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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1779


Mr VINER (Stirling) - No-one on this side of the House denies the need for trade unions in Australia, nor does anyone on this side of the House deny the right of working men and women to organise themselves into trade unions. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) say that no one on this side of the House had any right to speak about the subject because none of us had ever been a member of a trade union. I cannot claim to be a member of a trade union but I have had a long association with trade unions and I am grateful to those trade unions in Western Australia which have shown their confidence in me because whilst they have known what my politics are they have given me plenty of work to do for them. I find it a healthy sign that I can walk into the office of Jack Garland of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, sit down in his chair and have a talk to him about trade unionism. In the same way, I am grateful that I can walk into the office of the Australian Workers Union in Sydney and have a long talk to Frank Mitchell about trade unionism there.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That would not surprise me. You have got something on me there.


Mr VINER - That is certainly more than the Minister for Labour could do. I have some, interest in this subject and I am glad it has come up for debate so early in this Parliament. This Parliament has power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of our Commonwealth with respect to conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of interstate disputes. The good intentions of our constitutional fathers are obvious. They wanted an end to industrial warfare which disrupts industry, hurts men and their families, weakens the national economy and above all pits Australian against Australian in unremitting conflict in the false name of the class struggle. Are the good intentions of this Parliament any different? I would think not and I would hope not. Then what is this Government trying to do? Nothing is more calculated to bring war, disorder and bad government to industry and to the economy than these, the Cameron proposals which we are debating today. This Government has no mandate for that. The will of the people has no expression in this Bill. In truth, it is only the expression of the Australian Council of Trade Unions wages policy, and that is something to which J will return later.

This Bill, by its central provisions, in one calculated step, will cut the heart out of the arbitration system and leave the limbs twitching in helplessness. This Bill is aimed at leaving unions uncontrolled and uncontrollable by law or government at every point in the process of conciliation and arbitration. In what must be a classic example of words running riot and being used without meaning the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) said:

This Government will not abolish conciliation and arbitration; it will reconstruct it and strengthen it to eliminate features repugnant to harmony and good relations in industry. . . .

The result of this Bill must be for the trade union movement to move further and further away from both conciliation and arbitration - certainly by those major unions formed by amalgamation. They will not need arbitration once they have an absolute right to strike, and conciliation will be only window dressing for collective bargaining backed by strike. Shorn of all the trappings of the Minister's hour-long speech, what the Bill does is to remove all constraints upon a union to conciliate or go to arbitration. It is free to strike or place a limitation upon work throughout all efforts by a commissioner to conciliate and whilst a commissioner is sitting to arbitrate. Negotiated agreements cannot contain an anti-strike clause, so unions are free to overturn an agreement at any time. A union cannot be disregistered. nor can any provision in an award or an agreement be cancelled or suspended because of any strike action during its term. At the same time, unions are given immunity from civil action. It is ironic that at a time when the United Kingdom has just repealed laws passed in 1906 giving civil immunity to unions, the Minister is aiming to introduce those same laws into Australia. It might be said that the Minister is some 70 years behind the times.

An individual or employer economically hurt by calculated industrial attacks launched by unions intending to harm or destroy by strike, boycott, picketing and sundry other sophisticated techniques of industrial coercion, is to be prevented from suing for compensation in a civil court. With a magnanimous gesture, of which I am sure only the Minister is capable, he will kindly let a widow sue if her husband is killed in a brawl with a picket line as he tries to get to work, and let a person sue if he is hurt or his car is damaged by that picket line, or his building is damaged by hooligan builders labourers, or if he is defamed. But a man may suffer a financial death when his business is destroyed by boycott, or he loses his job because he will not join a union, or his truck will not run without petrol which the union has refused to supply. To whom can his wife and family turn? Death and injury are not the exclusive preserve of negligent drivers on the roads. It would indeed be a strange society which would allow no compensation to a man or woman injured by deliberate, calculated, conduct, and yet in the end this is what the Minister's Bill would do.

One need not speak here, in justification of the Bill, of the likes of General MotorsHolden's Pty Ltd; one can think also of the small businessman who can equally be the subject of union action. There is a danger in monopoly power of any kind. This is what this Bill aims at giving to unions for not even the Government, acting in the public interest, is to be allowed any right to control unions when they use their industrial strength. Corporate monopolies are acknowledged to be against the public interest; price rings and. trading cartels likewise. Governments have struggled for years to win this control over business activity. Is union monopoly any different in quality? No power or privilege - private, business or union - within a community should be allowed to go unchecked.

