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Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr SPEAKER - Is it the wish of the House that the two bills be taken together?

Mr Calwell - The suggestion is that the two bills be debated together, and voted on separately.

Mr SPEAKER - There being no objection, that course will be followed.

Mr McMAHON - The stevedoring industry is a key one. It is vital to both our commerce and defence. What happens on the waterfront affects not only our trade, in the sense of the movement of cargoes to and from overseas and around our shores, but also every other aspect of our lives. What happens in this industry bears on the returns we get from our exports and on the prices we pay for goods in Australia. What happens on the waterfront, in short, materially affects each and every one of us.

This industry has had an unhappy history of industrial turbulence. I am not one of those who believes it must necessarily be so. In an effort to get to root causes, the Menzies Government in 1951 commissioned a distinguished investigator, Mr. Basten, to examine the organization and working of the industry. Later it established what has come to be known as the Tait Committee to make a more detailed investigation for much the same reasons.

Following the report of the Tait committee, the Parliament in 1956 legislated for a new charter for the working of the industry. Time has shown that that legislation is basically sound.

On the industrial side, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission made an interim award in July, 1956, and a comprehensive award following a decision of the commission in October, 1959. These gave substantial advantages to the Waterside Workers Federation. There was, then, good reason to hope that this new legislative charter and this new code of conditions of employment would begin a new era of peace on the waterfront. These expectations have not been realized. In 1958-59, we had a loss of 345,000 man-hours. This was a good result in comparison with earlier years and gave promise of better things, to come. Our hopes were short-lived. In 1959-60 man-hours lost rose to 806,000. In the first half of 1960-61, man-hours lost were nearly as much as in the previous year.

Now, why? Working conditions had not worsened; they were better! So, I ask why? Perhaps it was that in 1958-59, the low year, there was less work available and the leaders of the Waterside Workers Federation were not willing to take the risk of stopping their men. Perhaps it was that since the major claims of the federation were still being prosecuted before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the leaders decided they did not want to prejudice their claims by too many stoppages. Whatever the reasons for this period of industrial peace in 1958-59, there is one thing of which we can be sure - what occurs on the waterfront occurs because the leaders of the Waterside Workers Federation want it to happen.

From my observations and letters 1 have seen from waterside workers, I have no doubt that large numbers of men on the waterfront are just as keen to get on with the job and earn a steady income as any other Australian worker. They do not want meaningless port stoppages. 1 can understand problems arising on particular ships. Safety issues may arise; tempers may flare; and a ship or a gang might stop. I understand this. What I cannot understand and what trade union officials in other industries cannot understand, is why the whole port or large numbers of waterside workers are pulled out when something of the sort I have mentioned occurs. This sort of thing does not go on in other sections of industry. If there is a dispute in one section of a factory, the whole industry, of which that factory is a part, does not stop working. In most cases not even the whole factory stops work; the dispute is confined to the place where it occurs.

It will, I believe, shock the House to know that in 1959-60, 47 per cent, of the total man-hours lost were lost in some 107 24-hour port stoppages - and this despite the very ample machinery available for the resolving of industrial disputes and the commission's decision of October, 1959, that each branch could hold eight half-day stop-work meetings in a year. As to this, I should mention that the federation gave an assurance to the commission that if its claim, which was for twelve such stop-work meetings, was granted in substance, the federation would - and here I quote the words of the federation - " discourage to the utmost of its ability any tendency on the part of branches to conduct unauthorized stopwork meetings". What value can be placed on the assurances of the federation I leave the House to judge. All I say now is that this state of affairs - mass stoppages at ports - just cannot be allowed to go on.

It may very well be asked why in these circumstances the Government has decided to grant long service leave to waterside workers. In the first place, other regular full-time employees now receive longservice leave, and the Government thought that it should extend such leave to what I might describe as " permanent " waterside workers. The Government acted on its own initiative; it was not urged to do this by the federation. Indeed, Mr. Healy, the general secretary of the federation, struck me as being most disturbed about it.

There is no doubt that the Government's decision will be warmly welcomed by the big majority of the men themselves. They want this concession on a nationwide basis and they knew their chances of getting it by pressure on State governments and by industrial action - despite all the boastings of their leaders - were pretty remote. I have no doubt, too, that the Government's decision to grant long service leave to waterside workers was received with pleasure by the trade union movement.

While the provisions Of the bill are complicated - and I am afraid that this is inescapable in such a complex industry - broadly what is proposed is that men registered at continuous ports and required to attend on a daily basis will get three months' long service leave after twenty years' qualifying service, and six and onehalf weeks for each subsequent ten years. By continuous ports, I mean ports where men have to attend daily throughout the year. Service in seasonal ports during the season where daily attendance is a requirement will also be counted.

