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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) .- Four bills are now before the House for discussion, and to refresh the recollection of honorable members, I shall briefly outline the provisions of them. The first bill is the Canning-Fruit Charge (Administration) Bill, which provides the machinery for the payment of a levy by the canners to the Commissioner of Taxation. The second bill is the Canning-Fruit Charge Bill, which imposes a levy of 10s. a ton on canning fruit delivered to a cannery and accepted for use in the production of canned fruit. This relates to three types of fruit only - apricots, peaches and pears.

The third bill is the Canned Fruit (Sales Promotion) Bill, which is divided into parts, two of which contain the essential provisions which are the germ of the bill. Part II. creates an Australian Canned Fruit Sales Promotion Committee, which will consist of eleven members. Six of these members will be fruit-growers engaged in the production of apricots, peaches and pears; two will be appointed by the Australian Canned Fruits Board; two will represent the Australian Canners Association; and one will represent the Commonwealth. The board, therefore, will represent four separate interests. They are, first, the growers; secondly, the Australian Canned Fruits Board, which deals with overseas marketing of Australian canned fruit; thirdly, the Australian Canners Association, which in effect will be represented by a member from the co-operative canneries and a member from the proprietary canneries; and fourthly, the Commonwealth Government.

The fourth bill relates to the Australian Canned Fruits Board and. provides for the appointment of an additional member to the board. This member will be a representative of the growers of apricots, peaches and pears. At present, the board consists of a representative of the Commonwealth, a representative of the co-operative canneries, a representative of the proprietary canneries, and a representative of the canners of pineapples. In effect, until this amendment becomes law, the board will consist of a representative of the Commonwealth and representatives of the interests engaged in the canning of fruit for export. The amendment will provide for the appointment of an' additional member to represent the growers of apricots, peaches and pears.

That briefly describes the purpose of the four bills which are now before the House. The functions of the Australian Canned Fruit Sales Promotion Committee are set out in Part III. of the Canned Fruit (Sales Promotion) Bill, and its object is to promote the sale within Australia and abroad of canned apricots, peaches and pears. So that there will not be any confusion it may perhaps be well to point out at this stage that whilst there is to be a representative of the pineapple canners on the Canned Fruits Board, it is not proposed to appoint a representative of the pineapple canners to the Canned Fruit Sales Promotion Committee. The reason for that is that in Queensland the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing already has in operation some scheme among the pineapple growers to enable more efficient marketing and greater sales of canned pineapples to take place.

It will be seen that the fruit charge bill provides for a charge to be made on all apricots, peaches and pears delivered to the canneries and accepted for canning purposes. That charge will be 10s. a ton. The obligation to collect that 10s. a ton and pay it to the Commissioner of Taxation falls on the shoulders of the canners. They must deduct that 10s. a ton from the payments due to the growers and forward it to the Commissioner of Taxation. The growers will have control of the Canned Fruit Sales Promotion Committee. As they have six representatives on the board they will have a majority and as they are providing the money they will have the principal say in the administration, and activities of the board.

Having said that, I make it clear that the Opposition raises no objection to the provisions contained in these four bills. We support the bills, but in turn we say that two of them do- not go far enough. At the committee stage we propose to move amendments to provide for the appointment of employees' representatives to the Canned Fruits Board and the Canned Fruit Sales Promotion Committee. The reasons for those amendments will be placed before honorable members at a later stage.

While these bills are before the House, I feel that the people of Australia, as well as honorable members, should have some idea of the difficulties at present facing the canned fruits industry of this country, particularly the growers of apricots, peaches and pears. After the First World War, the canned fruits industry, which had grown fairly extensively because of the requirements of the times, found itself in a very difficult condition. Sales had fallen. The type of product that we were sending overseas was not satisfactory. Our product was not able to hold its own against competition from the United States of America and it was necessary at that stage to effect some drastic reforms im the industry. Those drastic reforms were gradually made. A very diligent system of fruit inspection was instituted. The classification of fruit into grades was brought into being and from 1926 onwards we were able to say that the canned fruit we were placing on the world's markets was as good in the main as the canned fruit being exported to England from the United States of America. But even in those days, when our production was relatively low, it was very difficult to sell surplus production over and above our own requirements. Between 1926 and 1939, the industry faced a series of crises which were not finally resolved until the outbreak of the Second World War. But during that period the industry grew enormously and since the conclusion of the Second World War the production of fruit in the first place and fruit for canning in the second place has increased tremendously.

