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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- E happen to represent a greater number of waterside workers than does any other member of this House, including th? Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway). I believe that I know something of the genesis and history of the trouble on the Melbourne waterfront. It broke out in 1928, when the waterside workers refused to accept an award of the Arbitration Court. The TransportWorkers Act was passed at the instance of the then Attorney-General, the Eight Honorable J. G. Latham. Under that act, licensing conditions could be imposed in those ports in which the Government considered that there was not that obedience to the law which it demanded. The act was never brought into operation in the port of Sydney, but it was applied to the ports of Melbourne and Adelaide, and later to the port of Brisbane, and to certain other Queensland ports which I cannot now recall. It remained in force for many years. The Labour Government of 1929-31 was unable to repeal it, but attempted to pass regulations which would nullify its effects. Every regulation that it promulgated was disallowed by the Senate. Its best efforts proved unavailing, and not until many years subsequent to 1931 was the act repealed by the Menzies Government.

Mr Falstein - Three weeks before a general election.

Mr CALWELL - I am reminded by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) that the repeal took place about three weeks before a general election. That repeal was of no benefit to the waterside workers, because power was left to the representatives of the shipowners to issue new forms of licences to those who wished to work on the waterfront in Melbourne. During all the years that elapsed from the date of the strike to the repeal of the act, the members of the Waterside Workers Federation were industrial pariahs. They could work on coal, because nobody among the volunteers wanted that hard work. They were allowed to work two men to every hatch, but only in order that the genuine wharf labourer could teach the volunteer how to do the work. Many waterside workers, during all those years, lived in a state of semi-starvation. In the depression years, no legitimate waterside worker in Melbourne earned the basic wage, and the majority of them existed on the dole or something equivalent to it. Naturally, they look to this Labour Government to give them protection against the conditions that have been created at the instigation of the Shipowners Federation. These men, who have been life-long unionists, have again gradually built up their union to something like its earlier strength; but they always have had the trouble of the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union being alongside them. I have no wish to hide any of the facts of the situation. The Melbourne branch of the Waterside Workers Federation do not want the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union inside their organization, and they have resisted any attempt from inside the organization to open its books to those men. There is so much bitter feeling because of the way in which the shipowners over the last decade and more, have used their power to' try to crush the federation, that the members of that body do not want to have anything to do with the human instruments by which that purpose was sought to be achieved. It is a question, not of allowing the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union into the Waterside Workers Federation, but of how that federation can best protect the interests of its members, and, only incidentally, the interests of the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. That, really, is the germane part of this debate. If the Waterside Workers Federation has equal representation :with the employers, any matters in dispute can be settled by the vote of an independent chairman. But if the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union had two representatives, and the Waterside Workers Federation had two, making a total of four representatives of the workers, and the employers also had four representatives, the committee would be worthless, because invariably the employers would be able to depend upon the votes of the two representatives of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, and the representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation might as .well not be there.

Mr Holt - Would not that objection apply also to the committee which functioned very satisfactorily under the Transport Workers Act?

Mr CALWELL - The representation which the Waterside Workers Federation had upon that committee was accepted only under duress, because the industrial strength of the federation was not sufficient to enable it to win better representation. .The Labour party, politically, was in the doldrums. There was no action which it could take that would give to the federation greater or better representation. Therefore, the committee functioned as well as it could in the circumstances - as the honorable member for Fawkner suggested - for a number of years. Now that there is a Labour Government in power, the Melbourne branch of the federation wants to have the sole representation on the committee and does not want representatives of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union to have any voice. It has been suggested by the Opposition that it is unfair that the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union should not have any representation, seeing that it has 1,100 members, compared with 1,800 members in the Waterside Workers Federation. I suggest that the Minister has to accept the lesser of two evils : He must accept a position in which he knows that the rights of workers on the waterfront will be protected adequately even if it involves giving no representation to 1,100 men or he must accept the other position, whilst the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union will have some voice in the determinations of the committee, the representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation who are affiliated with the Labour party, will be an ineffective force and the committee will not be worth anything to them at all. I remind the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) that when the Transport Workers Act was repealed, first and second preference licences were issued on the Melbourne waterfront; but they were not issued by representatives of the Government, or by the Waterside Workers Federation, the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, or a combination of both. They were issued by Captain Braddock, a representative of the ship-owners. That gentleman issued licences to men who had been on the waterfront for only two or three months, and refused them to men who had been there for years. In fact, the issue of licences on the Melbourne waterfront was like kissing - it went by favour. Men who had no claim whatsoever to any consideration found themselves with first and second preference licences, and were better off than their fellows 'who had far more right to the licences. Before the present Government caine into office, I made representations to the 'then Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) and to customs officials, and suggested that Captain Braddock should be prevented from issuing any more licences. That was done, and it was a right and proper course to adopt by any government that desired to settle the problem on the waterfront. Although under the regulations in dispute the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union is being deprived of representation on the committee, members of that union who are still on the waterfront are not being denied the right to work, or to exercise any of the rights which they have enjoyed up to date. Their economic interests are well safeguarded, and there is no question of victimization now, or in the future. If there be an argument as to any man being permitted to work under the regulations,

Mud if the Waterside Workers Federation does not want to admit him, the shipowners, if they so desire, will argue in favour of his admission. Then, should there be a deadlock in the voting, the independent chairman, who is an officer of the Public Service, will give his decision in accordance with the principles of true justice. Therefore, all the fears entertained by honorable members opposite in regard to the application of these regulations are groundless. There is no evidence to support the Opposition's claims, which apparently are based only on their own credulity.

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