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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- This is a very important amendment, and honorable members who intend to record a vote upon it should be present, and give their attention to the discussion. The clause will have a very far-reaching effect. I do not make that statement without a good reason. It is difficult to understand why such an amendment is introduced at this juncture. When the Bill was drafted, the Government evidently had not thought of this matter at all. We were told that it was necessary to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act in certain respects to meet objections raised by the Judges of the Arbitration Court and other persons concerned in the matter of arbitration. The Minister has not told us who recommended this amendment. It would be interesting to know whether it was based on the recommendation of the President of the Court, or whether the industrialists asked for it. It would be particularly interesting to know whether it emanated from the employers.

Let us know where we stand in regard to this matter.

Mr Austin Chapman - Give the Minister a chance to tell us; he surely will do that.

Mr CHARLTON - The Minister has had an opportunity, and he has not told us one word in justification of this drastic innovation. Not much exception can be taken to the earlier part of the proposed new clause 6a, which enables the President to ask for a deputy or deputies to sit with him in the hearing of any plaint. But sub-clause 4 states - "(4.) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the Court shall not have jurisdiction to make an award -

(a)   increasing the standard hours of work in any industry to more than fortyeight hours per week, or, where the standard hours of work in any industry are more than forty-eight hours per week, increasing the standard hours of work in that industry, or

(b)   reducing the standard hours of work in any industry to less than fortyeight hours per week, or, where the standard hours of work in any industry are less than forty-eight hours per week, reducing the standard hours of work in that industry, unless the question is heard by the President and not less than two Deputy Presidents, and the increase or reduction, as the case may be, is approved by a majority of the members of the Court by whom the question is heard."

This is an entire departure from all previous industrial legislation. In the past we have been content to leave to the President of the Court, or whoever was appointed to adjudicate on an industrial dispute, the right to decide according to the evidence what conditions should be awarded. The amendment takes away that right, for it says that the President may no longer deal with any plaint in regard to hours; he must call. to his assistance two deputies, and the verdict must be by a majority of the Court.

Mr Austin Chapman - There must have been a strong recommendation to induce the Minister to introduce such an amendment.

Mr CHARLTON -Sofar we have heard nothing of the origin of the amendment, but it is obvious that it was drafted in such a hurry that consideration was given to only one side of the question. The clause as drafted imposed this limita tion in regard to unions which applied for a reduction or increase of hours,but employers whose workmen were now working less than forty-eight hours per week could apply to one Judge to increase the hours; should the employees, however, ask that the hours be reduced, the President must call to his assistance two Deputies. This peculiarity about the drafted clause was pointed out last night by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), and the Minister has now proposed to amend it. But does not the draft show that the clause was designed by somebody who is not in sympathy with the working class? We want to know who that person is.. The proposal conveys only one impression, and that is that it originated in circumstances that are not conducive to the promotion of industrial peace.

Mr Austin Chapman -We shall probably ascertain this afternoon who drafted it, after there has been a good, long discussion.

Mr.CHARLTON.- I hope the Committee will never agree to this proposal. To-day less than forty-eight hours per week is worked in very many industries.

Mr.Prowse. - That is a great mistake.

Mr CHARLTON - That is the honorable member's opinion. I suppose he thinks that reduced hours mean reduced production. I shall show, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that in those industries in which hours have been reduced the production has been increased.

Mr.Prowse. - Is there no limit to that theory ?

