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Tuesday, 6 March 1973
Page: 269


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I, like the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), am concerned at the implications of the change in the guaranteed minimum wage levy for the non-permanent ports by the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour. I am concerned, firstly, because it may ultimately jeopardise the employment of some hundreds of waterside workers. I am concerned, too, that it may lead to the closure of ports in a way inconsistent with our developing decentralisation policies. I am concerned, finally, that the AEWL has decided on this action without consulting me and, indeed, in anticipation of the inquiry which I have initiated.

The guaranteed minimum wage scheme was agreed by the National Stevedoring Conference early in 1969 and became operative from 30th June of that year. The various provisions were incorporated in the waterside workers award and appear in clause 36a of that award. Broadly speaking, the . guarantee for each port is calculated quarterly and is based on the average number of hours worked per week in the preceding year. The arrangement provided a guaranteed minimum income for workers in ports where fullscale permanent employment is not regarded as an economic proposition. At the outset it was decided that the scheme would be financed by a uniform rate of levy in the ports concerned. Initially this levy was set at 8c per man hour, but immediately prior to the recently announced changes this had risen to 40c per man hour.

Because of the uniform rate of levy it follows that some ports will, in effect, be subsidising others simply because the level and trend of activity varies from port to port. For example, the average weekly payment under the scheme during 1970-71 varied from as little as 10c in Geelong to as much as $10.88 in Bowen. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a list of the average weekly payments in the various ports covered by the guaranteed minimum wage scheme for the financial years 1970-71 and 1971-72.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

 


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I thank the House. The attitude of the previous Government - of which the honourable member for Wannon was a distinguished, though, on occasions, rather destructive member - to the introduction of the guaranteed wage was conveyed to the parties at meetings of the National Conference of the Stevedoring Industry during 1969. That was when the actual levels of the guarantee were seen as a wages matter. Hence, the previous Government did not take any particular line, show any particular interest in the matter or make any submissions to the parties in favour of the small port.

I regret that from 5th March of this year the AEWL decided to alter the basis on which the guaranteed wage levy would be made. The AEWL did not consult me, nor did the Stevedoring Industry Council, the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Waterside Workers Federation. The changed basis of levying is inconsistent with the equalising philosophy of the Stevedoring Industry Charges Act which covers the levies on account of long service leave, attendance money and so on. The levy was altered from a uniform rate of 40c to a rate depending on the minimum wage payments required in each port The effect of this has been to raise the levy to $1.50 per man hour in Cairns, $1 in Mackay, $1.70 in Coffs Harbour, $1.15 in Portland and $1.20 in Esperance. These were the greatest rises and these are the ports where the threat to viability is greatest. On the other hand, in some ports the levy was considerably reduced. For example, it was reduced to 2c per man hour in Geelong, 20c in Broome, 20c in Albany, 25c in Devonport and 30c in Bowen. The AEWL claims that the levy would have risen to 60c had it been kept uniform. So at 22 of the 30 non-permanent ports where a rate of 60c or less applies, there appears to have been a reduction on what would otherwise have been the case. I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard a list of ports, together with the levy applicable at each port and the work force in each port.


Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

 


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The AEWL decision has good effects and it has bad effects. A good effect is that the levy per man hour in a number of ports has been reduced and that this ultimately will contribute to the more efficient functioning of these ports. On the other hand, the future of the 5 ports I named as suffering most by this change is clearly jeopardised. These 5 ports have a total work force of 337 and provide a vital service to the hinterland in the region of the ports concerned. However, we are not able to say now what the ultimate effect of this change in the levy will be and it is certainly quite possible that most of these ports will be able to retain their labour force even with the higher levy; we do not know. If they are unable to retain their labour force - and my Department is closely watching this - the Government will have to examine the case for each individual port to see which ports should be kept open and to determine what financial arrangement is most appropriate to achieve this end.

Whatever the effect of the AEWL move, I believe that it should have consulted the Gov ernment before it took the action which is precipitating the crisis which is causing concern to the honourable member for Wannon and me.

On 23rd February 1973 I wrote to Mr Craig, the Executive Director of the AEWL, concerning the Government's intention with respect to the future of the stevedoring industry. I said in that letter that I proposed to ask the Stevedoring Industry Council for advice on a number of matters which appeared to be crucial to the future of the industry. Amongst those matters were:

What employment arrangements should be made in respect of ports in which no permanent employment arrangements appear to be viable In the foreseeable future?

I asked also what special financial arrangements, if any, should be made in respect of those ports. I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard my letter to Mr Craig, together with a copy of Mr Craig's reply to me.


Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows) -

Minister for Labour Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. 23/2/73

Mr C. L. Craig,

Executive Director,

The Association of Employers of

Waterside Labour, Royal Exchange Building, 56 Pitt Street, Sydney, N.S.W. 2000

Dear Mr Craig,

I am writing to you concerning the Government's intentions with respcet to the future of the stevedoring industry.

As you know the life of the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act was extended last year for a period of twelve months expiring on the 30th June 1973. By that time it was hoped that this Act could be replaced by permanent legislation. For various reasons this has not proved feasible and steps are being taken for the Act to be extended for a further twelve months in the forthcoming parliamentary session.

In the meantime I propose to ask the Stevedoring Industry Council for advice on two matters which appear to be crucial to the future of the industry. These are, first, the question of to what extent permanent employment arrangements might be introduced into the so-called non-permanent ports where stevedoring activities are still conducted on a casual basis, and second, the question of what arrangements might be made to ensure that employment in the industry is placed on a sound financial basis.

Putting these questions in more formal terms, 1 propose to ask the Council to advise me as follows:

(i)   What scheme of permanent employment, if any, can be introduced into ports in which the 1967 National Conference Scheme involving weekly hiring does not operate?

(ii)   What employment arrangements should be made in respect of ports in which no permanent employment arrangements appear to be viable in the foreseeable future?

(iii)   What special financial arrangements, if any, should be made in respect of ports covered in (i) and (ii) above respectively?

(iv)   What changes, if any, should be made to the basis on which the stevedoring industry charge is presently levied, and in particular whether the present 'man-hour* basis should be replaced or supplemented by some other method of assessment?

Although the Government will want to take a number of other factors into account before settling the form of permanent legislation, it seems essential that the considered views of the parties to the Council on these matters be available to the Government as soon as practicable. With this in mind I would propose to ask the Council to furnish me with its views no later than 31st July 1973.

If you have any comments on the terms in which I propose to seek the advice of the Council I would be glad to have them as soon as possible. I am hoping to convey my request for advice to the Council no later than the first week in March.

Yours sincerely,

CLYDE R. CAMERON

THE ASSOCIATION OF EMPLOYERS OF WATERSIDE LABOUR

2nd March 1973

Mr C. R. Cameron, Minister for Labour, Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Mr Cameron,

I thank you for your letters of 20th and 23rd February.

As these matters affect the interests of members of the Terminals and Depots Employers Federation as well as members of AEWL, I am replying on behalf of the National Industrial Council in which body both AEWL and TDEF are associated.

The background paper prepared by the Department will be studied and answers to your questions as enumerated will be prepared and forwarded to you.

It is noted from your letter of 23rd February that prior to settling the form of permanent legislation, you propose seeking advice from the Stevedoring Industry Council on two matters as soon as practicable.

We do not have any comment on the terms as set out and note that you propose to ask for views of the Council on these matters no later than 31st July 1973.

It is appreciated that it may not be realistic to expect a reply on the first three matters much before this date.

However, employers are disturbed that the Authority's funds are in considerable deficit and are hoping that steps to correct this could be taken with effect not later than 30th June next.

A considerable amount of work has been done on the fourth point and employers will be considering a further report and recommendations on funding at meeting next week.

At present we hold out some hopes that this difficult problem could be handled expeditiously by the Council and that it may be possible to report to you In time for necessary legislative changes to be made during the present Parliamentary session.

Accordingly, it would be appreciated if your request to the Council would seek an early report of this matter. I feel sure other parties would co-operate to this end.

Yours sincerely, C. L. CRAIG Executive Director


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The change in the levy system by the AEWL seeks to preempt the advice of the SIC and seeks to affect fundamentally the Government's options. I would have wished to have an opportunity to consider fully this question in an atmosphere that was free from the difficulties that have now been created by the announcement of the AEWL. I want to express my appreciation to the honourable member for Wannon for raising this matter. It is a matter which I myself raised with the Council a long time ago. I assure the honourable member for Wannon that my Department and I will be keeping an eye on the situation and we will act quickly to see that a proper decision is taken when the time is appropriate.


Mr Malcolm Fraser - The time is now. These ports are in immediate difficulty and something should be done as a matter of urgency.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, I am doing something. As I told the honourable member, I have taken up the matter with the employers. I have taken it up with the Stevedoring Industry Council. I will be writing to the body concerned again tomorrow. It came as a surprise to me to learn through unofficial sources that this action had been taken, in a sense unilaterally, without the Government being consulted. My Department is greatly concerned about this matter and we most certainly will take appropriate action.


Mr Malcolm Fraser - These ports will be in immediate difficulty if there cannot be a reversion to the old position.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I realise that. Most of it is due to the fact that your government did not negotiate the matter properly in 1969. At the time it was worried only about bashing waterside workers.

Debate interrupted.







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