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Wednesday, 25 August 1920


Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister for Works and Railways) . - I cannot accept the amendment. The honorable member has quite misconceived the purpose for which .section 9 is being amended by clause 4. It is being amended because of a , decision given in a Court in Tasmania before a magistrate, and referred, on appeal, to the High Court. In that case the point at issue was whether a member of an organization seeking to improve its conditions could be dismissed by an employer on the ground of dissatisfaction with 'the conditions of his employment; and the Court held that, under the law as it stands at the present time, the employer was protected in this respect. The employer's evidence was that he had dismissed a man, not because he happened to be a member of an organization, which he is prevented from doing by paragraph (a), but because the man was dissatisfied with the conditions of his employment'. The organization to which the man belonged was seeking to improve its conditions, and the employer dismissed him because he was dissatisfied with the conditions which the organization was seeking to improve. It was lawful and legitimate for it-he organization to seek to improve those conditions, and it was equally fair and proper that the employee should have a right to be dissatisfied with them, and should want to improve them in accordance with the aims of his organization. To meet such a case the Government proposes to add to section 9 of the principal Act a paragraph providing that an employer must not dismiss a member of an organization seeking to improve its conditions on the ground that he happens to be dissatisfied with those conditions.


Sir Robert Best - That is going a long way.


Mr GROOM - Tes. It is an interference with the ordinary common law of master and servant, which permits the master, who is of opinion that a servants' dissatisfaction with the conditions of his employment is such as to render bini unsuitable as a servant, to dismiss him, without incurring any penalty for so doing. The Government's proposal cuts right across that common law rule, on the ground that, as the Conciliation and Arbitration Act seeks to encourage organizations to register under the Act, and empowers the Court to give them the right to appear before it and submit plaints for the improvement of industrial conditions, individual members of such organizations whose natural desire is to further the plaints before the Court, ought to be protected from dismissal on the ground stated. However, that is as far as we propose to go. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) would go considerably further. He would strike out the words, " which Ls seeking better industrial conditions," and insert in their stead the words, " or of an association .that has applied to be registered as an organization."


Mr Brennan - To bring the paragraph in conformity with paragraph a.


Mr GROOM - Let me deal with the two proposals in their order. First of all, with the omission of the words which the honorable 'member seeks to have .deleted, an employer could not dismiss an employee who " is a member of an organization, and is dissatisfied with his conditions." The mere fact that a man was a member of ah organization would protect him for all time. He could not be dismissed, on the ground that he was dissatisfied with his conditions.


Mr Richard Foster - A dissatisfied employee is of no use to any one.


Mr Brennan - The amendment in the Bill protects him to a certain extent.


Mr GROOM - It protects a member of an organization which is legitimately seeking to improve its conditions ; but the honorable member's proposal would give complete protection to a certain number of discontented and dissatisfied members of an organization which has gone to the Court and secured an award with which the great bulk of its members were thoroughly satisfied. We cannot do that. The only logical reason for affording a man protection is the fact that the organization, of which he is a member, is also dissatisfied, and is seeking to improve its conditions. Now, let us take the second part of the honorable member's amendment, in which he seeks to insert the words " or of an association that has applied to be registered as an organization.'' The honorable member states that his purpose in seeking to insert these words is to bring the paragraph into harmony with paragraph a, which prevents an employer from dismissing an employee who is a " member of an organization " - that is to say, one which is already registered under the Act - " or of an association that has applied to be registered as an organization." There is a reason for having these words in paragraph a, because in the period that elapses before registration, employees must get together to form an association, and if an employer could with impunity dismiss all the persons who were mem- . bers of an association about to be registered, he might interfere with the lawful right of the members of that association to become a registered organization, and, logically, he ought to be punished for seeking to block the endeavour of his workmen to exercise their lawful right to register.


Mr Brennan - The principle is the same in the two paragraphs.


Mr GROOM - It is not. Before registration an association is not seeking specifically to improve industrial conditions, because it does not formu late its plaint, or specify the conditions which it regards as unsatisfactory, until it is registered. For that reason it. would be quite improper to insert the words "which is seeking better industrial conditions " in paragraph a. I think the honorable member will admit that the Government have made a sincere effort to meet a particular problem, and as any attempt to carry it further would be a serious and unjust invasion of the ordinary rule of. common law, I am not prepared to assent to it.


Mr Brennan - If the president of an organization, which is registered, suggests that a plaint should be formulated, would it be fair that he should be immediately dismissed because, as an individual, he has expressed dissatisfaction to an organization which has not yet begun to make its claim?


Mr GROOM - The honorable member is seeking, not merely to protect the president of an organization, but every other member of it. The protection given by the Bill is really substantial. I ask the honorable member not to press his amendment.







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