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Thursday, 26 March 1942


Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- Whatever may be the position in other States, the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union in Victoria is merely a creature of the 1928 strike. If an association was registered before that, I believe that it was in the State of New South Wales. There was no State registration in Victoria, because the act does not permit State organizations to be registered in Victoria. In 1927, instigated by the State organization of New South Wales, an application was made for registration. I do not know how many members the organization had in New South Wales at that time, but I think that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) -will be surprised Jo learn that when this body first applied for federal registration, it had only 60 members. Although its application to the registrar did not come on for some months, it could not scrape together more than 100 members by the time the application was heard. That clearly indicates that it had not much support even in the State where it had State registration, and it had no support worth while anywhere beyond that State. When the matter came before Judge Beeby, he said that he had very grave doubts as to whether even the 100 members were genuine. I might here profitably read from the report of the proceedings. The union had applied for registration in the Arbitration Court before the Deputy Registrar in Sydney. He granted the application, and an appeal against the registration was lodged. The ground upon which the appeal was allowed and the .registration cancelled is set out in the following extract from Judge Beeby's judgment: -

The evidence discloses that, at a meeting of it State organization, attended by about (iO members, it was resolved that application be made for registration under the Commonwealth act, and a set of rules was agreed to. One nf these rules provided that each member of the State union should become a member of iiic Federal organization unless within a certain time he sent a notification to the contrary. This might bc sufficient evidence of membership of those present at the meeting, but without proof of agreement of absent members to hu hound by such a resolution, it could not tic binding on them. Beyond the carrying of this resolution, there was no evidence as to membership at the time of the lodging of the application for registration, lt was contended that when the Registrar gave his decision some months later, more than 100 members had signed cards which bound them to membership. I have serious doubts us to when such cards (vere actually signed and when they were stamped with the rubber impress of the name nf the new organization. But it is not necessary to decide that issue. The act and rules provide for registration of not less than 100 employees, and for the hearing of objections of other organizations to such registration. These provisions clearly apply to membership nt the time of application.

The next year, the union renewed its application, which was granted because the Waterside Workers Federation did not know that the application had been made.

The ordinary procedure is, when an application for registration is made, to publish a notice to that effect in the Gazette, and when I inquired how it was that the application was granted on this occasion, I learned that the Waterside Workers Federation had been blissfully ignorant that the application had been made. However, there is no doubt that the union gained a big membership in Melbourne as a result of the strike. Many persons working on the waterfront are members of neither the Waterside Workers Federation nor the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. In some other places, the difference between the two organizations has disappeared. Personally, I hope it will disappear everywhere. In the course of time the differences between the railway men who went on strike in 1903, and those who remained at work, disappeared, and the two important railway unions accepted as members both those who had gone on strike and those who had stayed at work. The " consummation devoutly to ba wish'd ", namely, the disappearance of the difference between the two sections of waterside workers, will bc facilitated by the action which the Government has taken. It would be a good thing if there were one organization of waterside workers in Melbourne, and everywhere else also. The regulations stipulate that no member of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union is to be deprived of the right to work because of his membership of that union, but the objection taken by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is that the regulations do not provide for the expansion of the union.


Mr Holt - Or for its representation on the committee. There are two grounds of objection.


Mr BLACKBURN - Representation is necessary only to protect the interests of members. I submit that it would be very undesirable for the employers to have on this committee four members of their own, and one member of the union which they themselves established to suit their own convenience. The effect would be that the committee would not function in the interests of the employees. Tha union has never been a bona fide organization representing the class to which its members belong. It was brought into existence for the benefit of the employers at a time when waterside workers were on strike. It is an employers' union. The regulations will deny this body a voice as a representative of the employees, but they properly go on to say that no member of that body shall be deprived of the right to work merely because he is a member of it. Inthe United States of America, where the same problem has arisen, and where it has become necessary to recognize organized bodies of labour, definite rules have been laid down to determine which is the appropriate body to recognize. Our Arbitration Court provides for the recognition of organized bodies of labour, and several attempts were made before Mr. Justice Higgins, who was the founder of the court, to register rival unions of waterside workers. He refused these applications, and the classic case was decided in 1919. It was laid down that no matter what the political or personal differences of men engaged on waterside work, the Waterside Workers Federation was the organization to which, industrially, they might conveniently belong. Mr. Justice Higgins put the matter succinctly and well in his judgment which is recorded as follows in volume 13, Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, at page 7 : -

Experience has shown that competition between trade unions for members is disastrous to industrial organization and to industrial peace. There is a temptation to offer extravagant benefits (sick, out-of-work, &c.), at rates too low for solvency; there is division in the ranks oflabour in the face of the employers with whom the struggle is for better conditions: there arise recriminations as to "blacklegging ", &c.; and there is the prospect, under our system,of differing claims and differing awards being made for men performing the some class of functions. According to Webbs' "Industrial Democracy" (p.121) competition between overlapping unions is the cause of nine-tenths of the ineffectiveness in the trade union world.

If honorable members would take the trouble to read the awards issued to the waterside workers during the last decade, largely as a result of this competition, they would be surprised. There is in existence a system of unilateral compulsion. The employer is under no obligation to offer employment, but the employee is bound under penalty to accept employment if it is offered to him.

An instance of this came to my notice the other day. A man who had been virtually boycotted by big companies and who had been supported by a small company received a call from one of the big companies which had an urgent job to carry out. He said that he would not work on that job because he did not want to turn down the small company, which might need his services while the bigger company's ship was being loaded. He was told that he would hear more of the incident, but apparently the officers of the. large company thought better of the matter and it was dropped. Extremely bad conditions exist on the waterfront under the awards of the Arbitration Court, and, in my view, the unfairness of these awards is due to the competition between the two unions. A strange position would arise if the Government were to recognize every union registered in the Arbitration Court. What about the railway men? Let us suppose that railway workers had to be represented on some body. Would representation be granted to the Australian Railways Union and also to the National Union of Railway Men. That problem would be similar to the one which has arisen on the waterfront. In the last few years the Arbitration Court has adopted the practice of registering practically every organization that comes before it. It has laid down the principle that if, for political or religious reasons, men object to belonging to a registered union, they should have the right to register as a separate organization. The Court has held that the National Union of Railway Men, which has a very small membership, mostly in New South Wales, is entitled to registration because its members object to the political affiliations of the Australian Railways Union. The Government's action has been perfectly reasonable, and is designed to ensure peace on the waterfront. The waterside workers can only be effectively represented by one organization, and there can be only one organization if the future growth of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union be discouraged.

Question put -

That the National Security (Waterside Employment) Regulations under the National Security Act, made by Statutory Rules 1942, No. 19, be disallowed.







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