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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) spoke about the improvement in the position since the Australian Coastal Shipping Agreement Bill came into force and said that competition would help the shipping industry. I feel that the reason for much of the loss on interstate shipping and for ships having been taken off the runs, has been the very effective competition not from rail but from air traffic. To-day people can board an aeroplane at Melbourne and be in Brisbane in a few hours. They do not take a ship from Melbourne to Brisbane. It will be quite a big problem to encourage those people to go by ship in future. I admit that during the winter months some people take a holiday on a passenger ship, and that has been very profitable for shipping firms. A major cause of the drop in earnings of shipping companies has been the improvement in air services and the fact that a lot of people feel that when they travel by air in winter time they do not run the risk of heavy storms that travellers by sea encounter.

However, I want to deal with the bill that is now before the House. There is not very much in this bill on which one can dwell at length. It consists of half of one page and contains only one clause that really counts. That is clause 3, which reads -

Section five of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the words " Six pence " and inserting in their stead the words " One shilling and sevenpence ".

That is all that the bill purports to do. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) delivered a concise second-reading speech, as the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) mentioned. The Minister dealt entirely with the reason for the increase from 6d. to ls. 7d. in the man-hour charge on all labour employed in the shipping industry. The Minister was asked at the time to allow the bill to remain on the notice-paper without being discussed until the report of the committee which inquired into the stevedoring industry was presented to the Parliament and members had an opportunity to consider it. Most of the debate on this bill - particularly the speeches of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O'Connor) - has been confined to that report. I do not want to speak on the report, or discuss the figures that they have given, but I want to take this opportunity to say a few words about the waterside workers and their views on the position on the waterfront to-day.

The waterside workers have taken great exception to the Stevedoring Industry Act which was passed by this Parliament a few months ago. The honorable member for East Sydney spoke of sling loads and the number of men in the gangs. I should say that the men in the industry are just as incensed to-day at the actions taken by the shipowners as they were when this provision came into force. We know that the increase from 6d. to ls. 7d. a man-hour, for which this bill provides, will be passed on. There is no doubt about that. We on this side of the House realize that this matter will be considered by the Australian Shipping Board and by others concerned in the shipping industry and they will decide to increase freights. When the honorable member for East Sydney was speaking, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) said, " The farmer pays these increased costs". I say to the honorable member that the farmer may pay a part of them, but the greater part falls on the consumer, not on the farmer alone.

Mr Anderson - I said that.

Mr THOMPSON - 1 accept the honorable member's assurance, but did not hear him say that. This increase will be passed on to the consumer and we must consider, therefore, whether the increase from 6d. to ls. 7d. is just. I shall not attempt for one moment to prove that it is not sufficient. The honorable member for Dalley gave the figures. He endeavoured to obtain from the last report to which he had access information about the amount that had been paid by the shipowners, and he said that it totalled about £1,000,000 at 6d. a man-hour. He said that if the amount were increased to ls. 7d., the total would become £3,000,000 a year, and that the increase of £2,000,000 would be added to freight charges. I have no doubt that the full amount of the increase will be added to freights.

The honorable member for Fawkner tried to prove to the House that shipping companies were not making a profit equal to that which the honorable member for East Sydney said they were entitled to make. We can take as certainty that this increase will be added to freight charges and, when it is, the people will have to pay that extra amount.

Let us consider for a moment what the Minister said would be done with the money. He said that attendance money had been increased from 16s. to 24s. an hour and that the cost would be £368,000 a year. I point out to the Minister that the cost of waiting time - or stand-by time, as it is termed - is governed by the efficiency of the shipping companies and the Stevedoring Industry Board. We look to them to see that no huge amount is paid for waiting time. I have previously argued very strongly in this House - and I say it again - that many of these things were brought about by the determination of the Australian Shipping Board and the shipping companies to have increased quotas in the various ports. Some years ago, the Minister for Labour and National Service said in this chamber that increased quotas were necessary. He produced figures which, he said, indicated that although the quota of a certain port was 1,000 men, it should have been 1,300, whilst that of another port should have been 3,500 instead of 3,000. He said that the union had refused to accept new members. We know how the right honorable gentleman climbed down on that occasion. It is a true saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The wisdom or the lack of wisdom of many measures introduced in this place only becomes apparent when they begin to operate.

