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Wednesday, 25 August 1920

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) . - I am sorry that circumstances prevented me from taking part in the secondreading debate, because I wished to say something on the subject of arbitration generally, and the Bill, though not a long one, gives opportunity for the discussion of a number of important matters. This clause affirms the right of some tribunal to force men to work - a matter about which I feel so strongly that I shall vote against it. I cannot accept, and I hope that the party with which I am associated will not accept, the declaration of that right. We are moving in the direction of freedom of contract between employer and employee rather than away from it.

The Labour party has always stood for compulsory arbitration, for the reason that the so-called freedom of contract between employers and employees did not exist. Employers, because of their organization, their command of wealth, and the economic and social pressure that they can bring to bear, made it impossible for the employees to exercise a deliberate choice. But now I am happy to think that, with the greater enlightenment which has come to the workers of this country, and the more definite manner in which they have organized for their own protection, they, through their organizations, are able to confer on equal terms with their employers as to what their conditions of service should be. Therefore, the principle never yet having been embodied in an Act of Parliament that a man shall be compelled to work, I maintain we should hesitate before we insert it in one.

Mr Bamford - Except in Russia.

Mr BRENNAN - Whether the principle is right or wrong in Russia - and I have not sufficient information to justify me in discussing the conditions which apply there - does not necessarily make itright or wrong here. I "am opposed to this clause because it empowers the tribunal to say that men shall work. I am well aware that the penalties are only applicable in cases where the refusal to work is unreasonable, but the test of unreasonableness is no longer a matter of the judgment of the persons most concerned, but is a. question to be decided by some outside tribunal.

Mr Groom - What part of the clause will compel men- to work ?

Mr BRENNAN - If this definition does not impose penalties for refusal to work, I misunderstand it altogether.

Mr Groom - The refusal must be on the part of a number acting in combination.

Mr BRENNAN - In speaking of action in combination, does tlie Minister allude to conspiracy, or to the deliberation of men whose interests are similar, and who confer together for their own self-protection ? That mav be regarded as acting in combination, but it may not necessarily be conspiracy or a breach of the law, and may simply mean nothing more than legitimate organization. In the amendment of the definition of " strike " occur the words " and the total or partial refusal of employees acting in combination to accept work if the refusal is unreasonable." Thus a tribunal will sit for the purpose of considering the impulses that have moved men to decline to work under certain circumstances. I remember when the President of the Arbitration Court was the subject of a good deal of very bitter and utterly uncalled for criticism in connexion with a public declaration he made - that men were not compelled by arbitration to work, even men who were members of an organization enjoying an award; and although that waa merely a truism, his utterance seemed to shock a certain section of public conscience. Compulsory arbitration does not mean the compulsion of any man to work unless he is satisfied that, under the conditions attaching to the employment and the wage offered, it suits him to do so.

Mr Mathews - What little civilization we have is gone once a man is compelled to work.

Mr BRENNAN - This Bill is evidently designed to kill the condition of affairs which the President of the Arbitration Court, in -the ordinary discharge of his duties, said was the law and the practice, and is designed so to tighten up the law that men may be compelled to accept work at certain rates and under certain conditions. I cannot, for a moment, agree to such a proposal. I think that the times are moving away from the atmosphere of compulsion. I take this opportunity of saying that the operation of the Federal Arbitration Court has been immensely beneficial to all interests in this country. Because there have been isolated cases in which men bound by an award have not seen fit to observe it, it has been contended that the Arbitration Court has been a failure; but that contention has been raised by persons who have not been in a position to submit to the country, or to tie House, that mass of evidence which they might Have submitted in regard to th.e number of disputes which have been settled and prevented, and also in regard to the amount of disorganization and loss which has been prevented by the operation of the Court functioning through the various methods at its command.

Mr Gregory - With industrial agreements there would not have been the animosity that has been created under arbitration.

