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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1762

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - Perhaps it might be advisable to remind honourable members that it is not and has never been the purpose of conciliation and arbitration in Australia to weaken or destroy the bargaining power or capacity of employees. I want to point out to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) that much of what he put is worthy of discussion but that he served little useful purpose by engaging in hyperbole.

Mr Giles - It would have been nice to have had a discussion, though, would it not?

Mr RIORDAN - I am sure that we are going to have a discussion on this legislation, both in the second reading and Committee stages of the Bill, for the rest of today. I find myself in the position where it is necessary to discuss this Bill in somewhat superficial terms and to reserve the right to go into more specific aspects in the Committee stage. I suggest that the honourable member might do the same. Those who pioneered the concept of conciliation and arbitration in Australia saw it as a civilised and efficient way of resolving the inevitable conflict between employers and employees. There are some people who seem to believe that conflict between employers and employees is something to be avoided at all costs. Of course, to suggest that is to suggest a drive into the world of unreality. To resolve disputes without the economic losses and personal hardship which frequently are the result of long strikes is the noble motive of our system of conciliation and arbitration. But it is worth remembering that the primary objective of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is to promote goodwill in industry. That is provided in section 2 of the Act and has been there since the Act commenced.

Other objects are designed to give effect to the primary objective of creating goodwill in industry. The whole emphasis of our industrial legislation and the whole emphasis of our conciliation and arbitration procedures should be directed towards the prevention of industrial disputes rather than the settlement of disputes which occur. That is the way in which it is desired in our Constitution - it is the purpose of the conciliation and arbitration power. It is significant that the word 'prevention' precedes the word 'settlement' in referring to industrial disputes and also that the word 'conciliation' precedes the word 'arbitration' in describing the method by which disputes shall be prevented and/ or settled. The amendments proposed in this Bill, particularly those proposed in respect to the consultation of employees and the encouragement of greater conciliation, will have far-reaching beneficial results. This Bill, read as a whole, will be seen as a major step towards the achievement of industrial peace. It will be seen as a step towards the elimination of the - need for strikes. lt is wrong to criticise a section or sections of this Bill in isolation without looking at it in its totality. It is unfair to predict any effects of the elimination of certain penal provisions without giving adequate consideration in calmness and tranquillity and giving due weight to the amendments designed to create far greater involvement of the individual employee in the establishment of his own conditions of employment. This Bill creates the means for a bold and courageous new experiment in industrial relations. Those who are harsh in their criticism of it show little faith and scant respect for the honour and collective integrity of Australian workers. My experience is that working men and women do not break arrangements made when they have been directly and fully involved in their making. We ought to remember that the process of conciliation and arbitration is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. The historical purpose of arbitration in Australia is to prevent exploitation and to give the working man an effective voice without forcing him into a strike and without forcing him into unfair and inequitable working conditions. lt has been part of that scheme to achieve justice and equity in a relationship which tends to be one of the dominant factors of life.

It is worth remembering that the people of Australia and of the world work in order to live; they do not live in order to work. Work forms a dominant part of their lives. It is impossible to live without working. The job that one has, the benefits that arise from that job, the rewards that flow from that employment determine the standard of living which all of us enjoy.

The evolution and development of the great industrial society have brought changes to our system of industrial relations. We ought to recognise these things at least in part: Firstly, the worker is better educated than he was in years gone by. He is better informed of developments in our country and elsewhere in the world. The development of better news services and a more enlightened Press and the great technological advances made in television and telecommunications have assisted in the achievement of a far better informed population and a far better informed work force. This has its effect on industrial relations. Secondly, the relationship between employers and employees has become more impersonal. The development of the giant international corporation and the emergence, of a professional management class are 2 factors which have led to this impersonalisation of the industrial relationship in our community. The structure of the management of an enterprise makes the decision makers in Australian industry further and further removed, as each year goes by, from the work place and from the aspirations, feelings and fears of the Australian worker. One might well measure the concern of Australian enterprises for their employees by looking at the role and the status which are given to the officer or executive in charge of industrial relations.

We should recognise as a fact of life that trade union militancy has increased and will continue to do so irrespective of the political colour or flavour of the Australian Government. There are. a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it can be shown that in recent years strikes have resulted in better conditions being achieved. It can be shown that strikes have resulted in conditions being achieved that would not have been achieved if the strike had not taken place. Secondly, the employee has far more resources, and his unions are bigger and stronger. Thirdly - this is a very important consideration - we have a growing number and a very much higher proportion of married women in employment. They are not totally dependent on their wage, or salary. Therefore, they are better equipped to withstand the rigours of strike action than they would be if they were totally dependent on their wage or salary. This also means that the family income is not totally dependent on one wage or salary. Therefore, the worker today is better equipped to cope with a strike than he, was 10 or 15 years ago.

It is in this setting that quite significant changes are being made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, as a first step. Why are these changes necessary? I put to the House and to honourable members that the existing laws are not as effective as they ought to be. For too long the capabilities of our tribunals have been ignored. It is ludicrous that after almost 70 years of Federal conciliation and arbitration we are still arguing in the High Court as to what is meant by an industrial matter. Is it not ludicrous that important considerations such as the reinstatement of an employee in his previous employment can be held to be beyond the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission?

In other words, the fact that a man is dismissed unfairly cannot be determined by a conciliation and arbitration procedure. The arbitral tribunals have no jurisdiction. Yet the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would brutally and viciously fine the employees who sought to strike to correct the serious injustice which has no other means of being resolved. Is he serious? The answer is that he is not serious. He is not serious because in instances where unions were fined he did not collect the fines. He refused to collect them. He declined to exercise his obligation - his right.

