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Tuesday, 30 October 1956

Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) .- The bill before us is the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill (No. 2) 1956. With it are bracketed, for purposes of discussion, the Public Service Arbitration Bill, the Australian National Airlines Bill, and the Aluminium Industry Bill. The provisions in the three associated bills flow from the amendment which it is proposed to make to the principal act.

The Minister for Labour (Mr. Harold Holt) has pointed out that as many of the provisions in the principal bill are of a purely, technical or drafting nature, very little opposition to them could be expected. That is true of most of the amendments, but at least one provision is something more than a mere drafting alteration, and calls for further information from the Minister. I refer in particular to clause 6, which contains this very brief provision -

6.   Section fifty-four of the Principal Act is repealed.

Section 54 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1956 reads -

54.   The Commission shall not include in an award a provision requiring a person claiming the benefit of an award to notify his employe! that he is a member of an organization bound by the award.

That provision was inserted in the amending act which was brought down earlier this year. It was acceptable to the unions, who objected to the practice, adopted by many employers of requiring employees to inform them if they belonged to an organization. That requirement had, at one time, been contained in awards of the court. The proposed amendment seems to go beyond the adjustment of a mere technicality. We oppose the bill because we believe that clauses 3 and 14 are detrimental to the interests of the trade union movement. Clause 3 makes provision for an additional division - " Industrial Matters - Commonwealth Projects " - in section 3 of the principal act. The insertion of this division is not in the best industrial interests of the trade union movement. Clause 14 gives the details of proposed new division 5, and also an interpretation of " industrial dispute " - " industrial dispute " means a dispute (including a threatened, impending or probable dispute) as to industrial matters, whether or nol the dispute extends beyond the limits of any one State ...

It is not desirable to place in the hands of a commission, created to deal with disputes extending beyond the limits of one State, the power to deal with disputes which do not extend beyond the limits of one State

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - These are only Commonwealth projects!

Mr CLAREY - I realize that. Later 1 shall give the reasons why the Public Service Arbitrator's court was created to deal with Commonwealth employees. These disputes within a State may not be with the Commonwealth itself, the contractor, or the

Mib-contractor. ls this the best way of deal ing with matters that affect the Commonwealth itself? Sooner or later this question of a court which has been set up to resolve interstate disputes, undertaking also the settlement of disputes within a State, will have to be decided.

Proposed new section 88b contains a provision which is extremely objectionable to the trade union movement. I refer to the very wide power that is to be conferred upon the Minister in respect of declarations of work being carried out or undertaken by or for the Commonwealth. A similar provision was inserted in the Stevedoring Industry Bill earlier this year. The Minister is empowered to declare a state of emergency. Though proposed section 88b does not go so far as to say that the Minister may declare a state of emergency, it does give him power to " declare " an undertaking merely by placing a notice in the " Gazette ". Sub-section (1.) reads -

The Minister may, by notice published in the Gazette ", delare a work or undertaking which is to be, or is being, carried out or undertaken by or for the Commonwealth or an authority of the Commonwealth to be a Commonwealth project for the purposes of this Division.

We feel that this proposed section goes too far and that it could be used by the Commonwealth to depress the wages and working conditions of persons employed in Commonwealth projects. One finds it most difficult to understand why Commonwealth employees of any description should be divorced from the Public Service Arbitrator's Court, which was created for the express purpose of dealing with Commonwealth employees. This provision effectually' destroys all rights that employees on Commonwealth projects may have to get the advantage of a court which was created specifically to protect their industrial conditions.

The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that until 1911 Commonwealth employees had no right of approach to the Arbitration Court. That is correct. Between 1911 and 1920, following an amendment of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, they had the right of admission to the Arbitration Court, and awards of the court were made in respect of quite a number of Common wealth public servants. But in 1920, a government of the same complexion as the present Government passed what is known as the Public Service Arbitration Act. The idea was to enable Crown employees to be dealt with by an authority that understood the conditions of employment that were generally observed for Crown employees. Before the amendment* of a most sweeping and drastic character were made recently to the arbitration legislation, the Public Service Arbitrator's Court was able to deal very capably with Commonwealth employees and to make decisions in respect of them.