Mr BRENNAN - But there can be industrial agreements under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They are made and filed every day, but no public applause is heard about them; but public indignation is suddenly fired up against the Act because occasionally turmoil arises in some particular industry. In other words, full account is taken of every industrial disturbance which actually occurs, but apparently no account is taken of the number of disturbances that have been prevented under the operation of the Act. In considering this clause, I think I am entitled to say that it is to be immensely regretted that . there has been apparently a deliberate desire on the part of vested interests and persons who should have known better, to discredit the operation of the Act, and in so doing the natural consequence has been that they have supported the doctrine of what is known as direct action; that is to say, while pretending to be the most implacable opponents of such a policy, they have really fostered it. It is a matter of very little edification that, because under the present President of the Arbitration Court certain awards have been given at various times which some people thought were too liberal, these paragons of law and order should declare that the whole Court should be wiped aside. But I can assure these gentlemen that when they succeed with their propaganda, and wipe out the Arbitration Court on the ground that its awards are too generous, they will find it supplanted by something which, from' their point of view, will be less satisfying to them.

Mr Gregory - They do not argue in that way, but they claim that it imposes a penalty on one section of the community, and not on the other; that is to say, one side is free, and the other is shackled.

Mr BRENNAN - I do not know what the honorable member means, unless he means that the effect of arbitration has been to secure more for the men1 than he thinks his friends ought to pay. In the whole history of the Arbitration Court industrial disputes in relation to activities right throughout the Commonwealth have been dealt with by two or three Judge3. It is simply impossible for a Court to function successfully when it is undermanned in this way. The Industrial Peace Bill contemplates setting up tribunals all over Australia.

Mr Groom - r-This Bill makes provision for the appointment of additional deputies.

Mr BRENNAN - I am pleased that it does so, but the amendment is somewhat tardy, and, in any case, I think it should have come before us instead of the Industrial Peace Bill, which will, in effect, supplant arbitration. Why the Government did not content themselves with the creation of the necessary number of Deputy Presidents, as suggested by those whose business it is to put the Court in motion, I cannot for the life of me understand- I do not wish to make a second-reading speech on this clause, but I shall certainly invite honorable members to vote against it, because it is indefensible and unworkable on the ground that we cannot compel men to work, and if we attempt to do so we shall create an atmosphere of bad feeling which will be quite outside the sphere of* conciliation. Compulsion was very unpopular in connexion with another matter not so long ago, and it will not be any more popular in connexion with industrial affairs. I hope the Minister will see fit to reconsider the clause, and that it will not be forced through. At all events, I shall vote against it.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs - Minister for Works and Railways) [4.191- The honorable member's objection to the proposed amendment is on the ground that the provision to which he refers will compel persons to labour. It does not do this; but the provision is reciprocal, applying to employers as well as to employees. If two employers act in combination to unreasonably refuse to give work, either totally or partially, they will be liable to a penalty for a lock-out. The same penalty will apply to employees who, acting in combination, totally or partially refuse to accept work if the refusal is unreasonable.

Mr Considine - Who is to determine whether the refusal is unreasonable?

Mr GROOM - That is a question of fact to be proved before the Court. No individual will be compelled under this Bill to work. In that respect the law relating to master and servant remains unaltered. ' Under the ordinary law a man may give notice, and so terminate his employment. That course is still open to employees.

Mr Considine - What will 'be the position if men. refuse work because it is unreasonable in the circumstances to continue?

Mr GROOM - It is only where there is a combination on the part of individuals to refuse to work that this provision will apply. That would be a strike, and the object of the law is to make strikes unlawful.

Mr Considine - If half-a-dozen men refused, for various reasons, to work, their, refusal might be declared to be unreasonable.

Mr GROOM - They could only be punished after it had been proved that they were acting in combination. The onus of furnishing that proof would be upon the person taking ' proceedings before the Court. " A combination of persons to refuse work," is the essence of a strike. Organizations are not made liable under this clause for the actions of isolated individuals.

Mr Considine - This clause is taking us back to the conspiracy laws of a hundred years ago.

Mr GROOM - No; it is merely designed to carry out the original intention of the present Act, that strikes shall be declared unlawful.

Mr Considine - There is no law in this country, nor is there anything in this clause, to compel an employer to continue his business if he does not wish to do so.

Mr GROOM - Nor is there any law which compels an individual to work if he does not desire to do so. There is in the existing Act a section which declares that -

Partial suspension of work 'by an employer with a view to compel his employees, or to aid another employer in compelling his employees, to accept any term or condition of employment, is a lock-out, for which a penalty is provided. We are now proposing to extend that definition by declaring that if there is a combination of employers to refuse to give work, and that refusal is unreasonable, then the employers shall be liable to a penalty. These definitions must be reciprocal, and the definition to which exception has just been taken is a reasonable completion of the original intention of the Act to make strikes and locks-out unlawful.

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