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Thursday, 2 September 1920


Mr LAVELLE (Calare) .- The contribution of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) to the debate was valuable in one respect, at any rate, namely, that if there were lingering doubts in the minds of honorable members regarding the sinister motives under lying the introduction of the amendment, they have now been removed. The honorable member said he would support the amendment, and that, if he had his way, he would smash the Arbitration Court altogether. Honorable members on this side have felt all along that that was identically the motive of the Government. The honorable member for Dampier thinks the present proposal will smash the Court, and that is why he is supporting it. Despite that the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) had to withdraw certain remarks commentary upon the speeches of the honorable members for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) and Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), Ialthough I shall not be permitted to repeat them - will continue to think the same. The honorable member for Dampier stated that reduction of hours meant a considerable reduction in output, and he argued that, if men were to work longer hours,they would produce more. If he desired to carry his contention to its logical conclusion he would advocate working periods of twenty-four hours per day. However, his arguments are fallacious because, although the workers today are engaged over a shorter weekly period than during the past, the researches of the Commonwealth Statistician reveal that we are producing more and more each year. I have before me statistics relating to the value produced for each employee in the Commonwealth. In 1914 the value produced per employee was £201; in 1916 the value was £213. During that period 300,000 of our men were not engaged in productive occupations. Knibbs says, further, that in 1914 the estimated value of production from industries in Australia amounted to £218,101,000; and that in 1916 the total production amounted to £270,427,000. I repeat that 300,000 of our vigorous young men were not then engaged in productive occupations. These statistics relate to agriculture, the pastoral industry, dairying, mining, manufacture, and other sources of occupation ; and they prove conclusively that, if we were able to show such increased value of production over the years indicated, we must be producing still more to-day per employee than ever in the past. Realizing that the Government, and those who support them, are determined by any means in their power to smash industrial organizations, I am not at all surprised at the introduction of the amendment. The community to-day is divided into two classes - the exploiter and the exploited; the robber and the robbed. Honorable members on this side represent those who have been robbed for so long, while honorable members on the other side of the Chamber represent the robbing section of the community.


Sir Granville Ryrie - I regard those remarks as objectionable, and ask that they be withdrawn.


Mr LAVELLE - I withdraw the word "robber " and will substitute " exploiter." It is only to be expected that the Government should introduce measures of this kind in order to satisfy those friends outside who are responsible for their occupation of the Treasury bench to-day. The amendment has been introduced to prevent the workers from gaining a little more of that to which they are entitled : from securing a larger share of the leisure which is their due by the reduction of hours of labour. The general trend to-day, however, is more than ever in the direction of shorter hours of employment. The workers are endeavouring to make a new world for themselves; and, despite any restrictions which the Government may seek to apply, the toiling classes intend to continue their onward march. The day of working-class emancipation is drawing nearer; and, whether by arbitration or by direct action, the workers are slowly but surely coming into theirown.


Sir Robert Best - What do you want?


