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Thursday, 12 March 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [3.17].- I lay on the table of the Senate the reports of the Australian delegates to the 19th Session of the

International Labour Conference which was held at Geneva in June, 1935, and ask for leave to make a statement thereon.

The Government delegate at the Conference was the Honorable Sir Frederick Stewart, M.P., and the two nonGovernment delegates were Mr. F. W. Kitchen and Mr. J. F. Walsh, representing respectively the employers and workers of Australia. Fifty-two countries were represented at the Conference, including the United States of America and Japan. The United States of America is a member of the International Labour Organization, but not of the League of Nations; and Japan, which has withdrawn from the League of Nations, has remained a member of the International Labour Organization.

The most important result of the Conference was the adoption of a draft general convention on the 40-hour week. A State which ratifies this Convention declares its approval of (a) the principle of a 40-hour week applied in such a manner that the standard of living is not reduced in consequence, and (b) the taking or facilitating of such measures as may be judged appropriate to secure this end. Such a State also undertakes to apply this principle to classes of employment in accordance with the detailed provisions to be prescribed by such separate conventions as are ratified by it. These conventions will come before the International Labour Conference from time to time, for adoption in respect of specific industries.

The first of these conventions applying the principle of reduced working hours was adopted at the Conference in connexion with the automatic manufacture of glass bottles, and it lays down that the hours of work in this industry shall not exceed an average of 42 hours a week on the basis of four shifts. The matter of the adoption of conventions applying the 40-hour week to public works, building and contracting, the iron and steel industry, coal mines and the textile industry, is now under consideration by the International Labour Office, and will be discussed at this year's session of the Conference. Both of the aforementioned conventions adopted last year have been referred to the State governments for consideration. A resolution was also adopted- by the Conference to the effect that the application of the principle of the 40-hour week should not reduce the pay of the workers, or lower their standard of living. This reduction of working hours was discussed at the 1933 and 1934 Sessions of the Conference. The States were duly consulted by the Commonwealth Government on those occasions, and their views were communicated to the -Government delegate for his guidance at the Conference.

It may be pointed out that the Commonwealth Government has no power to legislate generally with respect to hours of work, which is a matter that comes mainly within the control of the State parliaments and industrial tribunals. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court can deal with working hours only when the matter i.s raised in an interstate industrial dispute.

In view of the importance of this matter of the reduction of hours of work, the Commonwealth Government is now in communication with the State governments and the various interests concerned with a view to convening a conference to inquire whether any general reduction of working hours in Australia is desirable and practicable, having regard to the social, economic and national interests of Australia as a whole.

Another important matter dealt with by the Conference was unemployment among young persons. This, as honorable senators will agree, is one of the most urgent and difficult social problems of the day. The Conference adopted a recommendation based on the experience gained in a number of countries, and embodying measures which are regarded as the most effective means of remedying this form of unemployment. The main points of this recommendation are that the age for leaving school and admission to employment should be fixed at not less than fifteen years, and that juveniles - persons under eighteen years - who are over the schoolleaving age and are unable to find suitable employment should, where the organization of the school allows, be required to continue full-time attendance at school until suitable employment is available, or to attend continuation courses providing for both general and vocational education.

Maintenance allowances should, if necessary, be granted to parents during the additional period of education. Vocational training centres should be organized for employment of persons between the ages of 18 and 25 in cooperation with employers' and workers' organizations.

The Conference adopted a draft convention to establish an international scheme for the maintenance of rights under compulsory invalidity, old-age, and widows' and orphans' insurance on behalf of workers who transfer their residence from one country to another. This is of scarcely any importance to Australia.

Another convention adopted prohibits night work by women underground in mines.

The convention of 1931 limiting the hours of work in coal-mines was revised in respect of a number of technical points in order to facilitate its ratification.

International regulations were prepared for final consideration at this year's conference relating to various systems of recruiting labour in colonies. The object of these proposed regulations, following on the earlier convention for the suppression of forced or compulsory labour - which the Commonwealth has ratified - is to take a further step towards the complete disappearance of compulsion, and its replacement by the free offer of workers' services. In the meantime, abuse is to be prevented by means of regulations and supervision.

