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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1821


The CHAIRMAN - Is leave granted? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.


Mr LYNCH - The Opposition Parties totally oppose clause 6 which is now before the Committee. It is a very curious proposal indeed. It is one which we see advancing to a considerable extent, present moves at the grass roots of industry to build the power of the shop steward movement throughout the trade union area. The proposal itself permits trade union officials including shop stewards but not, of course, confined to the category of shop stewards - no doubt, however, they will be the front line men in terms of the operation to which we will refer briefly - to undertake any function at a place of work provided it can be related to union interests and this will not be an offence under criminal or civil law, other than a breach of their contracts of employment. The effect of this provision will be to place certain categories of persons in the union movement, particularly shop stewards, in permanent employment no matter how detrimental their actions and activities may be to their employers. This will be only a further incentive for irresponsible officials to take direct industrial action at the plant level, without restraint.

The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) must appreciate that one of the emerging problems which has caused concern to governments around the world in relation to the trade union movement has been the increasing power of the shop steward. This has applied in the United Kingdom and I regret that we have imported some of those problems; however, I advert to that only briefly. The problem of shop stewards and related categories also exists in countries such as Germany. This movement has seen the breakdown of the structure of the senior union body. I invite Government supporters to address themselves to this problem because it poses considerable difficulty for the entire area of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The Minister for Labour knows full well the many disputes pertinent to this point, which have taken place in this country in recent years. I instance the Latrobe Valley as one major area of concern where the militants and the shop stewards have taken control and are responsible to a large degree for the industrial unrest which has taken place in that part of Victoria. The proposal before the Committee would allow, for example, a shop steward to refuse to undertake any work on the ground that he must pursue his union activities full time. It should be noted that, under the terms of this clause, if an employer dismissed a shop steward because of his activities, the employer must prove that the shop steward committed a civil or criminal offence.

There is no doubt that throughout industry - I am glad that the officers of the Department of Labour are in attendance, because they understand the problem full well - one of the emerging difficulties in the future will be the rise to power of the shop stewards. This measure considerably advantages shop stewards in industry. I would have thought that the first thing that the Minister would have sought to do with this legislation would have been to protect elected union officers at the senior levels from the grass fires that can take place because of unwarranted and unjustifiable direct action by persons such as shop stewards taking the affairs of particular disputes into their own hands. This, of course, is consistent with the whole sectional intent and application of the legislation. As one listened to the Government supporters participating in this debate, one wondered at their allegations - I remember the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) making this point - concerning the expertise they share as if there were no expertise in industrial relations on this side of the House. One wonders if the Government has all this expertise to bring to bear, how it could be at present that there is such a major increase in industrial unrest.

We and, I am certain, the Australian community recall the pre-election days when the now Government went on to the hustings and sought to herald a new era of industrial peace. I ask Government supporters during the debate on this or any other clause of the Bill to tell us where the lesson has started to sour, because we know that if there is one area in which the Government has been notable during its first 150 days, it is the industrial area. What has been the lesson? The lesson has been a marked increase in industrial unrest; a rash of strikes and, for the first time in the last quarter of a century, strikes which have been officially blessed by the Government, and honourable members know the examples of this in recent times; the rapid escalation in inflationary pressures; the build up of union monopoly power. These are problems of very great concern to the people of this country and this Government has failed to solve them. The solution it is bringing forward in terms of the shop steward area-







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