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Thursday, 24 June 1937

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (West ern Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) . - by leave - I inform honorable senators that advice has to-day been received from the Australian Delegation at the 23rd Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva that the Conference adopted a draft convention applying the principle of the 40-hour week, with maintenance of the standard of living, to the textile industry; out rejected similar proposed conventions in connexion with (a) printing and kindred trades, and (&) the chemical industry. The existing conventions concerning the minimum age for industrial and nonindustrial employment were revised so as to raise the age from fourteen to fifteen years, subject to certain excep tions and special provisions modifying the convention in favour of Japan and India, for which a lower age is prescribed. Finally, the Conference adopted two recommendations relating to international co-operation in connexion with the timing of all works undertaken or financed by public authorities.

The instructions issued by the Commonwealth Government to its delegate at the Conference in regard to the proposed conventions for the reduction of hours of work were as follows: -

(a)   The constitutional position of the Commonwealth and of the Australian States in relation to determining hours of work is that the Commonwealth canlegislate only as to the working hours of its own employees and also for the setting up of a Court of Conciliation and Arbitration tor the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond thelimits of one State. In all other respects the industrial powers belong to the State Parliaments.

(b)   In a few isolated cases StateParlia- ments have passed laws directly regulating hours, but, in substance, the industrial policy ofAustralia has been to set up tribunals with compulsory powers and toleave it to those tribunals to fix, within the limits of their jurisdiction, wages and working hours and conditions generally.

(c)   The people of Australia have repeatedly approved of this policy which enables industrial problems to he dealt with on their merits and after adequate inquiry.

(d)   The Commonwealth Government adheres strongly to this policy, which it regards as of vital importance to both employers and employees, and which has in fact been the means of effecting steady reductions in the working week as circumstances justify them, until at present the average working week in Australia is approximately 45 hours.

(e)   While it is satisfied that the Australian system of independent industrial tribunals and its policy of enforcing their decisions should be continued, the Commonwealth Government agrees that the adoption of an international standard of working hours in respect of particular industries would be most desirable, provided, of course, that it was international in the sense that it commanded the adherence of the majority of competing countries, and provided further that it was actually effectuated by those countries. It would, accordingly, be prepared to co-operate in any manner within its limited powers in any agreement having such an objective, though it thinks it proper to point out that the differences between industrial workers and those engaged in country industries present problems of great complexity, some solution of which must accompany any measures taken to bring about an all-round reduction of the hours of industrial workers.

(f)   Subject to the clear expression of these views, the Government Delegate is authorized to vote for the adoption of the specific conventions to be considered by the Conference, namely, (a) the textile industry; (b) the printing and kindred trades; and (c) the chemical industry, provided that he also indicates that the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia would make it a condition of its ratification of these conventions that the principal countries engaged in these industries should have adhered to such conventions.

(g)   To avoid any misunderstanding the Government Delegate should make it clear that adherence to any such convention by the Commonwealth cannot, as the constitutional position now stands, confer upon the Parliament of the Commonwealth a legislative power which it does not now possess, but that such adherence would be significant as (i) an indication of the policy of the Government in the circumstances then existing; and (ii) giving an opportunity to the Parliaments of the Status to exercise their own powers in relation to the matter.

As honorable senators are aware, a convention is adopted at the conference by a two-thirds majority of government, employers' and workers' delegates voting together. The obligation of governments under the Constitution of the International Labour Organization is that they will, within a "period of one year from the closing of the Conference, bring a draft convention before the authority or authorities' within whose competence the matter lies for the enactment of legislation or other action. The draft conventions and recommendations referred to above, on receipt in Australia will, in accordance with the usual practice in such cases, be presented to this Parliament and communicated to the State governments for consideration, and an expression of their views on the question of implementation.

It will be recalled that the 1935 conference adopted a convention generally affirming the principle of the 40-hour week, and the application of this principle to specific industries was to come before -future conferences. At the conference which has just closed, three industries were considered in this connexion, but only one of them obtained the necessary majority for the adoption of a draft convention in relation thereto. A draft convention was adopted in 1935 applying a 42-hour week, on the basis of four shifts, to automatic glass-bottle manufacture, while in 1936 the conference adopted a draft convention applying the 40-hour week to public works.

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