Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 4 March 1932

Mr BAKER (Oxley) .- As- a former vice-president and a present member of the Queeusland State Service Union, I support the emphatic protest made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) against the action of the Government in repealing the regulation giving the benefits of arbitration awards only to members of Public Service organizations. In this matter the Cabinet is following the example set by the Moore Government in Queensland, and its motive is the same. The intention is to strike a blow at trade unionism. Honorable members supporting the Government would have us believe that they are not opposed to unionism, but invariably their' actions prove that they are bitterly antagonistic. The first executive act of the present Government was to repeal the waterside workers regulations gazetted by the Scullin Government, with the result that, in place of peace- on the waterfront due to the smooth working of those regulations, there were outbreaks of violence, and at one seaport the disturbance was responsible for the death of one man. The Moore Government some time ago repealed regulations giving preference to unionists in the Queensland Public Service, in the belief, no doubt, that its action would cause a large number of public servants to sever their connexion with their respective organizations. In this the Government was disappointed because, during a period of over two years, only ten public servants resigned from the Queensland State Service Union as a result. We may expect the same result to follow the action of this Government. I have had personal experience of the anti-union attitude of the Queensland Nationalist Government. Some time ago, in association with Mr. Copley, the president of the Queensland State Service Union, I dared to criticize the Moore Government's proposal to disfranchize or give separate representation to members of the Public Service. As punishment, we were transferred to far-distant places in Queensland, but, in my case, at least', the transfer had results unexpected by the Government, because, recently, the electors of Oxley showed exactly what they thought of such punitive action by electing me to my present position. The Australian Labour Party believes that only those who, by joining organizations, fight for an improvement in their wages and conditions, should have the right to enjoy what is gained. Most of us have a certain amount of respect for the misguided individual who are not members of a union, and will not accept benefits obtained through it, but- all of us have a feeling of contempt for the person who, while not prepared to join a trade union and fight for better conditions, is willing to accept all that unionism can secure for him. In 1914, when there was a double dissolution of this Parliament on the question of preference to unionists, the Australian Labour Party was returned pledged to that policy, with a majority in both Houses. It is surprising, as well as regrettable, that the Ministry should have struck this blow at unionism, because the Leader of the Government (Mr. Lyons), and at least one member of his Ministry owe all they have ever enjoyed in political life to the fact that at one time they were members of a trade union. Although they have since severed their connexion with the Labour party, one would have thought that, out of gratitude to the movement that had done so much for them, they would have fought vigorously against the proposal to repeal this regulation.

Mr.HOLLOWAY. (Melbourne Ports) has taken this action. Not many years ago, when the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) was at the head of another ministry, he conducted negotiations with representatives of trade unions, and definitely assured them that members of the Ministry were in favour of trade unionism, because, so he admitted, modern business activities could not be carried on without organization. They agreed that it was impossible, in these days of collective bargaining, to revert to the old order, and that we could not expect to have discipline in industry without proper organization on each side. They admitted also that the degree of prosperity and progress which industry could make was dependent upon the state of perfection to which we could jointly bring our organizations. They agreed also that in the Public Service as well as in private employment there must be some organization, so that groups of employees could appoint representatives to consult with departmental heads and other authorities with the object of maintaining harmony within the .Service. It was manifestly impossible for the rank and file to negotiate individually, so, in workshops and offices, groups of employees were formed to make negotiation possible. I have on many occasions discussed these matters with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) and other members of the Cabinet at round-table conferences, and these honorable gentlemen have urged me to do my best to get the Australian workers, for whom I spoke, to take a reasonable view of the problems which had to be faced. On many occasions we have been able to arrange satisfactory working programmes a't these conferences. This has prevented discord in industry. The same kind of thing has happened in connexion with the employees of municipalities and other semi-public bodies. Year after year, representative Australian workers and representative employers of labour have dealt with the problems of industry to the mutual benefit of all concerned. I believe that if the members of the Cabinet whom I have in my mind were asked to express a private opinion on this subject they would admit that the efficient conduct of industry was impossible apart from organization among both employers and employees. In fact it would be impossible to carry on the commercial operation of this or any other country on economic lines without some degree of organization. The better the organization the more efficient the industry, in my opinion.

