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Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr HOWSON (Fawkner) .- There are three parts of importance in this bill. They deal with long service leave, attendance money and the retirement of elderly workers in the industry respectively. I think we must look at each one of those three parts, which is more than the mem bers of the Opposition have done so far to judge from their speeches to-night. Let us look first at the problem of long service leave. What amazes me is that the Opposition says that it intends to vote against the second reading of a bill that proposes to give long service leave to waterside workers. I think it is amazing that, when we are going out of our way to help people in the waterfront industry, the Opposition has announced its intention to vote against the proposal. Here is a government going out of its way to provide for three months' long service leave for every 20 years' of service on the waterfront, with an extra six-and-a-half weeks for every subsequent ten years of service. That shows that the Government has looked to the interests of the waterside workers and decided how it can help those workers. At the same time the Government has drawn attention to the principle upon which long service leave is granted in other industries - that is, that long service leave must be earned by the worker in the industry as a result of long and continuous service. That means, surely, that there must be a period of good conduct in the industry. If no work is carried out, then there can be no long service leave for that period of failure to work.

The question we have to ask ourselves right at the start is whether there has been good conduct in this industry. I say to the House very definitely that, unlike almost every other industry in the country, this has been a turbulent industry, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) himself remarked. He even went so far as to say that there was anarchy on the waterfront in Australia. He realizes himself some of the things that occur in the industry. So here we have the Leader of the Opposition going out of his way to admit the problem that exists throughout this industry. Unlike every other industry, the conditions for long service leave in this industry must be of a special nature and must be different from those which obtain in other industries which have had a universal history of good conduct.

The conditions affecting long service leave in this industry relate only to unauthorized stoppages. Reasonable authorized stoppages do not affect the leave and, as honorable members already are well aware, eight authorized stoppages are already allowed in every period of twelve months. The provisions of this bill are intended to reduce the number of unauthorized stoppages on the waterfront. When we hear the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) say that we must be tolerant and must not have any idea of imposing penalties, we should remember that although he says that the Australian Labour Party does not believe in penalties, only three or four days ago he said that in 1949 penalties were imposed by the Coal Industry Tribunal acting under the orders of the Labour Government at that time. It is quite obvious that the Australian Labour Party realizes that penalties are sometimes necessary when dealing with turbulent industries.

As the honorable member has said that we should be more lenient, let us go back to the time when the new award was made by Mr. Justice Ashburner in 1960. During the hearing, Mr. Docker, who represented the Waterside Workers Federation, gave the commission an assurance that if the federation's claim was granted in substance, the federation would discourage to the utmost of its ability any tendency on the part of its branches to conduct unauthorized stopwork meetings. What has happened? Has that undertaking been observed? The history of the industry shows that, since being able to hold eight authorized stop-work meetings a year, branches of the Waterside Workers Federation in numerous ports have either held meetings in excess of this number or have held unauthorized meetings without notice. Practically without exception, the unauthorized meetings have proceeded as planned. For how much longer can we go on trusting the words of the Waterside Workers Federation and believing that it will do as it says it will do?

To my mind, the number of unauthorized stoppages must be reduced. The community is being held to ransom by this industry. A third of the time lost in all industrial disputes in Australia was lost on the waterfront. As both the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) and the honorable1 member for Bruce (Mr. Shedden) have pointed out, 20,000 workers in this industry are responsible for the- loss of a third of all the hours lost in the whole of Australia in a work force of 4,200,000. What is more important, these unauthorized stoppages are very seldom held for industrial reasons. When the Minister was making his second-reading speech, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) by way of interjection said, " Prove it ". I think it is wise, therefore, for us to look at the position.

Let us examine the reasons that lie behind these 107 major port stoppages that have occurred. Let us look at some of the major stoppages that have occurred for political reasons. Two were held on 14th and 21st September of last year in protest against the Queensland Government's actions in relation to the Rocklea Engineering Works strike. Another eleven were held between 29 th September and 6th December in Sydney, Melbourne, Port Kembla, Urangan, Maryborough, Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Newcastle and Geelong, all in protest against amendments to the Crimes Act. These had nothing to do with industrial conditions on the waterfront. Another strike on 15th March at Brisbane, Townsville, Urangan and Maryborough was held in protest against the Queensland Government's proposed changes in the arbitration act.

If we look at what happened in Melbourne between February, 1960, and 4th May, 1960, we find that the waterside workers went on strike in protest against a stoppage of Sunday trains. This had nothing to do with the waterside workers themselves but was in support of another union. During that time, nine stoppages were held in Melbourne-. Then, a total of 32 stoppages were held between 20th May, 1960, and 15th March, 1961, for miscellaneous reasons completely unconnected with the employers. The whole port of Cairns was idle on 21st July because the waterside workers decided to go off for the local show day, although this was completely against their award conditions. More important still, we should note the stoppages that have occurred in protest against the actions of the Commonwealth Industrial Court as such. On 12th April, 4th May, 22nd November and 24th November, almost all ports were idle whilst the waterside workers protested agains*, actions of the Commonwealth Industrial Court. They were in fact protesting against the umpire's decision. Again, be ;en 7th July, 1960, and 17th March, 1961, eighteen major stoppages were held in protest against the decision of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority.