The House will remember that, at that time, the Minister said that he would take the matter into his own hands and deal with it by means of legislation. In adopting that course, I think he was influenced not by his own judgment but by the views of other members of the Cabinet. He said that the shipping companies would be given the right to engage and register the labour that they needed on the waterfront, instead of engaging it through the Waterside Workers Federation. I remember saying to him at the time that if he attempted to do that he would bring about a situation that would prove very difficult to handle. I was pleased that the attempt was abandoned, and that it was left to the Waterside Workers Federation to fill the quotas. I also remember pointing out that if the quotas were increased unnecessarily, it would result in there being insufficient work for waterside workers to do. I read only a few days ago that in Sydney between 2,000 and 3,000 men were unable to find employment on the wharfs each day and had to depend on the appearance money of £1 4s. The stevedoring industry charge is to be increased from 6d. to ls. 7d. with the object of providing a stand-by for waterside workers whose services are not required, and the Minister has said that the increase will cost an additional £368,000 a year. But of course even that expenditure will not meet the situation if the trend that is evident in Sydney continues-. If large numbers of waterside workers are unable to find employment, they will be apt to say, " We shall get out of the industry." Should that happen, they will not be available for employment on the waterfront when they are required.

The present state of affairs on the waterfront is not due to action by the waterside workers. That cannot be claimed, even by those who regard the waterside workers as the worst workers that we have, and abuse them from time to time on the ground that they loaf on the job and are not really prepared to work. I do not say, of course, that every honorable member opposite criticizes the waterside workers in that way. I merely say that even those who do make such criticism cannot blame the waterside workers for the fact that work has not been available on the waterfront in Sydney for all the men offering during the last fortnight. We know very well that that state of affairs has been brought about by economic conditions and because the Government, by means of import restrictions, has reduced the number of ships coming to this country. In the district from which I come there are many waterside workers, and I remember warning people there of the possible result of the import restrictions. We all remember what happened in 1952 and 1953, after severe import restrictions had been imposed. Among the first to be affected were the waterside workers, because there were fewer ships coming to Australia. Therefore, I say that economic conditions are to blame for the fact that large numbers of waterside workers in Sydney are unable to obtain employment each day and are obliged to depend on appearance money. That unhappy condition is due not to a seasonal decline of imports and exports, but to the fact that the Government has allowed our reserves overseas to fall.

I do not wish to make political capital of this matter, but I feel it incumbent on me to state the position as I see it and to try to place responsibility for the difficult position on the waterfront on the shoulders of those who ought to bear it. 1 say again that, because of its economic policy, this Government is responsible for the large amount of attendance money that will have to be paid in the future. The honorable member for Fawkner said that waterside workers were earning more than shipwrights. I do not know where he obtained that information. He did not produce figures to support it, but I suggest that if he went into any branch office of the Waterside Workers Federation and spoke to the secretary about union membership he would find that numbers of men were resigning every week from the union. If he spoke to men who had spent a lifetime in the stevedoring industry and who know, the work involved in loading and unloading ships and handling cargo, he would be told that young men come along, stay for two or three days, and then say, " This is no good to me ", and go to another industry. If the stevedoring industry were the good wicket that the honorable member made it out to be, and if those engaged in it earned more than skilled tradesmen and shipwrights, I suggest that they would not be leaving the industry at such a rate.

Honorable members may remember that, approximately a year ago, Parliament House was thronged with waterside workers from Sydney, Newcastle and other ports. T spoke to some of them in the King's Hall, and I said, " The best thing you can advocate and for which you should battle is increased attendance money. If you can increase it to £2 a day, the employers and the Stevedoring Industry Board will see to it that there is no great army of waterside workers and that the quotas are not very much greater than those needed to do the job. They will see to it that they do not have to pay huge sums of attendance money ". That would be the most effective brake that could be put on the Stevdoring Industry Board and the shipping companies, because they would appreciate that they had to pay dearly for their mistake in calling for a greater number of men than that required to do the job.

Let us consider the position of waterside workers who to-day cannot obtain employment. Why was an attendance money provision first introduced? I suppose there are many honorable members who do not know the reason for it. The reason was simply this: Years ago, if it appeared that a port would not be busy for a week or so, the waterside workers might take temporary employment elsewhere. If wool sales were being held, for instance, the men might work for a week in the wool stores. If, then, an unexpected number of vessels arrived in the port, there would not be enough men available to work on them. That is why the payment of attendance money was introduced. The waterside workers then had to register and be prepared to work on any day they were called upon, otherwise they would receive no attendance money and would be deregistered. If there are a couple of thousand too many men registered at a port to meet requirements, not only for a day or two but for weeks on end, those men cannot take a temporary job somewhere else. If they do so, they are liable to be de-registered by the port authorities.

