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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I have listened with deep interest to the remarks of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). No doubt his experience in this country as the represents,tive of many and varied parties is unique, but what he said concerning my statement to him relative to the coal-mining industry was quite true, except that the period should have been seven and not five years. I exhorted the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), when he was Prime Minister, to bring into effect again the legislation for the control of the coal-mining industry which was passed by the Government led by the right honorable member for North Sydney, for it is still on the statute-book. It is still the law of this country and could be implemented' immediately. The right honorable member for Kooyong preferred to confer with the owners of the industry, and brought into being what are known as reference boards, which are nothing but a huge joke and have been the means not of stimulating but of retarding pro duction. While I was actively engaged in the coal mining industry I saw grievances settled by the deputy, the underground manager, or the manager. To-day, the owners enforce the hearing of every pettifogging grievance by the reference boards, and that is the cause of the congestion that exists. The men are obliged to secure the endorsement by a reference board of customs that they have enjoyed for 20 or 25 years. In the period from 1914 to 1916 the miners, at a cost to themselves of £16,000, and a long stoppage of employment, fought for and obtained the abolition of the afternoon shift. An appointee of the right honorable member for Kooyong, a rejected candidate for the Senate - His Honor Judge Drake-Brockman - has now given a decision, later amended by the Local Reference Board, which means the re-introduction of the former practice of working machines on the second shift, at the Metropolitan colliery, better known as the Hellensburgh colliery, owned by Australian Iron and Steel Limited. That was a deliberate breach of an agreement. The miners had to knuckle down under it, or risk being described as fifth-columnists. Later I held a conference of all parties, including the chairman of the local tribunal, and the company agreed to eliminate the machine. In my advocacy of the cause of the miners over a period of many years I have filled a large number of pages of Hansard with a recital of their grievances. During the last meeting of the House the right honorable member for Kooyong was supplied with certain information by his coalowner supporters - information that was wrongly given to the press - concerning a decision that I had made at a conference regarding a dispute similar to that at the Hellensburgh colliery. In my reply to the right honorable gentleman. I gave the whole of the facts of the case. Little notice has been taken of the representations that I have made from time to time, but at all events I believe that I can claim to have been in some degree responsible for the decision of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) to visit the coalfields in order that he might see for himself the conditions that exist. On behalf of the miners, I thank the honorable gentleman for his visit and pay tribute to the efforts he has made on their behalf. He obtained in the press publicity that would have been denied to any body else. I have never misled this House in respect of the coal-miners, nor did I mislead the right honorable member for Kooyong when he sent for me in regard to certain trouble that existed on the coal-fields at the time. I then advised him to reintroduce the Industrial Peace Act. The right honorable gentleman said that he was handing the matter over to the then Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes), whom I then approached, and by whom I was informed that he was quite willing to reintroduce the Industrial Peace Act. We believed that the whole of the trouble would be settled; but we found that the right honorable member for North Sydney was held on a leash, on the other end of which was the right honorable member for Kooyong. Accompanied by the then President of the Miners Federation, I again approached the right honorable member for North Sydney, and told him that the right honorable member for Kooyong was agreeable to his reintroducing the Industrial Peace Act, but we received the reply, " He will not let me ". Consequently, I again approached the then Prime Minister, who said, "I have invited the coal-owners up here ". I replied, " That will be the end of it, because you will take more notice of them than of me". That is what happened. Had the right honorable member for North Sydney had his way, I am confident that the peace for which we have striven in the coal-mining industry would have prevailed; because there was no appeal whatever from decisions given by Mr. Chas. Hibble under that particular act. But what is the position to-day? Decisions are given by a local tribunal, of which Johnson, the superintendent of a colliery, is a member. He is also a member of the central tribunal. If he suspects that Connell may differ from him, he ignores the local reference board and takes the matter to the Central Reference Board ; and vice versa. Connell and other chairmen of local reference boards are coerced by the executive officer, Mr. Finnis, and cannot follow the dictates of their own judgment, with the result that many matters are sent to the Central Reference Board, the chairman of which is His Honour Judge Drake-Brockman, who, as I have said previously, would not know coal from chalk or cheese if either of the latter was blackened. He is advised by Mr. Finnis, a kind of legal luminary whose ignorance of the industry also is profound. The miners are continually being hampered in their endeavours to have their grievances redressed. The Central Reference Board could not be criticized if it were to function only in relation to interstate disputes or interpretations of general awards ; but it is interested in everything. I say definitely, that it is " bludging '' on the country, and that there is no need for it except in the directions that I have indicated. The local reference boards should function along the lines of the Hibble tribunal. Admittedly, there were no local tribunals under the Industrial Peace Act; but provision for their appointment was made under the act passed by the Menzies Government, and their ramifications would be far wider than are those of the existing reference boards. That act also made provision for the fixation of the price of coal thus safeguarding the consumer from exploitation. The sooner we revert to that system the sooner will there be peace in the industry. The members of the Central Reference Board are jealous of others who attempt to bring about peace. I have presided at eight conferences, at seven of which I have succeeded in achieving agreement of all the parties and the resumption of work, but because I have done this I have been told through the columns of the press that I have tried to circumvent the operations of duly constituted reference boards, and if there were much more interference by the Minister for Labour and National Service or myself the judge would walk out. The sooner he does so the better. I have never interfered with a decision of the local tribunal. At the request of the Minister I went to mines where there were disputes, and asked that conferences be arranged. As I am an experienced miner, neither the workers nor the owners can put anything over me. I say that without any desire to boast. I know nothing of any other industry, and have never belonged to any union other than the Miners Union. One of the first disputes I investigated was that in the Metropolitan Colliery owned by Australian Iron and Steel Limited. This was caused by the introduction of a coal-cutting machine in the afternoon shift. The men objected, and the Central Reference Board and the local reference board, I admit, gave a decision against the men. A conference was held, and after I pointed out what had happened in 1916, the owners agreed not to persist in their claim for the enforcement of the award, and they allowed t he men to work the machine on the day shift only. The next dispute was in the Richmond Main Colliery, belonging to ) . and A. Brown Limited. Those two companies, Australian Iron and Steel Limited and J. and A. Brown Limited, deserve to be prosecuted. Both are big companies which have, from time to time, absorbed many smaller ones. Australian Iron, and Steel Limited is an offshoot of broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Indeed, it is practically owned by that firm. At Richmond Main the owners were trying to force fifteen pairs of machines on the miners on the afternoon shift. A settlement was reached under which they agreed that only one machine was to be worked. I come now to the Glen Davis dispute. I was very sorry that the Government had taken action under Statutory Rule No. 77, and that the men had been got out of bed at 2 o'clock in the morning to accept delivery of the notices. This made it very hard for me to obtain a settlement. I am grateful to the Commonwealth police for accepting my suggestion that they should defer the issue of further notices until after I had my meeting with the miners. After the meeting, the men decided to go to work, in spite of the fact that they had waited so long for an award after the hearing of their case. Honorable members should try to understand something of the locality in which these men are working. They are very isolated, and conditions are far from good. Nothing could be more obnoxious than the smell of the water in which they are required to bath. The next dispute with which I was associated was that at the Bulli Colliery, also owned by Australian Iron and Steel