It will be of interest to the House to have some brief information on this matter in order to appreciate that the industry is again, in 1959, facing another crisis. In 1958, our total production of apricots, peaches and pears for canning purposes and mixed fruits consisting of two or more of those fruits was no less than 5,721,000 cartons each containing two dozen 30- ounce cans. Compared with production in 1926, production had increased almost four-fold. In addition, following the settlement of areas around Robinvale, Shepparton, Leeton, Kyabram and elsewhere, extensive plantings of these fruits had taken place and a constantly increasing crop of fruit was coming to the canneries. Because of the organization of the industry, however, the fruit-growers found in those years that their conditions were gradually improving. As a result of the operations of the Canned Fruits Board and the fixing of minimum prices by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, prices received by the growers between 1939 and 1959 rose steeply. For instance, in 1939 the growers of apricots received £10 a ton for fruit accepted at the cannery door as suitable for canning. By 1958, that price had risen to £45 a ton. Where growers were supplying co-operative canneries of which they were members, at the end of each year after the profits had been made up, the grower received an additional bonus over the rate that had been determined as the minimum rate by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee.

The same thing applied to clingstone peaches. In 1939, clingstone peaches were fetching £9 10s. a ton, but in 1958 the price had risen to £56 a ton. In the case of pears the price rose from £10 a ton in 1939 to £48 a ton in 1958. Just as between 1926 and 1939 there were crises in the industry on several occasions because of inability to dispose of surplus fruit overseas, in the last two years difficulties have again been creeping upon the industry. Those difficulties arise very largely as a result of increased competition from the Californian canneries and from canneries in South Africa. In May last the United Kingdom Government issued permits to various merchants in the United Kingdom for the importation of £3,200,000 sterling worth of canned fruits from California. Because of the peculiar conditions that are operating in South Africa, and because of the extensive planting of fruit suitable for canning, the output from South Africa has increased enormously. As a consequence of the competition of those two countries, the capacity of the Australian Canned Fruits Board to dispose of canned apricots, peaches and pears upon the English market has been reduced considerably. At the end of the 1958 selling season the canneries had unsold stocks totalling 1,000,000 cartons each containing two dozen cans.

During the last twelve months the industry has been endeavouring to straighten out the position. Prices on the United Kingdom market have been reduced substantially and there has been a fall in prices on the Australian market, but sales of canned fruits are still somewhat sluggish. In addition to competition from South Africa and California, there is also competition, to a lesser extent, from Spain and Portugal. So, once again, the industry is faced with a crisis which, unless it can be surmounted, could have very serious effects upon the fruit-growers, the canneries, the cannery employees and the economy of the Commonwealth, because the millions of pounds that are being earned each year by the export of canned fruits will be reduced. As a consequence of the conditions that are now prevailing, one can appreciate the effort that is being made to place the industry upon such a footing that it will be able to meet this increased competition.

Sixty per cent, of the Australian production is sold upon the English market. That is a tremendous quantity of fruit. At present, canned fruits from many parts of the world, in addition to apricots, peaches and pears, are flowing very easily and in large quantities into Great Britain; so much so, that the Australian industry is in a very difficult position. In order to describe the competition that the Australian industry has to meet, I must refer to the conditions under which apricots, peaches and pears are processed in South Africa, because South African fruit is having a severe effect upon the market for Australian canned fruit.

The wages and working conditions of workers in Australia are determined by awards of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Most of the awards made by the court in recent years for employees in this industry have been consent awards that have been reached as a result of agreement between the Food Preservers Union and the canners.