Mr Beazley - You know the last stoppage in Fremantle-

Mr HOWSON - Again, the waterside workers were protesting against the umpire's decision. I am not dealing with awards in. Fremantle. These are stoppages which are not connected with the Fremantle stoppage. That was a different matter. We have ten stoppages held in support of members of the union who committed breaches of the award. Again, the men were protesting against the umpire's decision. Finally, as both the Minister and the honorable member for Bruce said, there was a stoppage held in protest against the actions of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

All these stoppages were major stoppages by the whole port. They were not minor stoppages by a few men; they were major stoppages. To my mind, these unauthorized stoppages - each one was unauthorized - endanger the whole set-up of this Parliament. Here was a union trying to decide the foreign policy of Australia. Surely each one of us here, members of the Opposition as well as members on this side of the House, agrees that we are elected to this place to determine the foreign policy of the country. That is our job; that is what we are elected to do. It is our job also to determine other matters of policy, such as whether the Crimes Act should be amended. Should we, members of the Opposition and members of the Government parties, allow the decisions on these matters to be taken out of our hands? Should we allow ourselves to be dictated to by members of an organization who are not elected by the people as a whole? The majority of the people have elected us to do a job. Surely we should do that job and make certain that no one prevents us from doing it. Secondly, these unauthorized stoppages endanger the whole set-up of the industrial court and the machinery of conciliation and arbitration which is built into the industrial life of Australia. I believe every Australian feels that the principles of conciliation and arbitration should be built into the industrial life of the community, and that every other industrial worker, except possibly- the seamen, believes in obeying the umpire's decision. Here is one union that has constantly and continuously flouted the decisions of the umpire. By doing so, it is bringing the whole of the machinery of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court into contempt.

Thirdly, I think we must also realize the tremendous costs that these stoppages are loading on the whole community. As the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) pointed out so clearly to-night, these stoppages do not cost the average member of the Waterside Workers Federation anything because if the work is not done to-day as the result of a stoppage,, it is banked up and has to be done to-morrow and often overtime is incurred. So it does not cost the average waterside worker nearly as much as it costs the other members of the community.

These costs are included in the higher prices for our exports and our imports. If honorable members on the Opposition side disagree with that statement, they have only to consider how the formula worked out by the. Overseas Shipping: Representatives Association operates every time- costs are higher because of the importunities of the waterside workers. So costs are loaded directly on to our import and export prices.

Then there is the extra cost that has been built up because of alternative forms of transport. These have had to be organized around the Australian coast because the costs of coastal' shipping have risen to such an extent and the service has been unreliable. We have seen how a branch of the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company Limited had to go out of business because it could no longer bear the costs that had been imposed on the industry by the members of the Waterside Workers Federation. Only when the members of the federation work themselves out of a job completely will the cost of their actions be evident to them, and that position is beginning to appear just as it did in the coal-mining industry a few years ago.

If we examine the dangers to Parliament itself, and to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court machinery and the costs that are levied on the whole community by these stoppages, it is clear that the Australian community expects the Government to act at this time. We know perfectly well that the Commonwealth Government has a responsibility to this industry. It has a responsibility first to the waterside workers, and I believe that it has exercised its responsibility and looked after the waterside workers to a pretty good extent. Even to-day, as honorable members know, the average take-home pay of a waterside worker is £21 19s. lOd. for a week of just over 30 hours. There are not many workers in other industries in Australia who are taking home as high a regular pay as does the waterside worker. The Leader of the Opposition asked whether the average waterside worker could rely on getting that rate of pay. For many years now, the pay of waterside workers has been gradually increasing year by year until now he can always rely on a take-home pay of more than £21 a week if he works in an A class port. In addition, the waterside worker "gets attendance money, sick and holiday pay and extra amenities. Safety and first-aid appliances are provided also as a result of legislation enacted by this Government in 1956. We can almost say that the average waterside worker is enjoying permanent employment, and I believe that we have gone a very long way towards de-casualizing this industry.

But while we have responsibilities to the waterside workers, the Government has responsibilities also to the community as a whole, and this bill helps both the waterside workers and the community. Each waterside worker now must decide whether he is going to conform to the rules of the game and abide by the decisions of the umpire. If he so decides, he will benefit from long service leave. If he does not, surely he must realize that he must bear some of the responsibility for any deficiencies.

The general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, Mr. Healy, has talked about productivity and has said that there has been a 30 per cent, increase in productivity over the past few years. I remind him that at the same time there has been a considerable rise in the pay of the waterside workers. After all, the waterside workers were granted a marginal increase of 28 per cent., including 17 per cent, for increased productivity; but let us also not forget that the watersiders have contributed to this productivity only to a very small extent.