Then, for some unknown reason, this Government determined that the Public Service Arbitrator's Court was to be wrecked as an instrument for Commonwealth Public Service employees who used the court. By a system of appeals, the Public Service Arbitrator was deprived of powers which he had previously exercised and which had never been challenged in this Parliament. Although the Public Service Arbitration Act provides that every determination must be laid upon the table of this House and although the Parliament had the right to disallow any such determination, at no time was a determination of the Public Service Arbitrator disallowed until 1953, when a regulation regarding the adjustment of Public Service salaries was challenged in this House. On that occasion, the Government by a majority vote, obtained a decision to the effect that the adjustment of public servant's salaries should no longer take place automatically, as provided in the award.

From 1920 to 1953, there existed * court which gave satisfaction to Commonwealth employees and which apparently gave satisfaction to the Parliament, because at no time had a determination beet rejected by Parliament. It seems rathe; strange that the Government is now determined that the Public Service Arbitrator's powers are to be further whittled away and that persons who are now using that court and have secured determinations for work which is covered by the four measures now before the House, are to be deprived of the right to use that court in the future.

At this stage, I shall point out the position of some employees of the various authorities concerned in the four bills now being considered. Determinations have been made by the Public Service Arbitrator in respect of clerks. That was done in determination No. 35 of 1942. A determination, No. 97 of 1953, was made by him in respect of the association of professional engineers. In regard to Trans-Australia Airlines, the Arbitrator has made determinations for clerks, the Foremen's Association and for draftsmen's assistants, the last being No. 119 of 1947. The pilots lodged a memorial with the Public Service Arbitrator and secured a determination, against which an appeal was lodged through the Chamber of Manufactures. Subsequently a court award was made. The physical staff is covered by an industrial agreement made between the union and Trans-Australia Airlines. In respect of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission, the Public Service Arbitrator has made a determination for clerks, No. 8 of 1954. What is even more important, on the general question of wages and working conditions of employees at the commission's establishment, an agreement has been reached but has not yet been registered. The unions feel - and I think they have good cause - that the passage of this bill will be used to prevent that agreement being registered and to deprive them of conditions to which they believe they are justly entitled.

I turn now to munitions establishments. From 1916 until 1951, agreements on wages and working conditions were made between the various departments handling or controlling munitions factories and the various trade unions. Finally, by determination No. 39 of 1951, the Public Service Arbitrator made a determination which covers all employees in munitions factories.

I point out to the Minister, therefore, that the Public Service Arbitrator's Court has very deeply considered the question of Crown employees and by either agreements or determinations has covered employees of the various authorities mentioned in the amending bills or has had some cognizance of what has been done. These proposals mean that the Public Service Arbitrator may no longer do what he has been doing. It is true that the determinations will remain in operation, but any application for a varia tion of those determinations or for a new determination must go to the Industrial Commission and not to the Public Service Arbitrator. It may be said that the last body which the employees in the various munitions factories in Victoria and elsewhere desire to have dealing with their awards and working conditions is the Industrial Commission. From 1916 until the determination was made in 1951, an agreement was always reached and when difficulties arose during the consideration of an agreement, the unions were willing to put their case to the Public Service Arbitrator. But they were not prepared to put it to the then Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. I think that the Minister will agree that the record of industrial relations in respect of Commonwealth munitions factories has been a very happy one, and that management and men have associated in such a way as to bring bout the very best results for all concerned. That wonderful system, which has been developed over a period of time is, by the simple amendments contained in the bill before the House, to be completely destroyed. The employees are to be forced into a jurisdiction to which they have no desire to go.

I wish now to deal with a matter that was referred to twice by the Minister in his second-reading speech. The right honorable gentleman, on two occasions, endeavoured to justify the introduction of this legislation by saying that similar legislation had been passed by a Labour government. For instance, he said -

The Opposition, when in government, recognized the desirability of Commonwealth tribunals dealing with such projects. For example, it conferred jurisdiction on the Commonwealth tribunal in relation to the Snowy Mountains scheme.

Later, he said -

The exclusion of particular classes of Crown employees from the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator is not novel. Labour, when in government, excluded employees of the Snowy Mountains Authority.

In 1949, when the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act was passed by the Parliament, two amending arbitration bills also were passed. They dealt with subjects altogether different from the employment of persons by the Snowy Mountains Authority. The first bill dealt with trade union ballots, whilst the object of the second was to place exclusively in the hands of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court power to fix the adult female basic wage. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act, which was passed at that time, contains only one section which deals with wages and working conditions. That is section 24, which I shall read so that the Minister may know exactly what it provides. It is as follows: -

Nothing in this acf shall prevent the making of an industrial award, order, determination or agreement under any act in relation to officers or employees appointed or employed under this act or affect the operation of any such award, order, determination or agreement in relation to any such officer or employee.

