearing of a few hundred sheep. I have gleaned from the reports of deputations in Western Australia recently that a demand has been made upon the farmers to comply with certain rules of the Shearers Union. The shearers' representatives have gone to the farmers and said to them, ' ' We want you to enter into an agreement with us. Every man who shears, or assists in shearing, must be a member of the union." If a man who is shearing his own sheep gets an adjoining farmer to help him, that farmer must be a member of the union, and his own sons, if working for him, must be members.

Mr Lavelle - Is there a pastoral award in operation ?

Mr GREGORY - There is an award in the pastoral industry.

Mr Lavelle - Are you sure that it is a Federal award, and not an agreement?

Mr GREGORY - When the shearers' representatives found that they could not obtain the agreement they desired, they threatened" to declare black the wool of those whe were opposed to it.

Mr Riley - That might save it being dyed.

Mr GREGORY - If I were a farmer, I would dye those who came on to my land threatening action of that kind. I would make it penal to try to prevent the carrying on of an industry by tyrannical threats of that kind. When we are dealing with the question of penalties in the Bill we ought to provide that persons who obtain an award from the Arbitration Court and refuse to abide by it should be disfranchised for quite a number of years.

Mr Gabb - Some persons on the honorable member's side of the House would then require to be careful.

Mr GREGORY - Both sides would have to be careful. Unlike the honorable member, I do not wish to impose an obligation upon only one section of the community. I am very anxious that the worker shall get a fair deal. If we are not a prosperous community, there cannot be much pleasure in living in this country. It is my keen desire that the worker shall get a little more than what is fair.

Mr Makin - Give us justice, and we shall be. satisfied.

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) owes a duty to every man in his electorate. He is supposed to mete out even-handed justice to all.

Mr Makin - I am seeking for evenhanded justice.

Mr GREGORY - I do not mind giving a little bit more than what is fair to the man who is receiving the lowest remuneration. In Victoria the threat has been made that if a certain contingency arises coal will be declared " black," and unionists then will refuse to handle it or to allow it to he carried by rail. It is time that we realized the injustice of existing conditions. I hope that in Committee honorable members will endeavour to make the Bill a workable one by providing every facility for approaching the Court and for doing away with the. enormous expense which has hitherto been incurred in getting there. Some eighteen months ago, in connexion with the waterside workers' case, representatives of various organizations from Queensland and the other States were kept in Melbourne for more than three months. Upon that occasion the expense to the employers alone amounted to more than £20,000. That expenditure has necessarily to be passed on to the general community. We ought, therefore, to endeavour to prevent a repetition of such delays and to obviate the expense that is involved in getting plaints before the Court. When once an award has been given we ought also to provide that its terms may be varied so as to make them in accord with any increase in the cost of living. What we aim at securing is industrial peace, and when awards have been given all who appeal to the Court should be compelled to abide by them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Progress reported.

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