It is extraordinary, therefore, that within five minutes, so to speak, of the assumption of office by this Government, it should have taken steps to repeal the regulation to which we have referred. I do not think that this action of the Government will meet with the approval of employers generally. The presidents and secretaries of our various Chambers of Manufactures and Commerce, of the Employers Federation, of Harbour Trusts, of municipal organizations, and the like, will not be happy about this interference with the smooth working of the industrial machine. Thousands of pounds have been spent, in the aggregate, by the men, women and children of Australia to perfect their industrial procedure, and it is deplorable that anything should be done to nullify the good effect of their efforts. The Government appears to forget that if our industrial organizations were to disappear the way would be open for immoral employers to indulge in all kinds of unfair competition. It would be impossible, without industrial organization, to have uniform conditions in industry or uniform wages for similar work. Because the trade union movement has made these things possible, its advent has been welcomed by all decent employers. I know that the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) believes that this is so, for I have heard him speak, and have read -essays which he has written on this subject. I can hardly believe that some of the new members of this Parliament realize the folly of the step that has been taken. Organization among employers, like organization among employees, has had a good effect in introducing peace in industry. I believe that the great majority of employers would far rather conduct any necessary negotiations with their employees through an organization than off their own bat.

Probably the Public Service was the last large body of employees to organize on comprehensive lines. In the old days there was a great deal of diffidence on the part of public servants in approaching the authorities with any request for a revision of working conditions and wages. The environment of the heads of departments possibly made them hostile to any organized effort in this direction; but even they, in common with governments, have since come to welcome the opportunity to negotiate with the representatives of public service bodies. I have had a short experience as a Minister of the Crown, and 20 years' experience in outside industry, of the good effects of organized negotiations. I know that the responsible officers of the Public Service welcome the opportunity to consider any requests made by organized bodies of public servants with the object of increasing the efficiency and maintaining the harmony of the Service. Parliament has shown that it also approves of organized negotiation in the Public Service, for it has appointed a Public Service Arbitrator and a Public Service Board to conduct such negotiations as are necessary. It is apparent to all thinking people that efficiency requires organization. We object to the repeal of this regulation, because the result must be, in some degree at any rate, adverse to the great majority of public servants, who, with energy and enthusiasm, have built up the public service organizations. It must appeal to the members of the Government as unfair that those who have done nothing whatever to strengthen the Public Service organizations should enjoy the benefits which flow from their activities. It is not as though a big stick was being used. Such negotiations as occur always result in mutual agreement, either through the Public Service Arbitrator or otherwise. Men and women have for long years given up their leisure time, including their Saturdays and Sundays in many cases, in order to perfect these organizations, and 95 per cent, of the rank and file of the Public Service has enrolled in these organizations. Our public servants have gladly paid the few pence a week necessary to enable their organization to watch their interests, and they consider that those who, honestly perhaps, feel that they cannot link up with them should not be permitted to enjoy the benefits that organization has secured. I can see no reason whatever why anything should be done to interfere with the efficiency that has been attained. The repeal of regulations of this kind must necessarily have a bad effect on all industrial organizations. I am not temperamentally disposed to think evil of any one, but this action of the Government has suggested to me that it intends to take the old attitude of hostility to trade unionism generally. The new Government had scarcely taken over its duties before it repealed regulations which did more for the returned soldiers than any other regulations had done. Discord was disappearing; the different sections were getting along well together; every one was satisfied. Yet the Government saw fit to repeal those regulations. Having done that, it got busy with the Public Service regulations. These things give the impression, either rightly or wrongly, that the Government is seeking means of harassing the organized workers of this country. In the circumstances, is it any wonder that they are hostile to the Government? The public servants and the manual workers in this country are not the only sections in the community which believe in organization. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) knows that the stock and share brokers are highly organized. One of the most prominent members of their association told me that he could not give a commission worth 3d. to any one outside the organization without incurring the risk of being fined £200, or even more. When the Asssistant Treasurer introduced legislation with the object of deporting certain persons from this country the officials of the trade union movement decided to oppose it because they feared that it would be wrongly applied. I was given the job of collecting from the trade unions funds with which to fight the case before the court. We fought it for two or three weeks, during which period we called upon the seamen and others who kept the wheels of industry going, to continue at their work. One morning the King's Counsel who was acting on behalf .of the unions told me that he could no longer continue to act unless the sum of £97 was handed to him each morning. He explained that he, personally, was not pressing for the money, that he would be perfectly satisfied to wait even five or six months for it, knowing that he would get it, but that the code of morality in his association would not allow him to go on with the case unless his fees were paid to hin every morning.

Suggest corrections