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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1784

Mr WALLIS (Grey) - I support the Bill, which was introduced by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), lt represents a departure in the handling of industrial disputes in Australia and should meet with the approval of the people. Since the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was introduced in the early years of Federation industrial relations have been the subject of much argument and discussion throughout the nation. The Act has been altered on quite a number of occasions since its introduction. This measure certainly takes a new look at the whole question of industrial relations in Australia. It takes a completely new look at various areas of our industrial life. As the Minister for Labour stated in his second reading speech, the Bill examines the need of trade unions and employer organisations for amalgamation, trade union education and closer consultation between unions, employers and the Government. The Bill seeks greater social justice and harmony in our industrial relations and it will go a long way towards achieving those aims. The Minister also said in his second reading speech that the powers of the Federal Government will have to be expanded in the field of industrial legislation in line with the growth of nationalism. I consider that this is a natural course of events, but at this stage the Government does not intend to press that point. The Minister also referred to workers on the shop floor level, the need for worker participation, the role of shop stewards and shop committees and the concept of works councils.

This Bill is also directed towards the removal of the penal provisions as they at present affect employee relations. These provisions have probably been the most vexed question in the whole of our industrial relations. They have had the dubious honour of creating more disputes than they have solved. On numerous occasions disputes of a minor nature were expanded into major disputes because the penal provisions were invoked. Many disputes which could have been solved by round table discussions held in a conciliatory atmosphere finished up in major confrontations because of the use of these powers. The operation of these provisions has proved to be a failure, as we are all aware. They have failed to such an extent that even the previous Government had to recognise that they had failed by altering the manner of their operation following the confrontation in 1969 with the tramways union. The ordinary trade unionist on the job would harden his attitude after seeing his union dragged before the Commonwealth Industrial Court.

The previous Government and its predecessors have always taken the attitude that the conciliation and arbitration laws of this country could not operate unless penal provisions were included to back up the legislation. History has shown that the inclusion of penal provisions has not achieved the results that were claimed for them. This Bill takes a completely new course in removing the major sanction provisions from our industrial relations. In view of the failure of past penal provisions included in the Act, their removal will mean that we can enter into a new era in our industrial relations in which the threat of the operation of the penal provisions will no longer act as a spectre in the background of industrial discussions.

Another important aim of the Bill relates to the amalgamation of unions. The honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch), the previous Minister dealing with industrial matters, stated in his speech that honourable members on his side of the House do not oppose union amalgamation in general. However, their' actions in the past cast doubt whether that statement correctly reflects their attitude in this matter. (Quorum formed). Last year we saw efforts to stop the amalgamation of the metal unions, something the unions involved had been working towards for years. As a member of one of the amalgamated metal unions I have personal knowledge of the discussions to achieve amalgamation that took place over many years, not only between the officials of the unions involved but also right down to the level of the member on the shop floor. Those who voted in the ballot on the amalgamations were overwhelmingly in support of what was proposed, namely, the amalgamation of the 3 metal unions. But after many years of negotiation between the unions involved, legal moves were made to throw a spanner in the works - moves that were supported by the honourable members opposite and their allies in the Senate. Fortunately the legal moves failed and the amalgamation of those unions came about.

At the present time a number of proposed amalgamations of unions are being discussed. The alterations proposed in this Bill will pave the way for those amalgamations should the unions still wish to amalgamate. When one considers that there are about 350 industrial organisations of employees throughout Australia and that some of those organisations have memberships that can be numbered in the hundreds, there is no doubt that there is certainly a need for a reduction in the number of unions. No doubt those who believe in the divide and rule principle will support a situation in which there is a large number of unions with small memberships. But if we are seriously to consider our industrial relations a strong case exists for reducing the number of unions covering workers throughout Australia.

The Opposition is using the matter of union amalgamations as a big bogy in an effort to frighten the Australian people. But as the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) mentioned in his speech, in other countries many fewer unions than there are in Australia cover work forces much larger than ours. His special reference, of course, was to West Germany where, I think he said, the number of industrial unions is 16. It would be interesting to compare the amount of time lost by Australia and West Germany in industrial disputes, and to compare the size of work forces in the 2 countries. I can remember the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) when he was Minister for Labour and National Service, stating in answer to a question that demarcation disputes represented 11 per cent of all industrial disputes in Australia. My own experience as a member of one of the amalgamated metal unions showed me the wastefulness of unions fighting unions over which has jurisdiction over a certain class of work. Most of these disputes finished up with hard feelings existing between the unions involved. The problem of demarcation disputes in the metal industry became a thing of the past following the amalgamation of those unions. I think that such amalgamations are to be supported for this fact alone. I should imagine that most employers would welcome the elimination of demarcation disputes.

Mention was made also by the honourable member for Gellibrand of union research and the greater use of unions resources in setting up research centres etc. The existing combined research centre operating in Sydney was set up by a couple of unions of the amalgamated trade unions prior to their amalgamation and certainly is an example of what can be achieved when union resources are pooled for the benefit of the members of those unions. These kinds of activities can be brought about only by employee organisations amalgamating for the benefit of their members and in this way, greater use can be made of the resources that they have. This Bill will make it easier for these amalgamations to come about and it will be welcomed by all those interested in industrial relations in Australia.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also mentioned the inclusion in the Bill of provisions to give greater rights of entry to union officials. Here again, if one takes an antiunion stand, some employers would see dangers in this, but the employer who is interested in maintaining good industrial relations would not raise any serious objection to such a provision. It also is important that in many matters facing a trade union official, investigations must take place while normal work is being carried out. For example, if it were felt by the employees that a certain operation was a safety hazard, would it be unreasonable to have the union official make an inspection or investigation on the job, while work was being performed? Refusal to allow right of entry on the job to a union official has often been the cause of a dispute. I know of a number of occasions when a union official has been refused entry and the employees, of their own choosing, have decided that if the official could not come and see them, they would go and see him and, as a result, they walked off the job. I feel that it is a provision that would not be opposed by responsible employers interested in maintaining good industrial relations with the employee organisations. It certainly is not the bogy that the Opposition is trying to make of it.

The Minister for Labour in his second reading speech had quite a lot to say about industrial agreements. There is no doubt that the most effective manner of resolving industrial disputes is for the parties involved to sit down at the table and thrash out a settlement. It also is a fact that any settlement achieved in this manner is treated with a great deal more respect by all concerned than is a decision that is forced on the parties involved. The Minister went into some detail on the matter of industrial agreements. He referred to the Government's intentions to do everything possible to see that the terms and conditions of employees be regulated by freely negotiated agreements, and said that these agreements then would be certified by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They would have the full force of an award and would be preferable to an award arbitrarily forced upon them.

There are many other altered provisions covering the matter of industrial agreements. These reflect the different attitudes of the Government to the entire area of industrial relations and should, we hope, result in a greater confidence in our industrial relations by all concerned. We are quite confident that the operation of the new provisions will result in a new era in our industrial relations. Members of the Opposition have always been loud in their concern for the rights of the rank and file trade unionist, although whether they have been sincere in this is another matter. If they are concerned they will, no doubt, welcome the provisions in the Bill that safeguard the interests of the rank and file unionist. This is in line with the aims of the Australian Labor Party which has included in its platform provisions to ensure that unions in Australia are subject to the control of their members and allows the member the fullest participation in the affairs of his organisation.

The provisions in this Bill give effect to that platform as they refer to the rights and safeguards of the individual member of a union. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act has been altered on many occasions since it became law in 1904. The alterations proposed in this Bill probably are the most farreaching, in that they are a departure from ideas on industrial procedures which have shown in the past that they have failed. The Bill deserves the support of this House.

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