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Thursday, 13 May 1965


Senator BISHOP (South Australia) . - I support the amendment that has been proposed, and the sentiments that have been expressed, by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). The first point that we should recognise about this legislation is that it is the result of tripartite discussions, which is a good thing in itself, but the proposals are not entirely satisfactory to the trade union movement. This is a form of discussion which should take place. There should be discussions between the Government, the employers and the trade unions on matters of top arbitration policy, and also on other industrial matters. But we feel that the kernel of the complaint of the trade union movement, which relates to the injunctions and contempt proceedings, has not been dealt with. I refer particularly to sections 109 and 111 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

It has been stated that this legislation will provide a sort of cooling off period. In this respect it probably follows very closely the legislation that was passed in the New South Wales Parliament some years ago. Over the years the complaint, as everybody from the Opposition side and the trade union side recognises, has been that the penal powers provided in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and in other acts have been used to the extent where they are not a deterrent. In fact, they cause resentment in the trade union movement. They do not cover the position that the Government sought to cover, that is, to dampen industrial activity.

The Bill provides, as the Minister put it, that the Commonwealth Industrial Court shall not commence to hear an injunction unless a notification has been received. It must be forwarded at least 14 days prior to the proposed non-observance of an award, and a shorter period shall not be allowed unless reasonable cause is shown to the Commission. The idea of the Government is to provide a period in which conciliation might be resorted to. Of course, that is a good thing. It will help to provide a medium by which discussions and negotiations can take place about a dispute, and perhaps produce a useful result. Other related matters, such as provisions regarding costs, which have not been acceptable to the trade union movement are also covered to some extent by the Bill. For instance, if an employer does not notify the Commission of threatened action, he will not be able to recover costs. In other actions which are brought under section 109, costs will only be allowed to junior counsel. These matters, I think, partly meet the complaints of the trade union movement.

The real issue which still remains is whether the penal clauses should apply to the trade union movement, which is pursuing a legitimate course in society by improving employees' conditions, particularly where no controls exist in respect of prices and profits. If, as the Government contends, the measure is an attempt to meet the logical aspirations of the trade union movement, if not in whole then in part, I should have thought that the Minister would recognise the very useful purpose that the trade union movement plays in the community. In this regard I refer, as Senator McKenna did, to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. We know that the edifice of arbitration is not simply confined to the courts. In fact, all the labour organisations play an important role in maintaining industrial peace. Their role in our society ought to be recognised. Their great influence in maintaining industrial peace and in prosecuting the aims of their members to secure reasonable wage rates ought to be recognised. So the opportunity should not be seized to criticise what are claimed to be militant moves and Communist moves.

The lesson we must learn from this sort of activity is that the more we impose penalties by legislation upon trade unions. the greater is the advantage that is taken of the position by the Communist sections of the trade union movement. The Opposition agrees with the Minister when he says that reasonable men will act responsibly. Now, if reasonable men are acting responsibly and if the great trade union centres of the country are adopting this attitude, they ought to be recognised and more weight ought to be given to their submissions when they meet the Government. In the existing circumstances, we feel that full weight has not been given to their submissions and that the real measure of improvement which we thought we should obtain has not been achieved yet.

The Government argues that sanctions are important parts of the arbitration system. We contend that that is not necessarily so. While we could say that in other parts of the world the situation is different, somebody on the Government side could argue that the situation in Australia is entirely different historically, and that we have a different set of relationships in the industrial field. So we have. There is no reason why we should not move towards more conciliation in a positive form. I accept the proposition that there has been some move towards conciliation. In fact, we know that legislation was introduced into this Parliament by the Chifley Labour Government in this regard. Since the introduction of that legislation, efforts have been made to meet requests from the trade union movement to improve conciliation by the appointment of conciliators. This was a request from the Labour movement which came from the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Conciliation commissioners today are performing a very useful function, so much so that the President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has made a point of mentioning this fact in his reports in 1957 and 1962. He has expressed satisfaction with the role of the conciliators. This is true, but the process is not strong enough. I mention here that the New South Wales Labour Government also appointed conciliators and provided the sort of cooling off process which we are now discussing.

We differ from the Government on the issue of sanctions. It is argued that the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitra tion Commission cannot perform its duties without the power of sanctions or penalties. There are those of us who have had the responsibility of organising and representing workers in the matter of settling disputes. When I refer to settling disputes, I want to emphasise again that the terms of settlement proposed by those responsible bodies are not always accepted by all the members of the union concerned. A union may give a direction to its members which is not accepted by certain sections of them. The organisation is then subject to action under section 109 of the Act and is finally dealt with under section 11 1 by which a penalty of £500 today can be imposed. We have complained of this situation. We feel that there is a great need to reassess the position.