I hope that the Minister has noted the use of the words "award", "order", "determination ", and " agreement under any act". The words "award" and "order" are used by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The word " determination " is used exclusively in connexion with awards of the Public Service Arbitrator, while the word " agreement " may be 'used by both the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the Public Service Arbitrator. Section 24, in effect, gave to employees of the authority the right to take advantage of any Commonwealth act, in relation to wages or working conditions, in respect of applications to either the Public Service Arbitrator or the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.

Legislation subsequently introduced by this Government and passed by the Parliament placed the employees of the Snowy Mountains Authority within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, with the result that the court appointed Mr. Justice Wright to deal with all matters affecting the employees of the Snowy Mountains scheme. The employees refused to accept the determination of awards by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and, if I remember correctly, the Australian Workers Union then issued a writ in the High Court of Australia challenging the validity of the legislation and also of the attempt to force them into the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I understand that that writ is still before the court, and has not been dealt with. As a consequence, Mr. Justice Wright has not made any decisions or determinations regarding employees of the Snowy- Mountains scheme. Matters in relation to their wages and working conditions are being determined solely by the New South Wales Industrial Commission, and agreements have been reached between the Snowy Mountains authority and the unions. Whether the Minister believes that, by the mere passage of this legislation, it is possible to overcome the difficulties that are being experienced in respect of the Snowy Mountains scheme, I do not know. I simply point out these matters to indicate that the passage of this legislation will not have the effect for which the Minister hopes. I believe that it will give rise to hostility on the part of the employees concerned, and that it will not improve industrial relations.

As I have pointed out, it is possible that this legislation will result in depressed conditions being forced upon employees working on Government projects. According to clause 14 of the bill, for instance, the Minister may declare a project in Victoria to be a Commonwealth undertaking. No doubt, many of the employees engaged on the project would be building workers and subject to the determinations of the State wages boards. Until recently, quarterly adjustments of the basic wage have been made in Victoria. Does the Minister think that, by the mere declaration that the project is a Commonwealth project, and by forcing the employees to accept lower wages, he will be able to attract employees to such projects and improve industrial relations? If he does, I think that he is in for a good deal of enlightenment.

The conditions relating to annual leave and sick leave in the Commonwealth Public Service are entirely different from those of many workers in industry. For instance, employees under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator working at projects which will be affected by this legislation, will be entitled to three weeks' annual leave, whereas awards of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court provide for only two weeks. Employees of the Commonwealth Public Service receive much more generous sick pay than do employees who are subject to awards of the Commonwealth Conciliation Commissioners or of the Presidential Commission. Therefore, great difficulty will be experienced in respect of three matters. They are a lower rate of wages in the Commonwealth sphere and inferior conditions in regard to annual leave and sick pay. Therefore, any attempt to force these people into the court will cause untold difficulties for the Commonwealth. For those reasons we point out that the passing of this legislation, instead of making working conditions and industrial disputes on Commonwealth projects easy to settle, will create a number of difficulties that have not been fully appreciated by the Government.

Some of the projects mentioned by the Minister in his second-reading speech, such as the establishments at Woomera and Maralinga, the atomic reactor and so on, presumably will be declared Commonwealth projects. They are not places where people will work for only six or seven months; they will last for a very long time to come. They will be long-term projects just as the Australian Aluminium Production Commission, Trans-Australia Airlines and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority are long-term jobs. They will all be with the Commonwealth for many years. To deprive employees on such projects, where they have constant employment and a degree of permanency, of the right of appearing before the Public Service Arbitrator is unjust and unfair. As Crown employees, they should not have conditions which are inferior to those granted by the Arbitrator to persons similiarly employed by the Crown, and doing a similarly good job for the Commonwealth.

For those reasons these bills, like similar bills introduced by the Government in regard to conciliation and arbitration, will make industrial relations more complicated than ever. The dragooning of Commonwealth projects before the Industrial Commission has already been successfully resisted on the Snowy Mountains project and is bound to be resented on other projects. The provisions of the bill are totally unnecessary; they are bound to create illwill and friction; and they will serve no good purpose. For those reasons, the Opposition rejects the measures.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Snedden) adjourned.

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