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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2319

Senator WATSON(1.48) —Secondary boycotts are a particularly offensive form of union power. They involve not a dispute directly between a worker and his employer but rather workers in other industries and other employers. An obnoxious feature of secondary boycotts is the selection of an innocent target employer. It is possible that the boycotting union may not even have any members employed in the target company or by the target employer. By adopting such a tactic, a union which has no legitimate industrial dispute with the target company can cause loss of wages to employees and economic hardship to the employer through tactics such as picketing and interruptions to deliveries and supplies. The Trade Practices Amendment Bill 1984, the prime purpose of which removes secondary boycott provisions from the Trade Practices Act, reflects the Hawke Government's cave-in to big, militant unions including the Builders Labourers Federation.

The Fraser Government's introduction of sections 45D and 45E in 1977 and 1980 respectively was welcomed by both employers and the public. Both groups had suffered detrimental effects of secondary boycotts. The legislative prohibition of this form of industrial action would never have been enacted were it not deemed necessary in those years. The fact that it was necessary is an indictment of trade union movement action. Trade unions have enjoyed decades, if not centuries, of sympathetic legislation which legitimises their inconveniences and the financial losses which result from their industrial action. Indeed, Australia's absence of reasonable legislation against trade unions has meant that we have been held in awesome regard by other industrialised nations, especially since 1969 when the Clarrie O'Shea incident made the penal provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act completely useless and ineffective.

Unfortunately, trade unions have been carried away with the power and scope which has been given to them. Now the Labor Government intends to sanction an especially unfair form of industrial action. Employers are now in a no-win situation. Employers could be put into a situation whereby there was a disincentive for them to invest in the economy. It is no wonder that the employers are very concerned about the potential for petty disruptive tactics which do such disproportionate damage to the employers. It is hard to dispute the reasonableness of being able to obtain an interim injunction which requires unions to lift their bans while a dispute is being negotiated. The reasonableness of that is obvious to everyone.

The Government has also claimed that sections 45D and 45E are not an effective means of resolving disputes. What utter rubbish. Why would employers pursue that course of action if it was inevitably deemed to fail? The Government's claim is quite incomprehensible, considering that employers, too, must suffer a financial loss. Indeed, employers agree that the combination of the injunction mechanism and the potential for the awarding of damages under sections 45D and 45E have been instrumental in resolving union-instigated conflict.

Sections 45D and 45E have reduced the disadvantages employers encounter in the industrial area. Frequently the boycotting union, as I said earlier, is not even in dispute with the employer. Therefore, the repeal of these sections will leave employers without any form of redress other than conciliation, which further consolidates the unions' privileged position and the employers' helplessness.

Apart from concluding that most injunctions in 1983 examined by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations had little or no effect in quelling secondary boycott actions, the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) is devoid of any further substantiation of the Government's case. The avenues for misinterpretation left open by this bland Government assertion for those not fully versed in the industrial relations gamut prompted the Confederation of Australian Industry to conduct an independent survey of its own. The survey population was composed of all employers who had utilised sections 45D and 45E with the aim of resolving conflict. Eighteen out of the 20 employers surveyed responded affirmatively to the following question:

Do you believe your action in initiating trade practices proceedings materially assisted in the resolution of the dispute?

The two exceptions were firstly, an employer whose company was in receivership and secondly, an employer who gave a qualified answer. Further results are forthcoming. Significantly, it was also ascertained that when unions perceived an imminent injunction due to the lodging of a section 45D application by an employer, the secondary boycott was lifted. In other cases, where injunctions were granted and bans were lifted, employers still unanimously maintained that the method of dispute solving under sections 45D and 45E was instrumental and effective. The losses employers suffered from secondary boycotts are quite substantial. They include the total immobilisation of operations, the potential for stopping all sales, interruption to deliveries of services and goods and reputation damage. Despite these disastrous consequences, all respondents but two attempted extensive negotiations or initiated discussion with the unions concerned before proceeding with injunction measures. Many disputes lasted weeks or even months before injunctions were sought.

These two points highlight the remarkable tolerance for industrial action, despite the knowledge of the inevitable financial loss. Australia has too many unions. Their unchecked proliferation has consequently produced a multitude of demarcation disputes from which business people and government, through their economic repercussions, all bear their burden. The Builders Labourers Federation has been a notorious user of boycott action. I repeat: Employers use trade practices measures only as a last resort. There is not one case of a union being fined or damages awarded against a union. In fact, unions have respected the rulings of the court, and this has helped in the resolution of industrial disputes.

No one is advocating repression. I am certainly not doing that. All that is being advocated is a retention of the legislation which alleviates the dislocation coming from a particularly nasty form of industrial action, or industrial weapon. The Government has formerly acknowledged the relevance of and indeed the necessity for an employer to have the redress opportunities that sections 45D and 45E provide. Employers are always stigmatised and alienated in the industrial sphere, despite the fact that they are an integral feature. This demonstrates the appropriateness of a mechanism by which employers can instigate action instead of always being on the receiving end. Yet, despite formal recognition of this industrial imbalance, this Government has proceeded to support its case by arguing per se that sections 45D and 45E were being used for purposes wider than was originally intended and which were not consistent with the intent of the Trade Practices Act. Complementary legislation which was to offset the removal of sections 45D and 45E from the Trade Practices Act and hence simultaneously rectify this legislative inconsistency and employer discrimination has not really eventuated. The plans within this legislation are far from satisfactory. Thus, under the conceptual framework of the amendments, employer actions remain an illegitimate industrial activity. These glaring omissions and commissions render opposition to the amendments essential if industrial justice is ever to be done.