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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1836

Mr VINER (Stirling) - The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) asks: What is wrong with this clause? We have made provision for major detriment to the public interest'. It has been properly pointed out that before a matter can get to the Full Bench under the Minister's proposals it has to jump 2 hurdles. First of all, it has to jump the hurdle of the commissioner to whom application is made to certify the agreement, and it is the commissioner who must first form the opinion whether a matter of major detriment to the public interest is involved. What happens if the commissioner incorrectly forms the opinion that it does not involve a matter of major public interest? There is no provision in the Bill for an appeal against an error of that kind by a commissioner. It is a matter of complete and unfettered discretion. The second hurdle arises when the commissioner, having formed the opinion that it does amount to a matter of major detriment to the public interest, must refer it to the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The President might have a different opinion from that of the Commissioner in the first instance and he might say: 'No, I do not think it does have that effect', and that is where the matter ends. It can never then get to the Full Bench. Contrast that with the existing provisions of section 31. There is a clear obligation on the Full Bench to deal with an agreement that is presented for certification where the specific matters set out in the section are affected by that agreement.

Mr Killen - That is the present legislation?

Mr VINER - That is the present legislation. The Minister proposes to do away with that requirement. One would have thought that if a matter of major detriment to the public interest was involved in an agreement to be certified, automatically it should go before the Full Bench and not have to jump 2 hurdles before it can get there. That is the centrepoint of the objection of the Opposition to these proposals. The Minister in whatever he has said has not touched upon that. He has not given any reason, let alone any good reason, why the provisions of section 31, as presently framed, are being set aside and this other procedure is being set up. What the Minister proposes to do must be looked at in the light of the intention to remove sanctions, to remove the bans clause, to remove any control over an agreement that has been entered into. What greater love affair can there be between employer and employee than is this situation where there is no sanction upon the parties, where they can reach any agreement they want to reach, where a commissioner, either through blindness or some other cause, does not recognise a major detriment to the public interest? That is where the matter would end. There is an agree ment entered into which is certified and effective as an award.

The other important matter 1 would mention now is the proposal in clause 17 dealing with the requirement, as contained in proposed new sub-section (2a) of section 28, that before a memorandum is certified in accordance with the section there must be produced a statutory declaration by the officer authorised by the committee of management that the principles are agreed to or there can be required a declaration that the members affected by the agreement have been consulted and agree to it. This diametrically cuts across the fundamental basis upon which unions are registered, and authority is granted to a committee of management to stand in the place of the members when an agreement is entered into or when an application is made to the Commission for an award. The proposal is that there may be required approval by the members who are affected by the agreement. This will localise approval to the shop or to the section of the industry or to the individual employer involved in the dispute. This is a straight collective bargaining concept. One goes down to the floor level, the shop level, to see whether the men approve of what is being done.

Mr Innes - Shame. What is wrong with that?

Mr VINER - The honourable member might say 'Shame' but where do the officials of the union fit in here? They are clothed with authority within the organisation to manage its affairs, and generally within the rules of an organisation they are clothed with authority to conduct negotiations and to make references to the Commission and to act for the organisation in the place of, for example, the 180,000 members of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. That is the foundation and function of a registered organisation and of its officials under our Conciliation and Arbitration Act. But what is proposed here is that what the officials do, what they might agree to in conciliation, can be completely overturned by the men at the shop floor. Who is to hold ultimate control or authority within the organisation? It is to be a yo-yo affair between the nien at the shop floor and the management? Where will it end? When does the yo-yo stay on the floor and when does it rise to the top? This can be and is an eroding and weakening of the authority of official management of unions.

I know that so often the management of a union, in order to get out of difficulties - may be it is in order to get out of an agreement it does not want to enter into - will go back to the men and, if the word goes around in the right way, of course the men will not agree. This is the perfect let-out for management. So there is in this provision an insidious sort of eating into the authority of official management. The Minister has not given any reason for introducing this provision except in the euphemistic name of participatory democracy. Really, what kind of union organisation does the Minister want? To come back to a point I made at the second reading stage, what kind of system does the Minister want to operate? Does he want a hybrid affair or does he want something which is clear and unmistakable in its terms, something which puts management in a position where it can exercise the function of authority that it should have, or will the Minister go to the other lengths and give that authority to the men on the shop floor? These 2 things clearly run in harness and it is more than coincidental that they appear in the one clause, clause 17. So these 2 things are removed. I refer to the removal of the automatic authority of the Full Bench to approve an agreement which has far-reaching consequences, as is already outlined in the existing section 31, and the altering of wage rates, the altering of the minimum wage, the altering of wage rates for females, annual leave and so on. Now it comes down to the mere discretion of a commissioner. Couple that with the provisions I have mentioned already in regard to going back to the men for approval and what in the end do we have? I should like the Minister to explain really want is at the heart and core of his thinking on this.

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