Mr.CHARLTON.- We may come to a limit, but we have not reached it yet. Nobody can argue that forty-four hours per week is below the limit of a profitable working week. Is it to be contended that in this enlightened age, when all the discoveries of science and the benefits of mechanical invention have been brought to the aid of industry the workers should continue to work as many hours as they did under the old conditions? If so, the workers are to derive no advantage from scientific and mechanical progress. Amongst the workers who work less than forty-eight hours per week are the members of the Australian Workers Union, one of the largest organizations in Australia, the rubber workers, wharf labourers, flour millers, textile workers, some printers in newspaper offices (42 hours), Commonwealth clerical officers (36J hours) temporary clerks (36? hours) letter-carriers (44 hours), and telegraphists (36? to 42^ hours). Reduction of hours is a live question throughout the industrial world, and, in Australia, as in other countries, an effort has been made since the war to improve the general conditions of labour. I think almost all the unions throughout Australia have decided that the hours of labour should be reduced, and that the reduction should be brought about without causing any upheaval. The majority of them are prepared to depend upon constitutional methods, but there are others who urge that the workers will gain nothing from constitutional procedure, and their case is being strengthened by the amendment, which positively invites trouble. To-day the President of the Arbitration Court (Mr. Justice Higgins) is conducting an inquiry in regard to the hours of labour; the case is part heard. According to this morning's newspaper report of yesterday's proceedings -

Francis Richardson, organizer for the VictoriaRiverina branch of the Australian Workers Union, stated that the Australian Workers Union had 100,000 members in Australia, of whom about two-thirds enjoyed the forty-four-hour week under State and Commonwealth Arbitration Court awards. Giving figures to show the extent to which the shorter working week had already been adopted, witness said that about COO direct and indirect employees of the Metropolitan Board of Works were working forty-four hours a week. The same was true of 1,000 gardeners, 2,000 quarrymen, 400 cement workers, and 1,400 miners in Victoria.

I find also, and this is very important, that -

According to Arthur Long, secretary of the Boot Trades Employees Union, there has been an agitation for many years to secure a fortyfourhours week.

Mr. JusticeHiggins. Has any demand been made ?

Mr LONG (LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, since you made your award in 1910 there has been a continual demand.

Mr. JusticeHiggins. I recollect that at the time I refused an application for a forty fourhours week.

It was stated by Mr. Long that in 1913 there was a conference with the employers, at which the employees asked for a forty-four-hours week. The request was refused. At the time he urged that for the sake of permanent peace* in the industry the concession should be granted, but still the employers held out, saying they could not think of agreeing to a reduction of hours.

Since then the extreme section of the employees, which was always opposed to arbitration, had gained in numbers. This section maintained that the workers could get no consideration from the Court as far as a reduction of hours was concerned, and that the only way to secure what was desired was by a policy of direct action.

That is the very thing we are assisting by this amendment.

To such an extent had this feeling grown, that the Federal executive decided to take a ballot of members of the organization as to whether they were in favour of an endeavour to secure redress through the Arbitration Court or by other means. The result of the ballot was:- Yes, 5,181; No, 1,249.

Early in this year, continued Mr. Long, the agitation was resumed, many taking the stand that direct action should be taken to secure a shorter week. In some factories meetings of employees were called to discuss what action should be taken, and various resolutions were carried, some going so far as to ask that the factories should be closed on Saturdays. " I hope you understand," interposed Mr. Justice Higgins, " that I do not take this evidence as influencing my judgment. I am only taking it as showing that the employees in the boot trade are equally earnest with the timber workers in getting forty-four hours."

That is the evidence adduced before the Court only yesterday. In addition to the workers mentioned the miners, whose organization has a membership second only to that of the Australian "Workers Union, work only forty-four hours in one week from bank to bank, and forty hours in the next week. I hope that the time will shortly come when there will be a further reduction of the hours of men who have to work in the bowels of the earth. In what position are the Government placing Mr. Justice Higgins? One case in Melbourne is sub judice, and I was informed last evening by Mr. Holman, member of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, that the timber workers in that State are awaiting the decision of the Arbitration Court upon this very question of a reduction of working hours. If Parliament, at this stage, passes an amendment such as that before the Committee, will it not be casting a reflection upon the Court? I know that if I were in the position of Mr. Justice Higgins, and had dealt with these matters from the very inception of the Court, I would consider that Parliament had cast a reflection upon me by enacting that I should not, in future, be intrusted with the fixing of working hours.

