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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3273

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar)

Last week I spoke about some of the defects in the workings of our arbitration system. Tonight I wish to complete my remarks by making one or two concrete and definite suggestions for its improvement, I believe it is a good thing that in the case of any pending industrial dispute there should be a conference and that every effort should be made to settle the dispute on that level. But that type of system is not workable unless, if the conference breaks down, there is some kind of umpire who will be accepted by both parties. The umpire must be the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. So what we have to do is get the situation where the Arbitration Commission is accepted by both sides. For this to occur there has to be no sense of grievance on either side and, in particular, there must be no opportunity for a just grievance to be exacerbated into further trouble.

When I look at the operation of the system I see two kinds of grievances which may lead to employees not accepting the verdict of the umpire. The first of these grievances is the more important. It is the delay in getting a verdict in getting a new award or some kind of new determination. I know that in recent years these delays have been cut down very much, but they still exist, and I think that there is still a justified resentment at too much legalism in the arbitration system itself. I know that legalism cannot be eliminated entirely, but I have one suggestion which I think it is a fair suggestion. Where there is a delay there should be some kind of arrangement whereby awards should automatically be retrospective to, say, four or five weeks after the lodging of the original application. I think that this is a reasonable thing. It hasto be worked out. It is not something which can be taken and left at that. It should be worked out with some safeguards.

For example, I suggest that this privilege would not operate if, in the course of a hearing, there were strikes or other violations of an impending award of the Commission or even of an existing award. Therefore I suggest that, subject to such kinds of safeguards, which would have to be worked out in detail, it is a fair thing that awards should contain a retrospective content when they operate in order to increase wages or in other ways to improve conditions. I think that is something which needs to be worked out in detail, but it is a principle which I think we should consider.

The other matter is something which, to some extent, has been met by the amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) has introduced. I certainly commend his proposal in this respect The other matter which can cause an industrial disturbance pending a determination is a safety issue. One could well imagine that where there is a genuine safety issue there could be a disturbance or even a strike. What we want to do is to reduce and get rid of the genuine safety issues. This can be done by attaching to the Commission officers who can be skilled in particular industries and who will be available as. officers of the Commission to go and make some kind of interim determination on a safety issue. As I have said, I believe that the legislation introduced by the Minister has, to some extent, achieved this, but I think that we could enlarge upon his principles even further by attaching these safety officers to the Commission. Where these conditions are satisfied and where there are no delays or justified safety disputes, there is no reason why there should be a strike pending the determination of the Commission. I suggest that where these conditions are satisfied strikes should not occur.

Let us look at the general principles. A man has, and subject to the requirements of public safety should always maintain, the freedom to withdraw his own labour. This is a human freedom which I think honourable members on both sides of the House would support. He even should have freedom to organise in a union, subject, of course, to not violating a determination of the umpire, the Commission. I am not suggesting that there should never be a strike. I am not going as far as that. What I am saying is that in a proper system there should never be a strike against the decision of the umpire because the decision of the umpire should have this retrospective clause in it. I suggest that there should be this freedom to organise in unions and it should be maintained, subject to the arbitration authority and, of course, to emergencies which could be created by sudden withdrawal of labour in an organised fashion where the government must intervene.

Where there is an industrial dispute in contravention of either an arbitration decision or justified government intervention, the people on strike should not be considered to have rights maintained in respect of their employment; nor should they have any approval or support when they prevent other people from taking their jobs in such unjustified strikes. If we were to adopt principles of this character I believe that most workers and most employers would accept them, then I think we could get rid of the kind of industrial strife which is now marring our industrial output and preventing the attainment of higher living standards by all Australians. This, of course, would be subject to the good will of both sides, and that good will cannot be guaranteed if on the trade union side there are officials who are not trying to help their men, such as by getting them better conditions, but are trying to organise disruption as a plan for some kind of incipient revolution.

Therefore, I make this final suggestion: Where there has been a strike in contravention of the industrial arbitration authority or in contravention of government intervention, a small percentage of the members of the union concerned should be entitled to call for a ballot for the election of the officers of their union. There should be the right of recall when union officials have engaged in an unnecessary and illegal strike. That right of recall does not mean that the union would not have the opportunity to re-elect whatever officer it thought fit; but it would serve as a salutary brake on the excesses of certain union officers. I believe that this right of recall in the hands of trade unionists-

Mr Keogh - We should have it for members.

Mr WENTWORTH - This may well be so and it may well be that we might think of it along those lines too. But I am not directing my mind to that at the moment. What I am saying is that the right of recall in the hands of members of the union, where there has been an industrial disturbance and a loss of wages might operate to alleviate industrial disputes.

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