The Government's proposals in this Bill place industrial relations in Australia at the crossroads. Recent history, both industrial and legislative, shows that the Federal arbitration system is now neither one thing nor the other; neither a system of arbitration nor a system of collective bargaining. The machinery of arbitration has lost any sense of sureness of approach or acceptance. Wage fixation principles, so reliably turned to in the past by unions, employers and the Commission have been fragmented and eroded. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act today does not express any plain and unmistakable social policy for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes, and that is the constitutional charter given to this Parliament. In effect, what the Minister is doing is the antithesis of this. His policy is an open door policy to foster and create disputes. The Minister's proposals will not help because they try to graft full-blooded collective bargaining on to a system made for compulsory arbitration within which unions and employers were bound to accept a measure of control, and self-control, in return for the benefits which arbitration was intended to bring.

If Australia is to have collective bargaining, let the legislation plainly and unmistakably spell it out, together with the rights, obligations and privileges of the participants and the protection for the public from the monopoly power of unions and of employers. If we are going to have arbitration, let us just as plainly and unmistakably spell out the system of arbitration, and in that sense it might do the people of Australia well to look back on the origins of the unique Australian arbitration system. The economic implications of this Bill are as important as its social implications, particularly in view of the current debate on inflation, price control, price justification and an incomes policy.

The past history of the Australian arbitration system can be seen as an expression of an acceptable wages policy for unions, employers and Government. This Bill, on the other hand, can be seen to be the implementation of the wages policy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, a policy designed to shift union action from achieving its wage claims inside the confines of the arbitration system to breaking those confines and moving outside arbitration. This is clearly reflected in the ACTU wages policies decided at the 1969 and 1971 congresses. There is a direct link between congress policy on the so-called penal provisions and its wages policy on over-award payments. I was thankful to hear the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) refer to the General Motors-Holden's case in 1964 and confirm my own conclusions for me, because he put it clearly, in what he referred to as a non-arbitral area of over-award claims, that when the unions went on strike in support of their over-award claims they opposed the attempt by employers to have the penal powers exercised against them. It also interested me to hear him say this because I had the unique experience in 1969 of presenting a pay claim for the metal trades unions in Western Australia based on the capacity of Western Mining Corporation to pay an industry allowance, being in effect the same as an over-award payment. I have also had the unique experience of having Mr Bob Hawke, in arguing the 1970 General Motors-Holden's case, accepting my arguments and propounding them before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It was also significant to observe that in that case the Commission very largely accepted those submissions.

I turn to the congress decisions themselves. There are 2 policy statements. I shall quote only from the 1971 Congress decisions. The first one, under the heading 'Wages Policy', states:

Congress declares over-award payments negotiated or obtained by collective bargaining where practicable incorporated in voluntary agreements to be an essential part of Trade Union wages policy. The application of this aspect of ACTU policy since the mental article of faith of the buyers of our labour in creases being negotiated by collective bargaining, and we urge affiliates to continue this activity. Congress will not accept any absorption of over-award payments.

Then under the heading of 'Penal Provisions' the congress decision states:

The authority of the organised Trade Union Movement should not be impeded in the performance of responsible traditional functions which must include the right to withhold labour or impose limitation of performance of work- otherwise the minimum wage and conditions of work awarded by tribunals become the maximum and inhibit the possibilities of improvements.

I ask for leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard the full text of the wages policy and the penal provision statement from that ACTU congress.

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

WAGES POLICY

Congress declares that the real value of workers' wages in no way reflects any equitable share of the wealth being produced in Australia from the national resources and the level of available technology.

Monopolies and other large enterprises many of which are foreign-controlled and aided and abetted by government, deny the Australian people their right to a higher standard of living, while enjoying unprecedented profits.

We declare that:

Award rates generally are inadequate and continually fall behind rising living costs. Low wage rates and multiplicity of classifications for semi-skilled and female workers especially in mass production industries, results in a high degree of exploitation.

Congress adopts the following principles:

Within all Awards and Determinations there must be a basic or foundational wage element which must provide for the reasonable needs of a married wage earner and bis family. This element is to be assessed without any regard to any over-award payment, service grant, industry allowance, or similar payment; what are reasonable needs being determined from time to time in the light of standards generally accepted in progressive communities, and the social aspirations of the Australian people. On current pay levels we consider this element should be in the order of $70 per week.