I am aware that this situation is known to the Department of Labour and National Service whose job is, as far as possible, to smooth out the industrial disputes which occur in a community particularly at a time of economic expansion. By the same token, I believe that the Department does understand that many of these disputes are a direct result of management policy. Most disputes are. Not only do these disputes concern claims for wages and conditions, but also, on many occasions, disputes occur, because of bad factory conditions or because of some small factor which results from bad supervision and bad management.

It has become the practice to recognise in these days of expansion and of a so called welfare state the importance of human relations within the industrial movement. If we can continue to give this recognition, we ought to be prepared, if only as an experiment, to accept what has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) on behalf of the Australian Labour Party. We should do what the trade union movement asks and get rid of these punitive sections in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act once and for all. I have made reference to the position in other countries. In the United Kingdom where these matters have developed in a different fashion because of the historical aspect, the approach to industrial relations differs from our approach. For example, the United Kingdom uses a form of collective bargaining in some cases which is similar to the system in the United States of America. The unions negotiate with national bodies and contract national agreements for wages and working conditions. In some areas, this system operates in a smaller way. A system of industrial awards is also in existence. In this situation, there are no penal clauses in the awards in the general sense in which they are spoken of here. I believe that these facts are known to the Department of Labour and National Service.

I want to read to the Senate, as I may make reference to it later and also in order to include it in the record, a statement concerning arbitration and industrial conditions in the United Kingdom. This is the annual report of the Ministry of Labour and National Service for 1955 which is prepared by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London. I have a reference to the 1960 report but, unfortunately, the 1955 report is the latest one available here. This report refers' to the sort of industrial relations that exist in the old country. At page 108 there is the heading "Negotiation, Conciliation and Arbitration ". The report reads -

Conciliation. - Under the Conciliation Act, 1896, and the Industrial Courts Act, 1919, the Minister may take such steps as seem to him expedient to promote a settlement in any trade dispute reported to him by or on behalf of one of the parties. No action is normally taken until any suitable negotiating machinery has already been fully used; even where there is no formal procedure the parties are expected to attempt to reach a settlement by negotiation. Subject to these considerations, the services of the Ministry's Conciliation Officers are available to the parties.

Under the heading " Arbitration " the report states -

Both of the above Acts provide for arbitration by consent of both parties. . . Arbitration awards under the two Acts are not legally binding on the parties but since they are the result of joint application to the Minister, they are almost invariably implemented.

In respect of " Inquiry and Investigation " it says -

The Industrial Courts Act, 1919, empowers the Minister to inquire into any trade dispute, whether reported to him or not, and if he thinks fit, to appoint a Court of Inquiry. A Court of Inquiry has no power to enforce a settlement. . .

In 1960, there was a departure from this procedure but not to the extent of bringing it into line with the situation in Australia where every action within the confines of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is subject to penalties. I. read again from the annual report of the Ministry of Labour and National Service for 1960. This section deals with " Arbitration ", is the same as the section which I have already quoted, but makes another point and refers to another proposal. It says -

In addition, the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act, 1959, required the Minister to refer to the Industrial Court claims that an employer was not observing the recognised terms or conditions of employment appropriate to the industry in which he was engaged. The employer's consent was not necessary.

I had the experience in 1959 - no doubt other honorable senators have had the experience too - of seeing a major strike being pursued in the United Kingdom. I was somewhat astounded to see that, in the Old Country, people accepted this situation of settling their disputes on the industrial front. I refer to the motor industry strike. At the same time as there were stoppages of work, the various negotiating bodies went in to settle the dispute, and the Ministry of Labour offered the parties whatever facilities it could make available to them. There were some unusual developments in relation to the trade union movement in the United Kingdom, but nothing which alters the main proposition of the Opposition, namely, that these measures are too often used by employers to do the same sort of thing as the Government and the employers claim the unions are doing. Great penalties are inflicted upon the unions which, like their members, cannot afford to meet the costs and the penalties imposed. They have been used in circumstances where they should never have been used. I have had the experience of being involved in such a case as secretary of a Trades and Labour Council. I am grateful to know it was the only case where a settlement could not be reached properly through the normal processes of arbitration. It was a case involving negotiations with the Electricity Trust of South Australia on the question of bus transport in Port Augusta.