Similar preparatory work was done with a view to generalizing the institution of annual holidays with pay for workers. This does not apply to seamen or agricultural workers, whose cases will be considered at subsequent conferences.

Sir FrederickStewart raised the subject of the nutrition .of workers, and pointed out that an increase in the consumption of agricultural foodstuffs would help to raise standards of life and relieve the existing depression in agriculture. The conference adopted a motion submitted by him requesting the International Labour Office to continue its investigation of the problem, particularly in its social aspects, in collaboration with the League of Nations, the International Institute of Agriculture, and other bodies capable of contributing to its solution, with a view to presenting a report on the subject to tho 1936 Session of the conference. Mr. Bruce also drew attention to this problem at the Assembly of the League of Nations later in the year. This matter will be referred to by me in greater detail in connexion with the report of the Australian delegation to the Assembly. For further information concerning the work of the conference I refer honorable senators to the reports which are now being presented. These contain, as appendices, the texts of the draft conventions and recommendations adopted by the conference.

I take advantage of the present occasion to make some observations generally as to the attitude of the Commonwealth Government towards the International Labour Office and the conventions adopted at the annual conferences of members thereof. The International Labour Office appears to be carrying out in quite a satisfactory manner its important function of bringing about the improvement of labour conditions throughout the world. It is generally admitted that Australia has much to gain by the universal adoption of international labour conventions, and that it is advantageous to co-operate as far as practicable in this direction, thus assisting the movement for the improvement of industrial conditions in other parts of the world and at the same time indirectly enabling the maintenance and even the improvement of Australian standards, and thereby removing some of the consequences of competition from countries with lower standards of living.

The subject of the ratification of these conventions was formally discussed at a conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers in 1929. On that occasion the Commonwealth Government intimated that it would be prepared to ratify any such conventions to the provisions of which the States had given effect under their domestic legislation, and in respect of which the States had given an assurance that they would not modify such legislation so as to make it inconsistent with the provisions of the conventions without previous consultation with the Commonwealth. It was pointed out on that occasion that it would be necessary for all the States, and not some of them only, to give legislative effect to the pro visions of a convention before the Commonwealth could proceed with ratification. I may mention that the great majority of the conventions deal with matters which fall mainly within the jurisdiction of the State governments, and affect the Commonwealth only so far as its territories are concerned. All except one of the conventions that mainly concern the Commonwealth, such as those relating to maritime matters, have been ratified by the Commonwealth Government. The convention referred to is that relating to the repatriation of seamen, the provisions of which are covered by existing legislation and practice in Australia ; it is now under consideration with a view to early ratification.

No substantial progress was made as the result of the discussion with the States in 1929. Consequently, in March, 1932, the matter was again taken up 'with the States, when it was pointed out that in view of the advanced state of industrial and social legislation in Australia, the Commonwealth was sometimes criticized at home and abroad for delay in ratifying these international conventions. It was suggested that the States might be disposed to give further consideration to the matter, and they were asked whether they would be agreeable to ratification of any of the conventions, particularly those whose provisions were already substantially covered by existing State legislation. Only four of the States replied, and it eventually became clear that this method of approach was not likely to lead to any advance. Consequently, the Government recently reviewed the whole of these conventions and now proposes to make definite recommendations to the States as to what conventions can reasonably be ratified without further delay. The subject has been listed for consideration at the next conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers, and a list of the conventions which are fully or substantially covered by existing legislation or practice will be submitted with an invitation to the States to agree to the Commonwealth proceeding with the ratification of such conventions. A second list will be submitted for immediate examination and consideration by the States. This list consists of conventions which are more or less covered by existing State legislation and practice, and which only require minor legislative or other changes on the part of the States.

Irrespective of the conventions adopted last year, which are at present under consideration, the position is that the Commonwealth has ratified 10 of the 41 conventions open for ratification.

I also lay on the table of the Senate -

International Labour Organization of the

League of Nations - Nineteenth Conference, held at Geneva, June, 1935 - Draft Conventions and Recommendations adopted at Conference.

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