Limited. At this colliery it has been the practice to pay a minimum wage to compensate the miners for working deficient places. Before the war, the owners never made any attempt to break this agreement but now, with Statutory Rule No. 77 behind them, they think that they can bring pressure to bear upon the workers. Then, if the miners cease work in protest, we read in the newspapers that another mine is idle, but we are never told the cause of the dispute. There, again, I was able to effect a settlement, and the owners agreed to pay the money. However, the following fortnight, the deduction was again made, and the Minister for Labour and National Service went down and interviewed the owners, after which they agreed to pay. What was the motive of the owners in making the deductions? Was it an attempt to pin-prick the miners into causing stoppages, thus holding up production? If the owners were the agents of Hitler or of the Japanese Government they could not do a greater disservice to Australia than by fomenting strikes by breaking agreements and customs of long standing. At that conference I broke a long-standing precedent, and invited representatives of the press to come in and take a verbatim report of proceedings, if they wished. I did this because I realized that the miners' side of the disputes had never been properly presented in the press. The newspaper reporters came in and took a report, but those reports never got past their news editors. I am not blaming the reporters, but all that appeared in the newspapers was the bare announcement that the miners at Bulli had resumed work after a conference presided over by Mr. James. The next dispute was that at the Wongawalli colliery, also belonging to Australian Iron and Steel Limited. It had been the custom to pay yardage rates to those who were working board, pillar or cut- through under 16 feet 10 inches. I am asking the Government in this case to institute a prosecution because the owners were, in effect, breaking the conditions of the lease under which they were working. It was provided in the lease that they should take no pillars, and should not work any but narrow places. However, in order to get more coal, they drove as wide as possible, and the payment to the men was really in the nature of hush-money, So that they would not disclose the fact that the terms of the lease were being broken. If there is a subsidence, and the Water Board's valuable plant on the surface is let in, the position will be serious. The men also asked for travelling facilities. The Minister for Labour and National Service referred to this matter of travelling underground, and I know that in some mines the men have to travel a distance of between three and four miles in order to get to the face. The going is not so good when a man is carrying his pick, his crib tins and explosives. In some instances, a man is for as long as two and a half hours travelling to and from the face. If the miners were provided with transport underground, they would reach the working face within ten or fifteen minutes. That would increase production, because each man would spend a longer period at the face and fill at least 2 tons of coal a day. Unfortunately, the companies resolutely decline to provide the transport. In my opinion, the Government, which wants to stimulate production, should compel them to do :so.