For a 40-hour week, a minimum wage of £15 2s. 6d. is paid to males, and £11 6s. 6d. to females of eighteen years of age and over. In addition to those minimum rates, large numbers of employees receive margins. I regret to say that similar conditions do not operate in South Africa. My information is that employees in the canneries in that country work as many as 78 hours a week. The ordinary hours of work are 46 a week but, by legislation, they can be compelled to work an additional 32 hours a week if required. This applies to both men and women. Women receive overtime at the rate of time and one-half for all overtime, but males receive time and one-third for the first ten hours and time and one-half thereafter.

Worse still from the viewpoint «f the employees engaged in the industry in South Africa - and this enables the South African canners to export their goods at prices much lower than we in Australia can export our goods - -is the fact that the trade unions of the natives are not recognized by the employers as legal organizations. The natives cannot have one union to cover all coloured workers. There are two unions, one to which the indigenous natives are compelled to belong, and one to which Chinese, Malays and Indians are compelled to belong. In addition, very harsh restrictions are imposed on these unions by the Government when, they try to improve the working conditions of their members. To illustrate the shocking wages that are being paid, let me state that males in the canneries receive £3 3s. 6d. a week and females receive £2 13s. 6d. a week. They are not allowed to negotiate with their employers in respect of their wages or working conditions, nor are they consulted by the employers when any changes in their working conditions are contemplated.

I suppose the best evidence of the conditions that are operating in South Africa is the startling news that we received during the last few days to the effect that the president of the African canning workers' union, a Mrs. Mafeking, the mother of eleven children, has been banished from her home town because of her union activities, and with her family has been forced to go some hundreds of miles away from where she and her family had lived. The

Food Preservers Union in Australia is doing its best, by advice and by other means, to assist the cannery workers in South Africa to improve their conditions and, as the trade union movement to-day is international in character, the last has not been heard of the case of Mrs. Mafeking. This is one of the ways in which the trade union movement can, and does, assist industries that are paying decent wages and giving their employees decent working conditions.

I wish to address myself now to the question of the representation of employees on both of the bodies that are concerned with the legislation that is now before the. House. The Government has stated its desire to work in co-operation with the organized workers of Australia and to see that their rights are recognized. Therefore, I stress to the Minister for Primary Industry the desirability of the Government implementing the principles which have been expressed on more than one occasion of the recognition of trade unionism and its value to industry and to the community generally.

The Australian Canned Fruits Board has been constituted to control the sale of canned fruits overseas, for the express purpose of protecting the economic interests of those who are engaged in the canned fruit industry. For that reason, the Government is represented on the board, because the Government is vitally concerned in securing the credits that result from the export of our exportable goods. The co-operative canneries are represented, because their investments and their economic interests are affected. The proprietary canneries are represented, because their interests are involved. The pineapple canneries also are represented, because their interests are affected. Now, because the economic interests of the growers of peaches, pears and apricots are affected, they also are to be given representation on the board.

But those people are not the only ones who have economic interests in the industry. There are the employees, without whom it would not be possible for the industry to be carried on. Many of them have been working in canneries, to my knowledge, for 30 years or more. The employees who go along in the season and provide the labour needed to process the fruit have an economic stake in the industry, the same as do the canners and the fruit-growers. The employees are just as much entitled to have a say in the protection of their economic interests when a crisis occurs in the industry as are the other interests which are represented on the board. That fact is accentuated when one looks at the constitution of the committee to be appointed to control the sales promotion of canned fruits. The Canned Fruit Sales Promotion Committee will comprise representatives of the growers, the canners, the Government and the Australian Canned Fruits Board.