The separation of conciliation from arbitration has not worked. The provisions of the previous Act did not work mainly because of a half-hearted approach by the previous Government and a milk and water type of separation. No one was really sure that the separation was anything more than a formality. No one was sure that the conciliator did not tell the arbitrator what had occurred at the conference. Of course, such a formality meant the inevitable demise of that scheme. We should consider just how effective were the so-called penal provisions. They provided that either a union or the individual employees could be fined. They were nothing more and nothing less than a source of irritation. The fines which were imposed under the penal provisions and under the leadership and jurisdiction of the previous Government were not collected in recent years.

The prospect of action for damages or the possibility of charges of conspiracy in industrial relations should be removed because of its irritant effect. It is nonsense in this democratic society, this free economy, to suggest that workers who participate in a stoppage of work because little Mary Jones has been sacked out of turn are engaging in a conspiracy, and that a jam company for which she worked should be able to sue the workers individually and collectively through their union for damages. Is it suggested that 2 or 3 members of a furnishing trades union who are employed by a corporation such as General Motors-Holden's Pty Ltd or the Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd who go on strike because of a safety issue, should face the prospect of being sued for conspiracy by that poor little corporation? General-Motors' Holden's is the largest corporation in the world? Is that seriously suggested by the honourable member for Flinders? I doubt it. I give him credit for more sense and for more industrial integrity and honour. But why does the honourable member raise these issues in this manner to detract from this Bill? Why is it that members of the Opposition in this House insist on injecting into every debate petty party political considerations, particularly on the question of industrial relations? I hope that the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), if he does speak on this occasion, will not inject these considerations. 1 hope that in his speech he will rise above that level and will look at the real issues involved.

I find it impossible to argue that we should remove the civil right of any person to sue for damages if there were an attack on his property where wilful damage was done or he was the victim of a personal assault. This is in a vastly different category and the Bill recognises that. This Government does not, and I am certain will not, support physical violence, whether it be in the field of industrial relations or elsewhere. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) fully supports that concept. However, the Government is not prepared to leave on the statute book ludicrous propositions which have not found favour anywhere in the world, with the possible exception of totalitarian countries. We prefer to have legislation consistent with legislation in more enlightened countries rather than those countries which are under a totalitarian dictatorship.

The removal of the penal provisions will place a far greater obligation on unions and employees to honour agreements which are made. Time alone will tell whether this will be so. After all, if agreements or awards were broken in the past the employer had a remedy whereby he could seek to have a fine imposed on those responsible for the breach. What has to be recognised here and elsewhere is that the old penal provisions, which even the previous Government would not tolerate, should not continue to be on the statute book. For industrial relations they were a disaster but for lawyers and members of the legal profession they were a bonanza. There was double indemnity in that employers consistently used Queen's Counsel when a junior clerk from a solicitor's office would have sufficed. Costs were mounted in order to get a double penalty.

The Australian work force is a strong, virile and articulate group. It was amongst the earliest in the world to organise trade unions. We have one of the highest rates of trade union organisation to be found anywhere in the free world. Trade unions in Australia have always been relatively free. There have been some attempts to shackle them, but they have failed. The concept and spirit of trade unionism will continue. It will not be fettered by law* which are unenforceable - which Governments of all political flavours find impossible to enforce. There have been strikes from the earliest days of trade union organisation. Our fathers and our grandfathers before them withheld their labour from employers as they fought for recognition and the right to improve their conditions of employment. They fought for the right to provide sufficient food, clothing and shelter for their families. They refused to work in dangerous conditions or for less than a living wage. They refused to be treated like slaves, and because they so fought we have the conditions that we enjoy today.

They were met with the same kind of argument as we hear today. I say to honourable gentlemen opposite that rhetoric and name calling were then and are now no answer to logic and certainly are unacceptable as a reply to the legitimate claims of employees. It is foolish and unfair to compare and relate the bargaining power of the corporation with the bargaining power of individual employees. There is no legitimate comparison possible in the sense of there being some kind of equality. How often have we heard the gibe that if a worker does not like the conditions he should go and work somewhere else? Perhaps there is nowhere else, or it may be that economic conditions are such that no other jobs are available or that the skills of a particular class of employee are unique to a special industry. It is in such industries that the col lective bargaining power of the employee is important; otherwise he is powerless as an individual. He certainly does not have all of the legitimate choices of a free man.

When we speak of union power we speak about something which is irrelevant alongside the economic giants which have been developed in recent years. Let me say something about this equality argument - that the Opposition stands for equality, and that if it is proper to penalise the employer, so also should we penalise the employee. If the largest corporation in Australia refuses tomorrow morning to employ a man because he is a union member, that corporation faces the prospect of a fine of $400. If, in retaliation for that act, 10 men decide to withhold their labour from that giant corporation, they, through their union, face a fine of $1,000 a day until they offer for work. That is the legislation of honourable members opposite, that is their answer, that is the proposition which they put forward. Their Act provided that General Motors-Holden's Pty Ltd or the Ford Motor Co. Aust. Ltd or the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd or the biggest corporations in Australia were treated as individuals and that if they were guilty of contempt they could be fined $400 a day. But a little union of 100 men could be fined $1,000 a day. Where is the equality of honourable members opposite? Where is their equity?

Penalties of this kind eroded the confidence of working men in the system of conciliation and arbitration and in our Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Those who put that legislation on the statute book did a great disservice. In spite of the Opposition's attempts to frustrate it, this Government is determined to establish industrial peace and harmony in Australia and thereby lift the conditions of employment and the standard of living of all the Australian people. I commend the Bill.

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