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Wednesday, 25 August 1920

Mr MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) . - I am opposed to the clause as it stands, and particularly to the penal provisions of the Bill. The penal sections of such a Bill as this never apply equally to employers and employees. The two classes for this purpose cannot be placed in the same category. An employer has means of evading a penalty which are not open to an employee. Arbitration to-day is compulsory. Whether he likes it or not, a worker must go to the Court, and is subject to the penal provisions of the Arbitration law. A fine of £1,000 involves no hardship in the case of a large corporation, but three months in gaol for a working man means much injury and los6 to his wife and family.

Mr Hill - Would the honorable member agree to the omission of paragraph b as well as paragraph c? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Mr Brennan - I would agree to that.

Mr MATHEWS - If we are to have penal provisions, they should apply to employers and to shareholders of large corporations, as well as to members of unions, just as they are applicable to individuals who go before the Court.

I have received the following letter from the Secretary of the Federal Carters and Drivers Industrial Union of Australasia, dated 21st August: -

Enclosed please find copies of correspondence between our union, the Employers' Federation and Colonial Sugar Company.

It deals with the case of our union, who had an agreement with the Employers' Federation, which stated that our members would receive an increase of 8s. per week on the Federal rates, but when a member of the Federation, and a wealthy one at that', is approached to pay the same, they point blank refuse to pay it to some of their employees.

The Federation wrote to the Victorian Employers Federation, and this was the reply received -

Referring to your letter of the 28th ult.. and your 'phone conversation with me re the improvers employed by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, I have now to advise that I wrote the company recently re the matter, and also furnished them with copy of your letter under reference.

I have received from the company a communication dated 6th inst., in response to my letter, which sets out their position, and of which I enclose a copy herewith.

The following is the letter sent by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to the Employers Federation on 6th August: -

I duly received your letter of the 3rd inst., and .in reply, would say that we are in a different position from firms .who are solely engaged in tlie carting industry. The rates of pay of youths and improvers under other awards which affect our business are much below what the Federal Court prescribed under the Carters award, and to further raise . the pay of the three carters' improvers at Yarraville would be sure to lead to dissatisfaction in other departments. The youths in question are quite free to leave our employ if they are not content with their present rates. Although we have in the past paid them according to the award of the Federal Court, we have some doubt whether they really come under this, because, unlike the recognised improvers in that industry who go on to the roads, these lads merely lead the horses which draw trollies along the tram line either from the ship's side or from the stacks of sugar.

Here we have a large corporation which refuses to work under an agreement. There is an award which the corporation is carrying out, but there is also an agreement between the Carters and Drivers Association and the employers, and. with that agreement the corporation will not comply. As I say, it would not hurt a corporation like this to pay even £1,000 rather than to submit to an agreement to which it had an objection.

Sir Robert Best - Is the Colonial Sugar Refining Company a party to the agreement?

Mr MATHEWS - Of course; at any rate, the letter of the secretary says so. The Carters and Drivers Association know their business as well as any other body of the kind, and they have made this charge against the Colonial Sugar Refining Company per medium of the Employers Federation. All I desire- to show is that even the largest penalties will not deter a wealthy company from refusing to comply with any Tilling of the Court or agreement.

Sir Robert Best - The company is conforming to an award of the Court.

Mr MATHEWS - But the honorable member knows there are hundreds more agreements than there are awards.

Mr Gregory - The agreements are registered and become awards.

Mr MATHEWS - No ; they are altogether different from awards.

Sir Robert Best - Is this a registered agreement ?

Mr MATHEWS - The honorable member will admit that the Employers Federation recognised this union, and dealt with its case.

Sir Robert Best - There has not been too much success in compelling unions to comply with awards.

Mr MATHEWS - That is not peculiar to Australia. In to-day's newspapers we have strong evidence that our industrial troubles are a mere " flea-bite " as compared with the troubles in Britain ; so great, is the difference that no comparison can be drawn. That shows that there has been an effort ot desire on the part of the unions in Australia to comply with awards and agreements; and yet here we find a company refusing to do so, and saying that if the employees affected are not satisfied, they can leave their employment. That, however, is always said by the " bosses " ; and, therefore, I object to all penalties because they cannot be enforced on large and wealthy corporations, whereas they can be enforced in the case of individual workers with disastrous results.

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