The waterside workers in Sydney to-day are very discontented. The position is not quite so bad in my own State of South Australia, but many arguments have occurred there between the shipping companies and the waterside workers concerning the implementation of the provisions of the Ashburner award, of which we have heard so much, and of orders of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. The employers may say to men working on a vessel, "We will cut down a gang here; we will take two men off this job, and two men off another job ", and the men then feel that an injustice is being done to them. It does not take much of that kind of treatment to induce the men to say, "We are not going to work under these conditions ". Then the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board uses the persuasive powers that have been given to it by this Government's legislation, and, as it were, applies sanctions against them. It says to the men, " You did not work to-day, or you would not work in a certain gang because you said it was short, so we will suspend you for a couple of days ". Then the remainder of the men walk off that particular vessel, and within a few days, or even the very next day, the whole port becomes idle for 24 hours so that the men may attend a meeting to discuss the matter. I know that such action does not help the country as a whole. I know that it will also result in increased costs. However, these disputes are caused by imposing upon the men conditions different from those that they have enjoyed for a number of years, and then invoking sanctions if they are not prepared to accept those conditions.

I believe that the reason why, in my own State and my own electorate, a lesser amount is being paid in attendance money is that these hold-ups have occurred. The men receive no pay while the hold-ups are in progress, even though they decide to resume work after they have made the protest that they consider they were entitled to make.

I shall now refer to what the Minister suggested was another cause of the increase in costs. He said -

Secondly, by an award of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission made quite recently, waterside workers were granted paid sick leave and pay for statutory holidays. ... It is estimated an amount of the order of £1,078,000 per annum will be payable for sick leave and statutory holidays.

I may say, sir, that these concessions have only recently been extended to waterside workers. I. ask honorable members who are employers of labour for how many years have their employees been receiving pay for statutory holidays? How many years is it since they were first allowed sick leave? The waterside workers were not able to obtain these concessions, because they were told, " These matters are taken into consideration when your wage rates are being assessed ". The honorable member for Fawkner said that their weekly pay is greater than that of a skilled workman, but he forgets entirely that the waterside workers have never had the advantage of the concessions that I have mentioned, and which have for many years been enjoyed by skilled workmen. I am pleased that these concessions are being extended to waterside workers. Only dur ing the last two or three years have they been granted annual holidays. I forget the number of days or weeks that they 'are allowed for annual holidays, but they now. enjoy such a concession, years after worker5 in other industries were granted it.

People wonder at times why the waterfront industry is such a turbulent one. When we study the history of the industry, and consider all the troubles that have arisen, and all the strikes that honorable members may think should not have occurred, can we wonder at the turbulence of the industry? Through the years waterside workers have continually lagged behind other workers in respect of improved conditions. However, I am pleased to know that waterside workers will now be granted paid sick leave and pay for statutory holidays, and I give credit to the Government, or the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, whichever is responsible, for at last seeing a little light and putting the men on a better footing.

The Minister referred to the administration of the press and radio system of allocating labour. In my electorate of Port Adelaide that system has been in operation for a long time. Notification is given in the newspapers and on the radio of the numbers of the gangs that are required and where they should report for work. Many of the employees feel that this is a distinct advantage. In other ports the waterside workers have been loath to accept it, believing thai it would not be satisfactory, lt has proved satisfactory, however, and, as has been said by another Opposition member, the system has proved of advantage to the shipowners too, and therefore, as the honorable member for Hume has indicated, it has proved advantageous to farmers and consumers because it has resulted in reducing costs on the waterfront. In my electorate, it has been found that men actually commence work 20 or 30 minutes earlier than they would have done under the old system, though their working day for pay purposes would begin at the same time. I believe that any money spent by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board on the administration of this pick-up system is indeed well spent.

I wish to mention also one other matter, which does not affect the waterside workers themselves, but which I believe has a bearing on the increased freight rates. I refer to the introduction of a superannuation scheme for the employees of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. Those employees are as much entitled to such a scheme as are any other persons in the community, and certainly as much as other persons employed in government or semigovernment institutions or organizations.

I wish also to refer to the matter of amenities. We know that certain amenities have been provided for waterside workers. During the war years waterfront canteens were built, and a few shelters were provided, but the standard of amenities generally is far from satisfactory. The board in its report, and the Minister in his speech, referred to the fact that some port authorities had not done all that they should have done in this regard. They said that amenities are not entirely the responsibility of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. The port authorities, whether they are called harbour boards, as is the authority in my State, or whether they are known by some other name, have not done all that they should have done. At Port Adelaide a lot of money has been spent on the provision of up-to-date wharfs, but the necessary cranes and similar equipment are not available to enable the loading to be performed as quickly as is desirable. I hope that this equipment will soon be provided.

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