Service back to the 1942 war-time scheme will count. Service after the age of 70 will not count. As a result of representations by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, to which I will refer again later, in some circumstances service by what are known as irregulars will be counted. In brief, if men at continuous or seasonal ports have eight years' qualifying service as regulars, and become irregulars because of ill health or age, they will be credited with the days they actually work as irregulars.

Generally speaking, no leave will be granted before 1964. This is the general rule. Some waterside workers will, however, be eligible for payments in lieu of leave immediately and others between now and 1964. Pro rata leave will be granted under certain conditions after ten years' service.

Put broadly, what we are proposing is pretty much in line, in general principle, with the ordinary State long service leave laws. It is, as a matter of fact, more advantageous than the Tasmanian legislation dealing with the waterside workers. In line with other long service leave legislation, long service leave benefits will, generally, not be granted to those who are not required to attend daily. These people are casuals and mostly have other jobs. The idea behind long service leave is that it is a reward for long and continuous service.

While service at what are casual ports and service at seasonal ports outside the season does not count towards qualifying service, the qualifying service a man at such a port may have accrued in ports where service does qualify is preserved. This provision has been made because we recognized that transfers from port to port are extensive, and some ports have been convert.(1 from continuous to casual ports, and we have no wish to deprive men of eligibility for leave already earned simply because they might be in a casual port where service does not count.

I emphasize at this point that the bill includes several provisions designed to discourage waterside workers from engaging in irresponsible and avoidable port stoppages of the kind 1 mentioned earlier. These provisions are directed to the suspension of attendance money benefits and deferment of long service leave. I will describe these in detail later.

When I discussed the Government's general proposals with the president of the A.C.T.U. and his senior colleagues and the federal president and general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, I was reminded of the trade union movement's objections to the attaching of conditions to the granting of long service leave. I was also told that some of the proposals were less than generous. Now, as I say, these were the views put by the A.C.T.U. I need not recount Mr. Healy's attitude. You will probably guess that he expressed opposition to most of the Government's proposals, no matter what benefits they were intended to confer on the waterside workers.

Some of the arguments put to me involved matters of opinion; others, matters of policy. I respect the views put to me by the A.C.T.U. even if 1 did not always agree with them, and I informed the president I would discuss with my colleagues what had been submitted. This was done. The provisions of the bill will, I believe, go a long way to meeting the points put by the A.C.T.U., while at the same time retaining what the Government considers to be vital to the objectives of the bill.

Sir, thebill before the House proposes that if there is a port stoppage, that is, a port stoppage involving more than 250 or one-third of the men at a port, the men involved will lose the benefits I will mention unless the union can satisfy the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that the stoppage was justified. For every day of a port stoppage that is not covered by these exceptions, the men involved will lose attendance money on four occasions when they would otherwise receive it and their qualifying period foi long service leave will be deferred by the day, and such further period not exceeding one month in all as the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission determines.

The first proposal is not new. Under section 83 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which is now to be repealed, the authority can suspend attendance money where there is concerted mass action. The existing provision strikes at those not involved as well as at those involved. In addition, it operates unfairly as between individuals involved. The proposed provision affects only those involved in a stoppage and affects them all to the same degree.

Neither is the proposal regarding long service new. The same concept is contained in the coal-mining industry long service leave awards. As a matter of fact under all existing long service leave legislation days lost in a stoppage are deducted from qualifying service. The Government is building on this idea because it feels that, in the circumstances that we are dealing with, a single day's loss is not adequate.

The provisions I have mentioned will not apply when the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority exercises its disciplinary powers in relation to all the men involved. In small ports, where small numbers of men are involved, even if they should exceed one-third of those at the port, it may be more appropriate for the authority to deal with the men under its disciplinary powers. It would be wrong to subject the same men to A.S.I. A. discipline and these new provisions as well.

I repeat that what now appears in the bill is the Government's attempt to reconcile the views of the A.C.T.U. with the vital principles behind the bill. I do not want to convey the impression to the House that it goes as far as the A.C.T.U. suggested, but I believe it covers the main objection and it goes a fair part of the way in other respects.

I do say categorically that this kind of law would never have become necessary were it not for the tactics - the deliberate tactics and objectives - of some of the leaders of the Waterside Workers Federation to continually disrupt and disorganize working on the waterfront. It is they who must carry the responsibility for what is proposed.

