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Friday, 27 August 1920

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- I wish to move -

That before the word "Provided" in the proposed new proviso, the following words be inserted: - "The provisions of such new award shall be retrospective to the date of the expiration of the specified period of a previous award or agreement, and in cases where there has not been a previous award or agreement the Court may make a new award retrospective to the date of the claim."

The object of the amendment is to protect unions in cases where ah award has expired, but inorder to place before the Committee exactly what unions desire in this respect, I quote the following letter, written by the secretary of the Federated Pelt Hatting Employees Union to the Prime Minister's Department: -

Sir. -Your memo of the 13th inst. to hand, in which you inform me that the suggested amendment to the Commonwealth Conciliation' and Arbitration Act 1904-18, contained in my letter to the Prime Minister of 19th June, 1920, has been considered in connexion with the amending Bill now before Parliament.

In reply thereto I beg to state that I have read the Bill containing the amendments to this Act, and I find that my suggested amendments have been entirely overlooked, and, as they are of supreme importance to my union, I am writing you, as it is possible that my communication of the 19th June did not make the matter clear.

1.   Amend section 28. sub-section (2), so as to expressly empower the Arbitration Court to make a new award retrospective to the date of the expiration of the specified period of a previous award or agreement, and, in cases. where there has not been a previous award or agreement, to make a new award retrospective to the date of the dispute.

This amendment is a vital one to all unions applying to the Court for an award; and in regard to my own union the facts briefly are as follow: - We had an award of five years, which terminated last September. 1919. We have served a fresh log on employers with no good result, and have filed a plaint in the Court, but, unfortunately, we have to wait a long time in order to got a hearing. Our members are naturally restive, as the times are abnormal, and they state that if they wait for the Court to obtain redress the Court should have the power to make a retrospective award to the date of the specified period of the previous award.

This suggested amendment would improve the Bill materially, and would prevent a lot of industrial trouble, and this section of the Act" was, by the High Court, unanimously commended to Parliament so that this power may be given to the Arbitration Court.

2.   Power should be given to the Court to decide questions as to the interpretation of its awards without requiring the parties to the award to adopt the procedure of applying to the Court for a penalty against the other party in order to obtain a decision as to the proper interpretation of the award. :i. Power should be given to the Court to enforce and administer its own awards in the manner intended by the 1914 Act.

I concur with the writer of this letter as to the position when a union, having served a fresh log on the employers, fails to get a hearing in the Court within a reasonable time. These, as the writer says, are abnormal times. Where a union has loyally honoured an award made five years ago - where it has continued to work under that award, notwithstanding that the cost of living has gone up considerably - surely it is only fair and reasonable that, where delay occurs in getting before the Court, the new award should date back to the expiration of the old award. We know that the business of the Court has been congested for a considerable time, with the result that many unions have not been able to secure a hearing. In these circumstances, twelve months might elapse between the date of the expiration of an award and the making of a new one.

Mr Maxwell - Might not the personnel of that union, and various other matters relating to an industry in respect of which a five1 years' award had been made, have cha'nged so, much that it would be very difficult to meet the altered circumstances?

Mr CHARLTON - Generally speaking, there is not much change in the case of fixed industries. The conditions do not vary, but, having regard to the increase in the cost of living, the men may think that they are entitled to a slight increase in wages.

Mr Blundell - It is merely a matter of wages.

Mr CHARLTON - Chiefly. This union, filed a plaint, but it has been unable to get a hearing. Twelve months might elapse before a new award could be made. In these circumstances, a union, being unable to obtain better, terms, might feel that there was no alternative but to take special action. Where months elapse between the expiration of an award and the making of a new one owing to the business of the Court being congested, we shall practically invite the men to take direct action if we do not provide for the new awards being made retrospective. It is only fair that they should be retrospective. Such a provision would not work any injustice to the employers. In order to avoid these cases of hardship, we should endeavour, as far as possible, to expedite hearings before the Court. The Industrial Peace Bill will considerably reduce the number of cases to be heard by the Court, and will thus, I hope, improve the position; but the request contained in this letter is a fair one.

Mr Maxwell - It certainly seems to be fair.

Mr CHARLTON - I hope that it will be conceded. I come now to the next position. A dispute takes place in an industry in respect to which there is no award. The employees determine, however, that they will not stop work. They say, " We have an Arbitration Court, and we will appeal to it." They do so, and they ask that the award, when made, shall date back to the time of the dispute. That, I think, is also a fair proposal. It is in this way alone that we can carry on arbitration in a satisfactory manner. Those who are chiefly concerned in industrial matters must have a reasonable assurance that their cases will be dealt with as promptly as possible, and that, where there is delay in hearing their plaint, justice will be done them by making the award retrospective to the date of the dispute.

Mr Maxwell - That would secure continuity of favorable conditions.

Mr CHARLTON - E - Exactly. "We cannot expect the workers to submit to losses in order to get before the Court. To require them to do so would be to sap their confidence in the Court. If they have a dispute and file a plaint, they are not to blame for any delay in hearing that plaint; and, therefore, I hope the Minister will accept both these proposals.

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