This wage shall be adjusted automatically each quarter to reflect movements in the Consumer Price Index and there shall be an annual review of the wage to determine the increase warranted on general economic grounds including movements in productivity.

Beyond this basic or foundational element wages must be fixed at levels which fully reflect the true value of work performed by all grades of wage and salary earners in this country. At least consistent with the standard relativities achieved in 1947. These wages shall be adjusted annually to reflect movements in prices and productivity.

The form of application for wage increases at such annual fixations shall be determined by the Executive in the light of existing circumstances; in making decisions as to the form of application, the Executive in conjunction with the ACTU Wages Committee and in consultation with the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations and the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations, shall seek to ensure the establishment of appropriate relativities between classifications.

Congress declares over-award payments negotiated or obtained by collective bargaining where practicable incorporated in volutary agreements to be an essential part of Trade Union wages policy. The application of this aspect of ACTU policy since the 1969 Congress has resulted in many substantial increases being negotiated by collective bargaining, and we urge affiliates to continue this activity. Congress will not accept any absorption of over-award payments.

Congress calls upon the ACTU Executive to consult with State Branches, ACSPA and CCPSO in order to develop a strong campaign by the whole of the Trade Union Movement in support of our wages policy, and in particular to combat the utterly false propaganda of Federal Government spokesmen and employer interests that the Unions' claims for proper wage rates are inflationary. For the purpose of conducting this campaign Congress requests affiliated unions to make their research facilities available to the ACTU and would welcome the co-operation of the entire research and campaigning facilities of affiliated unions. That a pamphlet on wages/prices be prepared and circulated to the affiliated unions.

PENAL PROVISIONS

The Penal Clauses of the Arbitration system in this country have been strenuously opposed by the Australian Trade Union Movement from inception as a direct attack on the fundamental right of workers' organisations to use industrial strength in support of legitimate claims.

This 1971 ACTU Congress declares its belief in the right of organised trade unions to strike.

The authority of the organised Trade Union Movement should not be impeded in the performance of responsible traditional functions which must include the right to withhold labour or impose limitation of performance of work - otherwise the minimum wage and conditions of work awarded by tribunals become the maximum and inhibit the possibilities of improvements.

Congress reaffirms its opposition to continuation of penal provisions and demands the repeal of all legislation which protect employers from normal bargaining procedures yet discriminates against the unions.

Congress declares that the amending legislation of 1970, whilst eliminating the Contempt proceedings, nevertheless continued Penal Provisions which can be invoked against the unions, and therefore is unacceptable to the Trade Union Movement whilst these Penal Provisions are retained. Essentially we say that these penalties are immoral in that they constitute a double standard which operates against wage and salary earners and their unions. Workers and their organisations are concerned with selling labour. The buyers of this labour are employers who must recognise the human dignity of the worker. As sellers we desire to obtain that price which represents a proper return for skills, talents and energies which we have to sell.

That position is not only allowed to all other sellers in the Australian market economy; it is the fundamental article of faith of the buyers of our labour in their capacity as sellers of goods and services. The. Government shares this article of faith with employers in their capacity as sellers - but does not extend the same right to us. It denies that right by imposing discriminatory penalties upon us. This double standard can have no moral justification and is certainly unacceptable* to us.

Congress instructs the incoming Executive to continue negotiations and make submissions to the Commonwealth Government and Employers and through the State Branches negotiate with the State Governments where necessary with a view to achieving the implementation of the aforegoing policy.

Pending a satisfactory conclusion to those negotiations and submissions Congress determines:

(1)   That the unions be advised not to meet any outstanding fines imposed under the pertinent Sections of the Penal Clauses of the relevant' legislation.

(2)   Should any action in respect of penalties be proposed, or taken against any union or

(3)   Unions have a responsibility one to another and to the organised Trade Union Movement. They are advised that they should carry out the decisions of the ACTU Congress and the ACTU Rules in respect to disputes in order that the full protection of the Trade Union Movement can be provided for any union, its officials, or members.

(4)   Congress notes the development of direct negotiations leading to the establishment of industrial agreements providing for improved wages and conditions.

Congress welcomes this development and resolves that industrial agreements must be observed, and instructs the incoming ACTU Executive to work out ways and means of ensuring that industrial agreements are honoured by the Trade Union Movement.







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