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Thursday, 19 November 1936


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [12.8].- Only one of these draft conventions - that in regard to public works - was adopted. The other draft conventions on hours of labour, with the exception of the one relating to the textile industry, were rejected by the conference. The matter of the adoption of a draft convention on hours of labour in the textile industry will be further discussed at the conference next year.

The conventions adopted by the International Labour Conference are quite different from conventions adopted at other conferences. In the first place, representation at the International Labour Conference consists of delegates appointed by governments, employers and workers. Each is entitled to one vote, and they vote together in the plenary sessions of the conference, where a twothirds majority of such mixed votes is sufficient for the adoption by the conference of a draft convention. Moreover draft conventions, when adopted, are not signed on behalf of governments. They constitute in effect, merely draft international regulations on industrial and social matters adopted by the conference to be submitted to governments for consideration. The obligation of members under the constitution of the International Labour Organization is that they will, within a period of one. year from the closing of the session of the conference, and, in exceptional circumstances, eighteen months, bring a draft convention before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies for legislative or other action. If the draft convention fails to obtain the consent of the competent authorities, no further obligation rests on the member - vide Article 405 of the Treaty of

Versailles. The Commonwealth Government has always consulted the States in respect of conventions adopted by the International Labour Conference from time to time, and has raised the subject at conferences between Commonwealth and State Ministers with a view to the States giving legislative effect to the provisions of those conventions dealing with subjects which fall within the jurisdiction of the States, and subsequent ratification by the Commonwealth. Ratification is effected by means of an Order by the GovernorGeneral in Council, which is registered in due course by the League of Nations.

At the Conference between Commonwealth and State Ministers in 1929, the Commonwealth Government intimated that it would be prepared to ratify any convention to the provisions of which the States had given effect under their 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 convention without previous consultation with the Commonwealth. It was also pointed out that it would be necessary for all the States, and not some of them only, to give legislative effect to the provisions of the convention before the Commonwealth could proceed with ratification. Most of the Conventions deal with matters which fall within State jurisdiction, and concern the Commonwealth only in relation to its territories. No progress was made as a result of this Conference, and the matter was further taken up with the States by correspondence, but again without substantial results. The Commonwealth Government has so far ratified ten conventions dealing principally with maritime matters.

The matter of the ratification of conventions, at the instance of the Commonwealth Government, was again discussed at the recent Premiers Conference in Adelaide, when the unratified conventions were divided into three categories. The first includes conventions which are fully or substantially covered by State legislation or practice; the second, those which require only minor legislative amendments ; and the third, those which involve more important changes. Conventions falling within the first category are those concerning the 48-hour week, 1919 ; mini- mum age in industry, 1919 ; minimum age in agriculture, 1921; right of association in agriculture, 1921; workmen's compensation in agriculture, 1921; weekly rest in industry, 1921; hours of work in commerce and offices, 1930 ; minimum age for non-industrial employment, 1932; and hours of work in automatic sheet-glass works, 1934. The second category consists of conventions concerning unemployment, 1919; childbirth convention, 1919 ; night work of young persons, 1919 ; workmen's compensation for accidents, 1925 ; protection against accident of workers employed in loading Or unloading ships, 1932; workmen's compensation for occupational diseases, 1934;, night work of women, 1934; and hours of work in coal mines, 1935. The third category consists of thirteen conventions, relating mainly to compulsory insurance against sickness, old age, invalidity, &c, and others which concern matters in respect of which it is doubtful whether the requisite unanimity on the part of the States is at present, obtainable.

The relevant sub-committee of the Premiers Conference in Adelaide expressed the opinion that the delay which had occurred in regard to the ratification of these conventions was to a large extent due to the fact that consideration by the States of the Conventions was not a function of any one department or officer; and the Committee recommended that the States should be invited to charge with the responsibility of dealing directly with International Labour Conventions some particular department or officer. The Committee also recommended that the States should be invited to communicate at once their acquiescence or otherwise in any convention, the subject matter of which is substantially covered by State law, and, so far as concerns the other conventions, to advise the Commonwealth Government as early as possible, and in any event within six months, whether or not they are willing that the Commonwealth should proceed with ratification. The Conference adopted the report of the sub-committee.

I may mention that the Government delegate was fully informed prior to the conference as to the attitude of the Commonwealth Government to the proposed conventions in connexion with hours of work. These instructions, briefly stated, were to the effect that he was at liberty to support the proposal, and vote in favour of the adoption of draft conventions providing for a 40-hour week on the following conditions: (1) that he made clear the constitutional limitations of the Commonwealth as regards the subject matter of the conventions which fell mainly within the competence of the States, and which, to be made effective, required State legislation; and, (2) that he informed the conference that if a majority of nations were in favour of, and adopted, the 40-hour week the Commonwealth Government would use its endeavours to obtain agreement on the part of the Australian States, so that the ground might be clear for ratification of the principle by the Commonwealth. On this basis, Mr. Harrison voted in favour of the 40-hour week in respect of public works, which was adopted by the prescribed majority with a margin of one vote. Honorable senators are aware of the attitude of the Commonwealth Government in relation to the general adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia. It has been made clear in this chamber and elsewhere. The Government endeavoured to arrange for a conference between representatives of the various parties concerned with a view to comprehensive investigation of the merits or otherwise of the shorter working week, but these efforts failed. Later, it was suggested that an investigation might be held by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, but this suggestion also was rejected. Consequently, at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in Adelaide, the Commonwealth Government expressed the view that the only bodies that could deal satisfactorily with the question were the industrial tribunals of either the Commonwealth or the States. The proposal for the adoption of a 40- hour week was resolved in the negative by the conference.

Two other conventions were adopted by the International Labour Conference, one concerning annual holidays with pry. and the other relating to the regulation of certain special systems of recruiting workers. Various recommendations and resolutions also were adopted. The conventions and recommendations have been referred to the State Governments for information and advice as to the extent to which the provisions of any of them are covered by existing legislation, and as to any action contemplated by the States to give effect to them.

Each of the delegates, in his report, has referred to the inconvenience suffered by the absence of technical advisers to assist in representation on the various committees, some of which sit simultaneously, and even, at times, concurrently with the plenary sessions of the conference. This is a matter which has been referred to on former occasions, and has received consideration. Owing to the geographical position of Australia, the appointment of advisers would involve considerably increased expenditure, and in view of this, advisers have not been appointed. The workers' delegate, for example, is provided with a first class return passage, and receives allowances of £1 10s. a day on board ship and £3 3s. a day while on land, and, in addition, compensation for loss of wages, which usually amounts to £7 or £S a week, over a period of approximately three months. The expenses of advisers would be about the same as those of the delegates. Under the present arrangement, the cost of representation at an International Labour Conference, with only the workers' delegate being specially sent from Australia, as has been the practice for several years, amounts to approximately £1,200. Each adviser appointed would increase this cost by from £400 to £500. I commend the reports to honorable senators for their perusal.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collings) adjourned.







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