Mr Brennan - The amendment transfers the functions of the Court to the majority in this Parliament.

Mr CHARLTON - There can be no denying that this amendment interferes with the judgment of the President. He has dealt with case after case; he has given dozens of awards which have fixed the hours of labour, and now Parliament is asked to pass legislation which will compel him, notwithstanding that he is in the middle of the hearing of a case, to have two Deputies on the Bench with him.

Mr Riley - Not only is it a reflection on the President of the Court, but the case now before the Court will have to start de novo.

Mr CHARLTON - Suppose that Mr. Justice Higgins decides that the hours should be reduced, what will be the position? I should think that if this amendment is agreed to and an appeal were lodged on the ground that such decision was contrary to this legislation, the award would be declared invalid. Throughout the world there is a general desire on the part of the workers for a reduction of hours. This Parliament established a Court to deal with that question. Only a fortnight ago this House passed legislation with the object of expediting the business of the Court. How can the business be expedited if we agree to this amendment? The Minister told us recently that a very large number of cases had been listed for the Court, and that the Government desire to get the list reduced, so that the cases may be dealt with expeditiously. Supposing there were forty cases before the Court, I am prepared to say that if an investigation were made it would be found that fully thirty would relate to the hours of labour. In fact, I hardly know of a case that comes before the Court in which the question of hours to be worked does not arise. If there were thirty cases awaiting hearing in which the hours to be worked had to be inquired into, we should have at once to appoint two Deputy Judges to assist the presiding Judge in each case, which would mean that the work would not be expedited in any way. I ask the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) how many Judges will have to be appointed if the Government are anxious to clear the sheet in an expeditious manner ? If there are thirty plaints involving the question of hours before the Court, and three Judges are required in each case to deal with the work expeditiously, it would mean that at least ninety Judges would have to be engaged to clear the sheet. W|e do not desire to overload the work of the Court, but surely any one can see that if three Judges are required to deal with a particular case in which hours are involved it will be difficult to facilitate the hearings. I ask the Government in all sincerity to seriously consider this matter, and explain why a distinction should be made in this case when other cases can be heard by one Judge. I ask honorable members to consider this matter irrespective of party, and to realize what the effect of an amendment such as this will be, particularly in view of the fact that there are so many industrialists outside who take an extreme view, and who hold that arbitration has failed. As Mr. Long has said, in the evidence I have quoted, they have been endeavouring to keep down the direct actionists. What will the result be if we change the method of procedure, so that it will be necessary for three Judges instead of one to deal with all plaints in which the question of hours is involved? What will be the impression conveyed to the minds of the general public? It is of no use mincing matters. We have been endeavouring to combat industrial trouble. I had hoped that we had crossed the stile, and that there was some prospect of everything proceeding satisfactorily. This amendment has evidently been ill-considered. A leading citizen in discussing the question with me said that great danger was involved, because he did not think the industrialists would adhere to arbitration if it was to be carried out in this way. Are changes to be made from time to time to suit the convenience of certain people?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It affects all trades.

Mr CHARLTON - The Treasurer knows as well as 1 do that it, of course, affects all trades, and that in the past, when a question of hours was involved, the case was always dealt with by a Court consisting of one Judge. If the position has been satisfactory in the past, and it has not been shown that it has not, why is it necessary to make a change? I speak from, experience, and the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), who has an intimate knowledge of the coal business, knows as well as I do that a reduction of hours does not necessarily mean a decreased output. I entered a colliery as a , lad of fourteen years, when we worked from 7 in the morning until 5 in the evening, which meant toiling from daylight until dark. In the winter time we saw very little sunshine, and in summer we had a glimpse of the sun only in the morning and in the evening. It was said at that time that it was absolutely necessary to work that number of hours, and that a shorter day would interfere with production. We continued to agitate, and after years of strenuous work received a reduction of one hour, and we produced more coal when working nine hours per day than we did when working ten hours. I am quite prepared toprove that statement. Sincethat time there has been further agitation for a reduction, and to-day there is an eight-hour day from bank to bank-

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - But there must be a limit.