Mr LAVELLE - I want to see the workers receive a fair share of the wealth they produce. I want to see that they get justice, and a little more of that brightness and sunshine of life to which they are entitled, but which the social conditions of to-day and the past have denied to them. I have been a supporter of arbitration all my life, advocating it in season and out of season before the most advanced industrialists as well as before the most crusted Tories; but if the Government persist in placing this provision in the Bill, as apparently they will do, owing to the fact that they have behind them a brutal majority which will passanything they bring forward, I shall no longer be able to go out, as I have done in the past, endeavouring to persuade the members of organizations, who would resort to direct action, to place their faith in arbitration. Employers, to a great extent, have always been able to defeat the aims and objects of the working-class organizations by increasing the cost of living. An award granting higher wages has always been passed on by them, the consequent increase in the cost of living resulting in a further increase in the burdens of the workers. But knowing positively that a reduction of hours cannot be passed on, they are determined to prevent such a possibility. The Australian Workers Union has a membership of 100,000, and of these 70,000 are now working forty-four hours a .week. Every day organizations are adhering to ' the forty-four hours per week standard. As a matter of fact, the majority of the employees of Australia are not working more than forty-four hours a week, but this proposal has been brought forward to prevent forty-four hours becoming the universal standard of work. I have taken care to obtain accurate figures in regard to the branches of the Australian Workers Union which are working fortyfour hours a week. In Queensland throughout the whole State the shed hands, the wool-scouring ' employees, forestry employees, the quarry workers, railway construction employees, railway permanent employees, roadmaking employees, bootmakers, and bridge carpenters, are working forty-four hours a week ; also employees of local authorities, sawmill hands, employees of the State Fisheries Department, brick and pottery makers, ironworkers' assistants,- water and sewerage employees, Northern brewery employees, city electric-light employees, boat builders, bagmakers, cement workers, cork workers, gas workers, Harbor Trust employees, laundry workers at Townsville, painters at Townsville, rubber workers, storemen, and packers, and the Northern metalliferous employees, excepting the surface hands at Mount Morgan. In Victoria, miners, sewer workers, quarrymen, gardeners, and cement workers are working forty-four hours a week, and in New South Wales practically all the members of the Australian Workers Union work those hours. It is not surprising that honorable members opposite have brought forward this proposal, which they hope will prevent the workers who are not so fortunately situated as those I have just mentioned from getting similar working hours. It would probably be interesting to learn what happened in the fight by the Australian Workers Union for a forty-four hours week in. Victoria. On the 1st May, 1916, the sewerage branch obtained a Wages Board award of forty-four hours per week; but the Metropolitan Board of Works appealed on the 14th November following, and the award was amended by Mr. Justice Hodges, who restored the forty-eight hours a week, and amended the award to become operative on the 1st December, 1916. However, the contractors to the Board refused to revert to a forty-eight-hour week until pressure was brought to bear on them by the Board, who gave them to understand that unless they worked that number of hours per week they would be given no more contracts. One contractor, Mr. T. Starr, who had a contract for a sub-main at East Caulfield, tried to evade the pressure of the Board, and insisted on working his men for forty-four hours per week. However, after a fortnight he announced his intention of reverting to the forty-eight hours per week. The men thereupon decided that they would not work the forty-eight hours a week. The result was a strike. After eight days the representatives of the Australian Workers Union met in conference the contractors and representatives of the Metropolitan Board of Works, at which the Board agreed that the contractors could work their men for forty-four hours per week so long as no endeavour was made to get the Board's own employees to strike against a forty-eight hours' week. However, on the 14th October, 1919, a Wages Board made an award granting a fortyfour hours' week to the sewerage employees, and the Board was unsuccessful in its endeavour to get the majority of the contractors to side with it in an appeal with the object of having a fortyeight hours'' week reinstated. It is a matter of common knowledge that the majority of the workers are working fortyfour hours per week, yet the Government would be prepared to move heaven and earth if they could to prevent this onward march of unionism, and prevent the workers from getting one step closer towards their economic emancipation. When speaking on the Industrial Peace Bill, honorable members on this side said that they felt satisfied that the object behind the Government's proposals on that occasion was to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins from the Arbitration Court. I have not the slightest doubt that such is their intention. It is certainly a scandal that just when the President of the Arbitration Court is engaged in deciding the question of whether a forty-four hours' week should be established, the Government should rush down with this amendment, which will take out of his hands the power to say tnat forty-four hours should constitute a working week. Last week, in Sydney, I was in conversation with one of the biggest manufacturers in New South Wales. He told me that he had been opposed to a reduction of hours, and to the men's proposal to cease work on Saturdays, but that the results achieved since the adoption of the five days' system had convinced him that no reduction of output would result from the establishment of a forty-four-hours' week. However, I go further than that, and maintain that even if the establishment of a forty-four-hour's week should lead to a reduction in output, I would favour it, because in the majority of instances the workers in five days can produce all that is necessary. If workers were paid anything like an adequate share of the wealth they produce, they would be getting for two days' work as much as they now receive for six days' work. But, although it is the workerswho produce the wealth of the world, practically the whole of it is stolen from them by one means or another under the social conditions of to-day. It is in order to allow these conditions to continue, and to compel workers to remain enslaved in the future as they have been in the past, that the Government have come forward with this proposal. I do not wish to utter any threat, but I say that ifMinisters persist in their desire to embody this provision in the Bill, scarcely any organization will remain registered under the Arbitration Court, because the workers will realize that the Court will not be able to give them that which they desire to achieve, and will not be able to give a decision upon their legitimate claim to have hours of labour reduced. They will withdraw from their registration, and there will be strikes from one end of the country to the other. We all know that it is the wives and children of strikers who suffer during the dislocation of trade and industry brought about by industrial turmoil, but in their advocacy of the principles they hold, and the rights to which they justly believe they are entitled, the workers are prepared to suffer any injustice. They will make any sacrifices in order that they may obtain a greater share of the product of their labour, and shorter working hours, enabling them to have a little more brightness and sunshine in their lives. If the Government insist upon embodying this provision in the Bill, the workers must lose faith in arbitration. They will not register, and the consequence will be that, instead of having industrial peace, the country will have industrial chaos.







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