There had been a long established system of providing bus transport for the men, and when it was withdrawn they went on strike. As the result of the failure of the Electricity

Trust to continue negotiations the unions were brought before the Industrial Court and were heavily fined. The unions and the Trades and Labour Council were then instructed to order the men back to work. So we have the situation that the Industrial Court can, in effect, draw up a programme and instruct the trade union movement to carry it out, very often in the face of strong objections from the workers in industry. ] had the very unsatisfactory task of having to instruct a great number of workers to go back to work in a situation where I was satisfied that the instruction was not justified. The Minister in another place made reference to what he claimed to be the very high percentage of time lost in industrial disputes in Australia. He said that over a period of 15 years there had been an average of 2 k hours lost per man in industrial disputes. This is not an extremely high percentage of time lost when one considers the problems that occur in a modern community where one is dealing not just with automations but with men. You are dealing with unions; people with great experience of negotiation, and also some people on the employers' side who have a lot of sense and try to negotiate reasonable settlements. This is not a great percentage of time lost at a time when industry is suffering from growing pains and when it must meet the problems of introducing new machines and production devices as well as adopting modern methods of management in order to get the best use out of its employees. When you consider the great amount of time lost through industrial accidents the amount lost through disputes is a minor matter.

In the Senate over the years I have tried to get some sort of summary of the incidence of industrial accidents in Australia, but there are no statistics available except those from one State, South Australia. Some attempt ought to be made here to produce such figures so that we could examine the incidence of industrial accidents. Some compilation of the figures should be made, and probably the Bureau of Census and Statistics is working on this. But at least we have a start, with South Australia's figures, which were obtained as the result of a safety drive. The South Australian Government legislated for improved safety devices and there was a great deal of publicity by the employers, the Government and the unions in a drive to improve industrial safety.

I want now to refer to the figures compiled by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics for 1963-64 in relation to industrial accidents. Table 1 of these figures refers to fatal and non-fatal accidents in all industrial groups, and gives the time lost and the amounts of compensation paid. The figures show that in that year for nonfatal accidents 43,705 weeks were lost with a work force of 298,688. This- means that on the basis of a five day week there was a total of 218,525 days lost, or, on the basis of a 5i day week - which is probably the more accurate measure - a total of 240,775 days were lost as a result of- accidents. This is a position we should all endeavour to correct.

When there is an industrial stoppage the occasion is always used to point to some political factor in the stoppage which is quite incidental, and not usual, in order to show that the sanctions should not be removed from the Arbitration Act. When you look at the time lost through disputes in Australia the picture is good compared with that shown by the figures for the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Despite the situation I have pointed to and the fact that in .those countries there are not the overall controls and penalties which apply here, our figures are comparatively low. I want now to read out some figures which I think should be used in this connection. They are taken from various source including Her Majesty's Stationery Office, and are available from the Parliamentary Library. I quote the figures from 1963 downwards, which show that the average working days lost in 1963 in the United Kingdom on account of industrial disputes were 0.08 per cent., while for the United States of America, the figure was 0.23 per cent, and for Australia 0.18 per cent. In 1962 in the Unted Kingdom the figure was 0.25 per cent., in the United States of America 0.27 per cent., and in Australia 0.16 per cent. In 1961 the figure for the United Kingdom was 0.13 per cent., that for the United States was 0.24 per cent, and the Australian figure was 0.19 per cent. With the concurrence of the Senate I incorporate the complete list of figures in " Hansard ". They are as follows -

 

 

The essential point of difference between us and the Government - and we accept it as the ground upon which we cannot agree - is that we say that this application of penalties, either through the Act or by other means, does not induce industrial peace, but in fact arouses a lot of resentment in the organised labour movement and allows people who want to make political capital out of the bad parts of an act to use these factors for agitation purposes. Both the trade union movement and the Government say that the workers have a legitimate right to organise and improve their standards. Mention has often been made of the waterside workers, both here and in another place. Nobody can tell me that the fining of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia in a sum of £17,100 in the 1954- 1964 period would lead to the establishment of peace in industry.

There can be a situation where a group of men have determined on a course of action, not necessarily about wages, but perhaps about amenities or transport and where; as a result, the unions have been heavily punished. In the period from 1954 to 1 964 the unions paid a total of £50,255 in fines. We suggest that this is not a situa tion which will help the industrial complex of Australia to proceed without trouble. I want to refer - though not in a very specific sense - to the fact that the waterside workers, for instance, are subjected to penalties in various directions. They are subjected to penalties not only under the Arbitration Act but also under the Stevedoring Industry Act, and the transport workers can also be fined under more than one act. Strong regard should be paid to the representations of the Australian Council of Trade Unions to the Government in an attempt to remove from the Act the penal provisions I have referred to. We say those provisions will do no good and if the Government agrees that reasonable men will act responsibly, all the more power to it, because the men should receive from the Government consideration of their overtures. These are principles which we must support.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.







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