I propose now to refer to a conference which was 'held in the western district. The mechanism of a weighbridge happened to be so faulty that it registered only 18i cwt. for every ton of coal. The men complained and asked for an inspection of the weighbridge. When their reasonable request was refused, they ceased work. The public was not informed of the full facts. People do not understand that the miners are employed on contract work; they are paid by results. Another cause of irritation is that some managers blow the whistle while the men are attending a pit-top meeting. Such gatherings are not held at the expense of the employer, because 80 per cent, of the miners are contract workers and are not paid for lost time. Even if they lose half an hour by attending a pit-top meeting, the output does not slacken, because the miners are able to make it up.

A long-established custom in the coalmining industry has been to promote men according to their seniority of service.

That is a common practice in many occupations, and applies in the civil service. Officers of the Commonwealth Parliament rise to the exalted position of Clerk of the Senate or Clerk of the House of Representatives by virtue of seniority of service and ability. The Hebburn No. 2 Colliery had succeeded in departing from this custom. Instead of engaging men from within the industry, the management was employing strangers. That was wrong and did cause a stoppage, which was settled satisfactorily at a conference over which I presided. The J. and A. Brown Company, which also operates the Stamford Main No. 1 Colliery, employed for about 30 years a man named Mitchell. Following a disagreement with the superintendent, Mr. J ohnson, some time ago, Mitchell was disrated and transferred as nightwatchman to this colliery. As such, he was asked to fire the boiler that warms the room in which the miners dry their working clothes. Recognizing that the work was not a part of his duty and that if he obeyed instructions an inter-union dispute would arise, he declined to accede to the request and was given fourteen days' notice. That period has now expired. I asked the Collieries Staff Association, of which he is a member, the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association and Mr. Johnson to confer with me on the matter. Mr. Johnson stated that he was unable to meet me, so I arranged for the chairman of the local reference board, Mr. Connell, to hear the case. On Tuesday, the facts were presented to him and he recommended the reinstatement of Mitchell. The man presented himself for work at midnight last night, but was told to go home. I pleaded with the men not to cease work. They have never yet laid down their picks, but can they be expected to remain passive when they see their privileges filched from them by the management? The instances of irritation tactics, which I have quoted, are characteristic of thousands of happenings.

