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Thursday, 2 September 1920


Mr WEST (East Sydney) .- I share the opinion expressed by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) in this matter, and would like to see the removal of the suspicions existing in the minds of a majority of honorable mem- . bers, and in those of the general public. When we remember that there is a movement to-day for the inauguration of a forty-four-hour week, and when we recall the personal friendship) existing between the Government and some employers outside, we are apt to feel that the Government have been moved in this particular matter tobenefit the personal interests of their outside friends. Why has this amendment been introduced at the last moment? The Government have not intimated that there is any good reason forits introduction other than in relation to the campaign for the institution of a forty-four-hour week. But that is no new movement. I was acquainted with the men who first sought to introduce the eight hourssystem in Australia. Those pioneers, although they instituted the eight-hour principle, really failed to achieve their purpose, which was for an eight-hour day for five days in the week, and for a four-hour Saturday. That is the true eight-hour principle, and is really a forty-four-hour week, of course. Every one must admit that the power of production is equal to-day to what it was twenty years ago. Production is actually, in many cases, 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. in advance of what it was in the bad old days of unrestricted working hours. How can honorable members on this side, who represent 80 per cent. of the people, persuade the latter to accept the Government's arbitration and industrial peace projects in the face of such an amendment as that under consideration? Most honorable members - certainly, all of those who hail from New South Wales - know the attitude of the Judges and Deputy Judges of the State Arbitration Courts towards the workers generally. Those gentlemen, by their utterances in the past, have made their point of view perfectly clear. Many of their statements have shown that their minds are poisoned against any proposition for the improvement of the lot of the worker. The industrial section in Australia will continue to be dissatisfied with the existing situation, seeing that it can be proved that reduced hours and' better conditions of labour actually tend to the enhancement rather than the restriction of production. Various other branches of our industrial life have obtained better conditions, and why should the Government practically at the last moment in the consideration of this Bill seek to insert a clause of this kind? If it is such a god-send, and will have such wonderful effects, why was it not included in the Bill as introduced? I have seen as much as most honorable members have of the underground engineering that goes on on the Ministerial side, and I am convinced that this proposal has come from persons outside, who are doing more to bring about direct action, although they are, perhaps, doing it unintentionally, than was ever done by those in the industrial movement. The moving spirits in this matter are men who are paid to look after the interests of the employing class. They are anxious to do something to justify the positions they occupy. I know everything from A to Z about the building trade, and I can assure honorable members that building contractors now get from 30 to 40 per cent. moreout of their men under the improved conditions than they got at any previous period. Are honorable members opposed to the movement to do away with Saturday work? If they are, let me tell them that Saturday is not going to be a working day in Australia much longer.


Mr Wienholt - Are we not going to milk the cows?


Mr WEST - I have been concerned with much more important occupations than the milking of cows, although I admit that it is one of those, things that must be done every day of the week. Does the honorable member go withouthis dinner on Sunday because of the Biblical prohibition ofSunday work ? I guarantee that he not only does not go without his Sunday dinner, but causes people to be employed to cook it for him. This proposal does notrepresent the action of the Government themselves. They have been moved by those who are opposing the shortening of the hours of labour. I often think that it is want of knowledge that actuates the people who take those views. If, like many honorable members on this side, they were students of social questions, they would never have attempted to introduce this clause. If it is put in, we, as constitutionalists who are in favour of mediation and mutual understanding, will have to drop that attitude. We will have to tell our people that the Bill, as passed, is so full of dangerous provisions that we must adopt another course. That would be a very serious thing for Australia, because I believe that in the hands of some people direct action would be a dangerous weapon. At the same time, we can find examples of direct action every day of the week in every phase of commercial life. Banks resort to it when they want to raise their rates of interest, and traders use it when they want to increase the price of their goods. The only people who are not allowed to use it in Australia, apparently, are the employees. They are supposed to go to the Arbitration Court, hut when they get there their women-folk are asked all sorts of futile and even impertinent questions. For instance, the wife of a worker is asked what she did with the odd 3d. that was left over after she had made up her calculations, or how many boot-laces she bought in the last three months. In the interests of the Bill itself, and to prevent their supporters from being put in a false position, the Government would be well advised to .withdraw this amendment and admit that they have made a mistake in yielding to the persuasions of their friends outside. I am confident that the main object of the amendment is to block the forty-four-hour movement. Those who think it will do so are making a grave mistake, because the forty-four-hour week is sure to come. If the clause is inserted, the usefulness of the Bill in the settlement of disputes between employers and employed will be gone. I admit that there must be some means of settling disputes, but this Bill will not do it unless the industrial section of the community are satisfied that it will give them justice. Above all things, we . must create confidence; but the people oan have no confidence in this Bill if it is to be used simply as an instrument of torture. Our object should be to pass a measure which will bring about a better understanding between those who produce and those who get the result of production in 'the way of capital.







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