The Government has a clear duty to protect the community and that, unhappily, means that the individual waterside worker must understand that if he permits himself to be used for political purposes by his leaders he cannot expect to receive the full benefits he otherwise would be entitled to. If the objectives of the leaders were industrial it would be one thing. They are not. One only has to look at the resolutions wheeled up at stop-work meetings to see the motives. They are political, purely and simply, designed to achieve political objectives distasteful to the great majority of the Australian people.

In truth, the leaders of the Waterside Workers Federation have been engaged in a prostitution of the very purposes of trade unionism. All too frequently, at unauthorized stop-work meetings, allegedly called to discuss some major industrial issue, discussions are centred on and resolutions are put about matters that are not industrial. Even at the authorized stopwork meetings allowed by the award to discuss union business, we find similar things happening. The peace council, ban the A bomb moves, the attitude of the press to unity tickets, the Crimes Act, actions by some State governments, Cuba, and other subjects that are the stock in trade of the Communists - these are the things discussed. Indeed, during the period authorized for a recent stop-work meeting in Sydney, waterside workers demonstrated in support of Fidel Castro, and one of their leaders, the Sydney branch treasurer, was arrested. Honorable members should have no illusions about this.

Before I pass to other provisions of the bill, I want to re-emphasize that its provisions are based on the assumption that trouble can arise in a particular gang and with particular ships. These sorts of problems are, with one exception, to which I will refer later, effectively covered by the existing legislation. This bill before the House is designed to protect the community from the incalculable damage which unjustified mass stoppages cause.

I turn now to another problem - a problem that all engaged in the industry have been aware of for many years - the elderly worker. Stevedoring is not an easy job. Much of the work is not the kind of work that many of us would like elderly men to perform. Where practicable, they do the lighter work. In many cases, this is not practicable, and younger men have to carry the older men along and sometimes do two men's jobs. This, of necessity, reduces output and lowers efficiency. Many of the older men have already faced up to this problem and have elected to go on what is known as the irregular roster, under which they are entitled to go on working on the waterfront on an irregular basis, that is, attending when they feel like it, and sometimes on the basis that they will handle only specified types of work. I will come back later to this custom of men going on the irregular roster, because the relevant part of the bill now before the House is built on this concept.

When thinking about the problem of the elderly worker, we have have not overlooked the provision in the 1949 legislation which provides, in effect, that if there is redundancy at a port, that is, if ever it should be necessary to reduce the number of men at a particular port - and I emphasize " at a particular port " - because there is not enough work to give them an adequate wage, men who were in the industry in 1 947 should not be discharged. Other men must go, no matter what their age.

This bill involves no breach of the 1949 provision, though, of course, honorable members can take it for granted that the contrary will be said. The bill has nothing to do with redundancy at a port. It is concerned with the re-organization of the industry at large.

Even though the proposed legislation involves no breach of any so-called statutory guarantee, the Government thought that, in justice to the elderly worker, something special should be done for those who have served in the industry continuously back beyond 1947.

All told there are 1,844 men in this industry over 65, of whom 902 are over 70 and of these 55 are over 80. Some of these men are on what is known as the irregulars roster. Sometimes it is called the pensioners or veterans register. That is to say, they make themselves available whenever it suits them - sometimes reasonably regularly, sometimes occasionally. It is not denied that many of these men have stayed on because Mr. Healy has said he would get them long service leave and pensions. The Government is granting them long service leave without being asked to do so and the Commonwealth social ser vices scheme provides pensions to all over the age of 65 who are otherwise qualified.

What justification could there be for the creation of a privileged position and a special scheme of pensions for waterside workers? The coal-mining scheme has been suggested as a precedent. That is unique. Coal-miners are compulsorily retired at 60 years of age. Few other workers are retired at 60, and in any case the working conditions in the stevedoring and coalmining industries are totally different. It is said that schemes for pensions or things resembling them exist for waterside workers overseas. In the countries that have been mentioned to me circumstances are different! If comparisons are to be made we must assure ourselves that conditions over the whole waterfront are the same there as here. They are not. In Australia we have a national pensions scheme and we do not propose to introduce special schemes for certain classes of workers over and above what the national scheme provides.