Let us have a look at what has been done in the waterfront industry over the past few years. New wharfs have been, and are being, built now in nearly every port. New bulk-handling terminals for both loading and discharging have been constructed at enormous cost to governments, primary producers and private enterprise. New ships with modern gear and faster and easier handling arrangements have been built at great expense. Stevedores and port authorities have provided cranes, fork lifts, tow motors and machines to do the heavy work of lifting and trucking and more and more cargo is being mechanized. Shipowners have provided large containers so that smaller packages can be handled in bulk by machinery instead of by hand by individual men. The "Princess of Tasmania" carries cargo which is rolled on and off and the waterside workers do not have to lift every package as they did previously. Nowadays a few men are engaged on a ship discharging bulk sugar, loading bulk wheat, or handling bulk soda ash. A tremendous amount of money has been spent by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited in modernizing the steel wharfs in many ports. There has been almost complete revolution on the waterfront and all those who have taken part in that revolution must be rewarded for the money, the time or the work that they have put into it.

But even with all these improvements, the standard of efficiency on the waterfront is still low. As a result, some of the coastal shipping firms have had to go out of business, because they could not work on the higher costs. The formula agreed upon by the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association and the Federal Exporters Oversea Transport Committee is still rising because of the low efficiency on the waterfront, and every reputable authority shows that overseas ports generally are still more efficient than the average Australian port. I am glad that the Waterside Workers Federation realizes the value of productivity. Let us hope that it will continue to increase the rate of productivity among its members. Otherwise it is certain that they will work themselves out of a job within the next few years.

Now I turn to attendance money. Let us remember that the provision for attendance money is not a new one. What is the object of attendance money? It is to recompense men who have held themselves in readiness to work, are prepared to do so and do not get a job on a particular day. Those men receive attendance money because they constitute a pool of labour which is continually available to meet the needs of a port.

What would happen if we did not have this system? The alternative would be to have an unorganized group of men, not limited in number and with no monopoly of the work, who could seek work or not as they chose. Such men would have no obligation to hold themselves available, and they would not be entitled to attendance money. They would not constitute an organized pool of men, of a limited number, regularly available. If there is a pool of men organized to meet the needs of the port, to have a monopoly of the work, to be the only ones whose names appear on the register, the only ones who can have their names placed on the roster of men available for work, and if all the men in this pool decide that on a particular day they will not do the work which is reserved for them alone, then I believe that they no longer retain the right to be regarded as men regularly and consistently available to meet the needs of the port, and they no longer deserve the payment which is confined to men regularly and consistently available.

As a result of this legislation each individual waterside worker will be able to choose whether, on a day when a stoppage is sought by those who lead the union members, he will continue to earn the right to be paid attendance money, or whether he will delay the loading or unloading of the goods of the community that are taken from place to place by ships. We are very clearly putting the choice before each waterside worker, and each of them will be responsible to make the choice.

For the benefit of those honorable members opposite who disagree with the principle that is now being written into the legislation, let us have a look at the costs. First of all, the cost to the Waterside Workers Federation of a nation-wide stoppage will be 20,000 times £4 16s. - this amount being the equivalent to four days' attendance money - or about £100,000 a day. The cost to the community would be about £1,000,000 a day, being made up of about £1,000 a day for each of 1,000 ships. If the community has to bear a cost of £1,000,000, surely it is reasonable to expect the Waterside Workers Federation to accept its share of the responsibility and also of the cost. As I am reminded, in such a case the federation would have been responsible for a stoppage that was completely unauthorized and for which there was absolutely no need, because appropriate machinery is available to the federation, and it can have resort to it if it so desires.

In the last few minutes available to me I should like to refer to the matter of retirement of elderly workers. Of the men engaged in the industry, 6.4 per cent, are over the age of 65. A further 6.1 per cent, are between the ages of 60 and 65. As the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) has pointed out, only 6.8 per cent, are under the age of 30. Surely it is desirable to have a more even age distribution throughout the industry, so that we will always have young men coming into it while the older men go out of it.

I believe the original intentions of the 1947 act are being undermined, and that the average age of waterside workers is increasing, with the result that costs, not only to the industry itself but also to all other sections of the community, are likewise increasing. The provisions that it is now proposed to enact will not ruthlessly and suddenly deprive a man of his livelihood. First of all, the elderly man will be entitled, in the same way as any other man of like age, to draw his pension. He will also be entitled to work to supplement his pension if he wants to, but he will not be able to work if it means depriving younger men of work. As an irregular the older man will still come in on busy days and have a right to work. He will be much better off than workers who have been retired from other industry.

After all, we have had this kind of irregular roster in operation for many years. This is something that the honorable member for Blaxland seemed to forget. Therefore I believe that the older men in this industry will be given a better deal. Those over 70 will get long service leave straight away if they can satisfy the necessary conditions. At the same time, we will have younger men coming into the industry.

Repeated attempts have Deen made from time to time to improve the waterfront industry. Attempts have been made to help the men employed in it and to induce them to co-operate. However, little improvement has been effected, and I believe the nation now demands action by this Government. In my view this legislation will help every waterside worker who will conform to its requirements and comply with the awards of the umpires, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. Long service leave provisions have helped every other Australian who has met the requirements of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. As far as this legislation is concerned, the only people who will be hurt are those who try to hold the Parliament, the arbitration machinery and the community to ransom.

For these reasons 1 strongly support the bill and congratulate the Government on having brought it down.

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