When a stoppage occurs, honorable members opposite urge the Government to apply to the miners Statutory Rule No. 77. Whilst the regulations may be necessary in war-time in order to maintain production and in the interests of national security, any attempt on the part of the Government to apply the statutory rule to coal-miners who cease work as a protest against the loss of their privileges will lead to a substantial decrease of production. The Government, through the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, has become over-zealous in demanding from the miners greater and greater production. The stoppages are not serious. The position reminds me of a shovelful of coal falling from a 5-ton lorry laden to capacity. The driver, in order to recover the shovelful of coal, is prepared to upset the vehicle and lose the lot

The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) referred to the introduction into the coal-mining industry of mechanization. In the early stages, many people believed that mechanization would increase production, but their prophecies Iia ve not been fulfilled. The Richmond Main Colliery had an output of over 3,000 tons a day, but since the introduction of mechanization, production has fallen by approximately l;G0O tons a day. A similar reduction was experienced in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited Collieries, and the John Darling Colliery at Belmont. Mechanization, though causing a decrease of production, has increased the profits of the companies, because it reduced working costs. Formerly, the miners earned from £1 10s. to £2 10s. a day. Since mechanization, they earn the shift-work rate of £1 10s. 9d. a day. The output of every miner on these machines has increased, but fewer men are employed.

Mr Archie Cameron - 'Soon the miners will be paid as much as the troops !

Mr JAMES - If the honorable member bites, he must expect to be bitten in turn. Doubtless, as a major, he receives, in addition to his parliamentary allowance, substantial remuneration from the Army. I repeat that the coal-miners have a great record of patriotism. About 80 per cent, of them were born in the old country, and they realize that the country of their birth and many of their relatives are being or have been blasted to pieces. Their response to the appeals of this country has been greater than that of men in any other industry. Their


record in the last war proves that. In this war their organization has contributed to war loans an amount of £15,000, which is more than has been contributed by the proprietors or any other union. But what happened to them after the last war ? They believe at times that they are members of a lost race. They can elect few representatives to this Parliament. Senator Arthur and I are the only practical miners in it. Their patriotism in the last war has been poorly rewarded. You, Mr. Speaker, and some of the older members of this House, can remember their treatment at the hands of the occupants of the treasury bench in 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932. It was in 1929, while the Bruce-Page Government was in power, that the coalowners committed the first breach of the Industrial Peace Act. The coal-miners were locked out for fifteen months because they tried to obey an award of the court made under the terms of that act, which I have frequently tried to have brought into operation again. The Bruce-Page Government not only failed to take the coal-owners to task for their breach of the law, but also made no attempt to ensure that the law was carried out. It took the side of the coal-owners. Not only did it abrogate the Industrial Peace Act, but it also sought to pass legislation whereby the Commonwealth would have vacated the field of industrial arbitration entirely in favour of the States. Eventually the Government was defeated on that issue. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was one of the group of supporters of the Nationalist party who voted with Labour to bring about the defeat of the Government, on that occasion. I well remember that. I was the stalking horse. Night after night I attacked the Bruce-Page Government until I finally taunted it into prosecuting the coal-owners, but immediately Parliament went into recess and the Government was safe from further harassment, the prosecution was dropped. Upon its defeat, the Bruce-Page Government gave way to another government.

Mr Anthony - The Scullin Government.

Mr JAMES - Yes, a government that I supported. I have always been conscientious, and I cannot play the political game to the same depths as some people are prepared to go - the murky depths of the sewer. As it had been good enough for me to attack the Bruce-Page Government for refusing to enforce its own laws, it was also good enough for me to attack the party which had displaced it in office and had promised on the hustings to do what the Bruce-Page Government had failed to do, namely, prosecute the coal-owners. Accordingly, I attacked the Scullin Government as I had attacked its predecessor.

Mr Anthony - With what result?

Mr JAMES - With no result. But I do not want to go into that. It has passed into history, although the miners do not forget, for they can never forget. They wonder to-day who is with them and who is against them; but I have always stood loyally beside them, and I shall continue to do so. I say definitely and unequivocally that Statutory Rule No. 11, if applied on the coalfields in order to stimulate production, will, as sure as night follows day, lessen production, not only of coal, but also of all other needs, for, if the miners be prosecuted und'er the regulations, the prosecution will be followed by a wave of sympathy strikes throughout Australian industry.

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