The growing of all the fruit in the world, and the installation in a cannery of all the machinery that can be imagined, will be of no use for the production of canned fruit without the skilled men and women in the factories who control the processes and transform the raw fruit into the canned article ready for sale. Their livelihood depends upon the continuance of the industry just as much as does the livelihood of the canner and the grower, and the employees therefore are entitled to representation on the committee and the board in order that their knowledge of the industry, the requirements of the consumers, and conditions and markets in other countries, may be utilized by the other representatives on the two bodies in order to ensure that the greatest possible economic protection is given to all the parties engaged in the industry.

I point out, further, that this principle that the employees should be represented, which I now put up on behalf of the Opposition, is no new principle. It has been recognized for years in measures passed by this Parliament. The employees are represented on the Australian Egg Board, the Australian Wheat Board, the Australian Meat Board and the Australian Dairy Produce Board. Under the wool marketing scheme that was established during World War II., the employees were represented both on the body originally established for the purpose of organizing the disposal and appraisal of wool and on the wool realization committee. Both those bodies are now wound up, of course. The employees. through their representatives, were able to give valuable advice and assistance, as a consequence of their knowledge of the industry, and help greatly to ensure that it was properly run.

I should like to point out, also, that, in every crisis that has arisen in the canning industry, the employers have always sought and received the co-operation and support of the unions in making representations in respect of matters such as a proper form of organization, the constitution of the Australian Canned Fruits Board, and proposals for assistance as a consequence of the increase in the price of sugar - which resulted in the establishment of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. On all such occasions, the unions have presented a case containing suggestions for the protection of the interests of the growers and others concerned in the industry. If the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) were present, I would remind him of a deputation that met him when he was Minister for Commerce and made suggestions for the protection of the canned fruit industry. I could call on my friend, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), to detail the representations made to him by employers and employees in Victoria when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. If the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) were in the chamber, I would ask him to confirm the fact that, when the canned vegetable industry was in trouble, representations were made to him by the canners and the trade unions in an effort to get the industry out of its difficulties and protect it.

The point is that, whenever difficulties occur in the canning industry, the employers have always sought and received the full co-operation of the trade unions concerned in measures for the improvement of conditions. But, when it comes to the appointment of boards and committees for the protection of economic interests, the knowledge of the industry possessed by the employees is ignored and they are refused representation on these bodies although their livelihood is at stake. To the Opposition at least, that appears to be a clear discrimination against the employees as compared with the others who are concerned in the industry. I want to emphasize as strongly as I possibly can that the knowledge possessed by the employees in the industry can be utilized with great advantage in any industry in order to overcome many of the difficulties associated with processing and manufacture. The Government's failure to recognize the value of this pool of knowledge which could well be used represents, I put it to the House, a failure to take proper measures to safeguard the interests of the industry to the full.

I know, from my own knowledge of industry, that employees have made valuable suggestions for the prevention of waste, the elimination of wasteful motions, and the improvement of handling and storage methods. The knowledge of all those matters possessed by the employees has been of great value in increasing production in various industries. I can say with confidence that the reduction of labour costs has been more marked in the canning industry than in any other. Since 1922, there has been more mechanization in this industry and more reduction of labour forces than in any other. The days when every apricot had to be cut and stoned individually have gone forever. It is no longer necessary to cut, stone, peel and remove the stem of every peach by hand. In the days when this happened, hundreds of men and women were employed in the canning season, but mechanization, with the introduction of machines for the peeling, cutting, coring, and stoning of pears, peaches and apricots, has eliminated this labour force and the work is now done by a type of automation.

The consequence has been an enormous increase in the production of canned goods, not only fruits but vegetables and other edible commodities. This has been achieved with only a slightly increased band of workers compared with 1926. When people are playing such an important part in production, their right to some say in their economic conditions through representation on boards dealing with problems of the industry should be recognized without hesitation and granted without any objection whatever.

The bills should be and will be supported by the Opposition, but we say that they do not go far enough. There is an essential problem in the industry which the bills will help to correct but, in addition, there is a section of the industry which is entitled to protection the same as other economic interests. The Opposition proposes tomove amendments to bring that about. We think that when that is done justice will be given to the employees as well as to the growers and the canners.

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