Mr CHARLTON - Yes, but we have not reached that limit. Statistics will show that in a working day of eight hours from bank to bank the production per man is much larger, notwithstanding the fact that the hours worked are less.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - If the pit is drawing eight hours, and that period is reduced by two hours, it means decreased production.

Mr CHARLTON - Although the hours have been reduced, the production per man is greater, and the output also is greater than it has ever been in the history of our coal mines. It is a question of greater efficiency and improved mechanical methods. What is the advantage of having more up-to-date appliances, with a view to maintaining a reasonable output, if we cannot have a reduction of hours? Those who have to toil in the bowels of the earth should have as much sunshine as we can possibly give them. So long as we do not interfere with the production, there is no reason why the hours should not be decreased. We have not reached that point-

Mr Bayley - How is that point to be arrived at?

Mr CHARLTON - That will regulate itself. When a case comes before the Court the employers and employees submit their claim, and evidence is heard from both sides. It is on the evidence adduced that a decision is arrived at. The Government are now desirous of upsetting the acknowledged method whereby these cases have been dealt with. With the exception of plaints relating to hours, one Judge is apparently considered sufficient.

Mr Austin Chapman - There must be some good reason for submitting an amendment such as this.

Mr CHARLTON - If there is the Government have notgiven it. Honorable members should not be carried away by party views, but should be prepared to mete out justice in a proper manner. Let us do something to enable those loyal workmen, who are in favour of adopting constitutional methods, to have their grievances redressed in a proper manner. I can see a good deal of trouble ahead if we are not particularly careful.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I would like the honorable member to discuss this aspect of the question: Does he think that by reducing the number of hours in the collieries we shall be assisting in meeting the world's shortage of coal?

Mr CHARLTON - I have never been in favour of reducing the output, and I have already shown that reduction of hours has not had that effect.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - What will be the result if the working hours are reduced from eight to six ?

Mr CHARLTON - The Treasurer thinks that by reducing the working hours the production would be decreased. I will argue the matter in another way. This House, at the instigation of the Treasurer and the members of his party, only last week passed a measure which will permit one individual, sitting as Chairman of a Tribunal, to deal with such questions as this.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I think this House should settle the question of working hours.

Mr CHARLTON - Let us look at this matterfrom the view point of consistency. This House has already decided in the Industrial Peace Bill that, so far as industrial matters are concerned, in the event of a dispute there shall be so many representatives from each side, and that a Chairman shall be appointed by the Governor-General in Council. Every one knows that the representatives of the two parties will put their case, and it will then be left to the Chairman, whoever he may be - he may not be a Judge at all - to decide the question of hours to be worked. If it is decided that the hours shall be reduced to, say, six, he has the power to order a reduction, but all other unionists who appear before the Arbitration Court on the question of working hours will have to have their cases decided by three Judges. Where is the consistency? I am glad the Treasurer has given me an opportunity of bringing this aspect of the question before the House.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The honorable member has made a reply which is not a reply.

Mr CHARLTON - I have shown the exact position. There will be no reduction in output. Each case will be decided on the evidence adduced. We should know who is responsible for this amendment, as we never heard of it until the Minister for Works and Railways brought it forward last night. Apparently it was not thought of when other amendments were under consideration, and it is even now being amended at the instigation of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). This is a serious matter, and the Government will be well advised if they decide to withdraw the proposal. I am as anxious as any honorable member that industrial peace should be preserved, and I shall later test the feeling of the Committee, as I intend to move that all the words in the amendment after "Deputy President," in sub-clause 3, be left out.

Mr Groom - Technically we are dealing only with 4a, but perhaps we could take theclauses as a whole.

Mr CHARLTON - I am prepared to agree to that.

Mr Groom - I think we shoulddeal with the whole matter.

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