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Unions and the Government

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Speech. E. G. W hitlam . 13 M ay 1973 .

The following are extracts from an address given by the Prim e M inister. Mr Gough W hitlam . to the first Conference of the A m algam ated M etalworkers' Union in Sydney:

Today I want to announce some further plans of the Government to improve the rights and conditions of trade unionists and promote better industrial relations in Australia. But first let me deal with some of the broad principles underlying our approach to industrial matters. This year has been on the whole a harmonious one in industrial

relations. There has been no major or prolonged industrial stoppage, and the general morale within the trade union movement is high.,, . . There can be no trust or understanding in industry if one side feels itself to be aggrieved or the victim of discrimination. There can be no trust or goodwill if union officials are open to civil prosecution for upholding their members’ interests. There can be no trust or goodwill if the law makes a criminal of the working man who chooses to withdraw his labour. There can be no trust or goodwill if compulsory arbitration takes precedence over direct and amicable conciliation and discussion between the parties to a dispute. All these aspects of the old law are being removed. There is no need for me to rehearse the provisions of our legislation, which must be familiar to you all. I shall, however, mention our proposals on union amalgamation, since they are closely relevant to what your own union has been doing.

We give a high priority to efforts to encourage amalgamations. . . . They can strengthen the negotiating power of unions and equip them for conditions of modern industrial bargaining between ever-growing corporations and large Government emp­ loyers. It is absurd that we should have more than 305 separate trade unions in Australia with half of them having fewer than 1,000 members and only 14 with a membership ol

more than 50,000. In West Germany, with a much larger population, and with one of the lowest rates of industrial stoppages in Europe, there are only 16 unions. Their Metal Workers’ Union has more than 2 million members. It is just as important that unions should be strong enough to withstand the power of big corporations as it is that

Governments should be strong enough to withstand the same pressures.

The benefits of amalgamation have been demonstrated by your own union. We are determined that the opportunity for amalgamation should be cast as widely as possible so that smaller unions, in particular, will be able to avail themselves of this reform if they want it. In this way they can enjoy savings in administrative costs and the elimination of waste and duplicated work. They can afford higher salaries for their officials, and draw their officials from a greater pool of talent than a small union can offer. They would be able to afford libraries, research staff and independent economic and legal advice which may now be beyond their resources. . . .

There is another important area in which the national Government can protect the interests of the working man. That is in the control of prices and inflation. I spoke earlier of what I know to be your legitimate grievances and fears — and the fear of unjustified price rises is the foremost of these fears. Yesterday I attended a conference of the

Premiers in Canberra, a conference called on the initiative of the Victorian Premier, at which I put forward a series of proposals designed to combat inflation in cooperation with the States. The Australian Government has already taken a number of measures, including revaluation of the dollar and the introduction of prices justification machinery, in a determined programme to keep prices down. But direct control of prices can, if necessary, only be taken as part of a national plan in which the State Governments cooperate fully. They alone have the powers. . . .

Let me tell you of some of the measures we contemplate to encourage a more informed and more efficient trade union movement and to improve working conditions in industry.



First, accidents. We are determined to reduce the incidence of industrial accidents and occupational disease. We have announced new plans for compensation but our prime concern is to prevent accidents rather than alleviate their effects. The Government will draw up a new uniform industrial safety code to apply throughout Government de­ partments and instrumentalities and in all establishments in the A.C.T.

With proper precautions accidents can be prevented. This has been clearly demonstrated by B.H.P., where there has been a 93 per cent reduction in accidents in the past 15 years — and this in an industry, iron and steel, which must be ranked among the most dangerous.

Second, supervision. We are anxious that safety conditions — and all the provisions of industrial awards — should be more effectively supervised. We propose to appoint another 100 arbitration inspectors to police awards and safety standards. One-third of them will be trade unionists with a working knowledge of their industries.

Third, trade union education. A well-educated and efficient trade union leadership is crucial to good industrial relations. Your union has taken the lead in this field by setting up its own training schools. Unions should not have to dissipate their resources in this way. Such training should be a Government responsibility like all other forms of education. My Government will finance a national training college with a centre in each capital city to train unionists and offer overseas study scholarships to those with special talents.

Fourth, apprenticeship. The Government is concerned at the failure of some employers to engage sufficient apprentices to meet their needs. This was possible because, under old immigration laws, employers were content to bring in tradesmen from overseas while neglecting the training of our own workmen. The Department of Labour is studying the possibility of introducing one year’s “ block training” of apprentices, instead of obliging them to spread their technical education intermittently over four years. The year of “ block training” would, if implemented, be followed by three years' apprenticeship on the job. making a total of four years altogether.

We believe these measures will contribute further to the well-being of workers and to enlightened and harmonious industrial relations. No Government has a greater interest than mine in preserving and strengthening the foundations of industrial peace in this country. No union has a greater interest than yours in ensuring the success of these endeavours. I am confident that Government and unions can work together — as they have in the past — for a more just and prosperous society.