I now turn to the other provisions of the bill. First, may I say, Mr. Speaker, the bill does not provide for the compulsory retirement of men from the industry at any age. There are no provisions for compulsory retirement. What the Government has done is to build on the existing practice of some elderly men of transferring, if they wish, to the irregulars roster. The bill provides that where a man who is not on the irregulars roster - and what I have to say applies principally to the continuous ports - is over the age of 70 or reaches the age of 70 he will be transferred to what the bill calls Part B of the register - in other words, the equivalent of the present irregulars roster. From that time he will be able, if he wishes, to work on in the industry whenever he pleases and whenever work is available for him. If the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority requests him to attend for work on any day because there is a shortage of labour, and if he does attend, he will be entitled to a new benefit - the right to attendance money if he attends and no work is available for him.

In addition, the men aged 70 will immediately become eligible for long service leave or payment in lieu. If a man has twenty years' qualifying service he will receive payment for the whole three months. If he has less than twenty years' qualifying service but more than ten he will be eligible for pro rata leave. If he was in the industry before 1947 he is eligible for the equivalent of three months' leave even if he has not had the full twenty years' qualifying service, provided always that he has ten years' qualifying service.

So far I have been speaking about the over 70's. As to those over 65, put broadly, they will be eligible for the same benefits I have described for the over 70's, if they elect to leave the industry or transfer to Part B of the register. In other words, they have a choice. If they do not exercise the choice and work on to 70 they will become entitled, on reaching that age, to the benefits I have described for the over 70's. The Government believes these provisions are fair. It has sought to do justice and equity to the elderly workers. They not only will be eligible to receive the monetary equivalent of leave but also will be entitled to go on working whenever they please, and to supplement the normal age pension payable under the Commonwealth Social Services Act, within the scope of the pensions scheme.

There is one other major matter to which I want to refer. There are under the law that has operated since the war-time National Security Regulations provisions relating to discipline. Successive statutory authorities have had power to suspend a man's registration. This power is frequently used although it has long been recognized that the power is useless in relation to mass stoppages and that the exercise of the power in other cases can actually be against the interests of the community. Where, for example, a port is short of labour, suspending a man only deprives the port of his services when most needed. The consequence can well be that a ship is held up, and this may cost somewhere about £1,000 per day. The shipowner does not pay this amount - the community does - and the ship still has to be loaded or unloaded, frequently at penalty rates. This means that often a man who has been suspended gains from his suspension because he may be paid overtime for the work he subsequently does. This problem was considered by the Tait committee, which recommended that fines should be imposed instead of suspensions. That course is not available for legal reasons.

The conclusion the Government has come to is that, as a supplement to the power to suspend a man, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority should have power instead to suspend the man's attendance money. With this in mind the bill provides that where there is a labour shortage the authority may, instead of suspending a man for a day, suspend his entitlement to attendance money for four occasions on which he would otherwise receive it. This is, in reality, a penalty no greater than, and no different from, the existing one. If a man loses a day's pay he would lose eight hours at lis. 2id. an hour, or £4 9s. 8d. If suspended on a night or week-end shift he would lose more. Four days' attendance money is equal to £4 16s.

As well, the act is being amended to remove what could well be an injustice. If a man is suspended, and he appeals against the suspension and the appeal is upheld, the man receives no compensation in relation to the time of his suspension. That has been the rule since 1942. The bill proposes that, in future, if an appeal is upheld at the discretion of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission the man may be granted compensation for lost wages.

I think what I have said covers the main provisions of the bill. As well there are provisions designed to clarify or confirm some of the authority's powers, for example, in relation to the stevedoring of ships trading to the Commonwealth's Territories; the leasing of land; arranging inter-port movements of waterside workers; security for payment of wages; and arranging for medical examination of waterside workers.

This bill reflects the Government's view of what is necessary to correct abuses on the waterfront. It reflects, too, I am sure, public opinion of what has been happening on the waterfront and what should be done about it. It is nothing short of appalling to think that over the last five years 29 per cent, of the total days lost for industrial disputes in Australia - 29 per cent., I repeat - have been lost by 20,000 waterside workers out of roughly 3,000,000 wage and salary earners, that is, by fewer than 1 per cent. of the wage and salary earners. Is it any wonder that in the last four years nearly 4,500 waterside workers have lost their jobs? Cargoes that should have gone by sea have been moved by other forms of transport, because consignors and consignees have not been prepared to put up with waterfront delays and stoppages and the additional costs. Nearly 4,500 men have lost their jobs. More will do so unless there is a change of heart and the men themselves realize that the action of some of their leaders is in fact continually reducing the number of jobs available. This bill gives to the men the opportunity to put a stop to what has been happening and to what is being forced on them. For the good and solid reason that it means much to Australia as well as to the men themselves that unjustified port stoppages should cease, the Government hopes the men will not let slip the chance to correct the position.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr.E. James Harrison) adjourned.

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