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Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - It has been interesting to listen to Government supporters making their contributions to this debate. I thought we were to discuss a bill designed to make provision for long service leave for waterside workers. We saw the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) rise in his place and chastise the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), suggesting that the honorable gentleman had not dealt with the bill. It appears to me that neither the honorable member for Bruce nor the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) has dealt with the provisions of the bill that it is suggested were designed to benefit waterside workers. It occurs to me that this bill should be referred to as a bill to intimidate waterside workers who are prepared to strike for what they think is right and just.

Mr Chresby - You do not mean that!

Mr THOMPSON - That is what thestatements of the last two speakers on the Government side have implied. The honorable member for Fawkner made it very clearthat what the Government wants to do isto take action to prevent stoppages. He said that the waterside workers have been penalizing the other members of the community by indulging in stoppages, and that the Government is now taking action toprevent them from doing so. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say, on the one hand, that the bill is designed to give long service leave benefits to waterside workers, and, on the other hand, that the Government is taking a big stick to wield against waterside workers - and there is no doubt in my mind that this is just what the Government proposes to do. f will go further. J believe that this legislation has been brought in at this time in an attempt by the Government to divert attention from the economic and other difficulties in which it finds itself. We know that there is to be -a general election late this year or early next year. We know that there have been no outcries in the press, either in editorials or in letters to editors, about the industrial activities or conditions of waterside workers. We have, however, seen many leading articles condemning the Government for its handling of the economic situation. The honorable member for Fawkner referred to the losses that have been incurred by shipping companies. He told us that some of those companies have gone out of business. He mentioned the firm of Howard Smith Limited, and we know that there are other interstate companies that are unable to compete with overseas shipping lines in the passenger trade, so that their ships are now practically confined to the cargo trade. It seems that this legislation is designed to help certain people, but so far as the general economic situation of the country is concerned nothing is being done at all.

I have taken an interest for years, not only in long service leave, but in superannuation and pension schemes for employees in various industries. Years ago, certain professional men at the University of Adelaide made representations to the effect that their economic future was- not provided for. They pointed out that provision was made in this respect for professors and senior lecturers but not for other professional men such as research workers and tutors. I told them to put their case to the university council, of which I was a member, and I would see that consideration was given to it. As a result, the council recognized the rights of all employees in the university. It was decided to make some provision for all of them upon their retirement. That was done in a very generous manner and I appreciated it. That was only one occasion on which I learned, during my years in public life and before, of the endeavours of people to have some security in a time of need.

I have been a little amused at what has been said about the elderly worker, because I have many waterside workers in my electorate. I suppose that not many electorates have a bigger percentage of waterside workers than mine has. The bill before the House provides that service only from 1942 shall be considered in determining eligibility for long service leave. Such a provision does not apply to other long service leave schemes or superannuation schemes. I know of men on the waterfront in Port Adelaide who were working there before 1942. Some were working there in 1922. Yet those men are not to be given credit for those earlier years of service. They will only be credited with service since 1 942 and they will have to wait for three years before they can benefit from that service. That means a total waiting period of 24 years before becoming entitled to long service leave.

This aspect of the matter has not been much discussed. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) touched: upon it, but the- honorable member for Bruce, who should know the position through and- through, did not deal with it. He: is nor concerned with the interests and welfare of- the waterside worker. He and the honorable member- for Fawkner wish to point out only the sins- of the waterside, worker. I say to honorable members who are connected with, big business that I- would like to get into the secret chambers of some business; organizations and go through their documents to find evidence of what they have done- to people over the years. But honorable- members opposite are not concerned with that. They say that those who comprise the world of big business are to be praised. They are good people. Never mind what they have done in the past; they should not be penalized for it. Only the waterside workers should be penalized.

Much as the Australian Labour Party dislikes strikes and much as I hate strikes personally, we still believe in the right of the worker to say, " I will not work under conditions that I think are wrong ". That is the policy of the Labour Party, lt has been alleged, in a snide way, that the Leader of the Opposition had said that he did not believe in strikes but would not say, straight out, where he stood. I do not believe in strikes. I do not like them. At the same time, many old philosophers, much as they have disliked certain conditions, have said that since those conditions reflected the will of the people they would put up with them. I take that view now.

What are we going to do under this legislation? The aim of this legislation is not purely to grant long service leave to waterside workers. It has been said in this chamber that all other long service leave legislation penalizes people if they do not carry out their work. But this legislation goes further than that. It seeks to penalize men who might never be entitled to longe service leave. It does not propose to wait until a man is 65 years of age and due to retire before punishing him. It proposes that, for each day of a stoppage, the men concerned shall lose four days' attendance money which they would have received, on days on which there was no work for them. Attendance money was originally introduced to try to decasualize the work. It is paid at the rate of £1 4s. a day. Consequently, for each day of a stoppage the men will lose £4 16s.

Some of the men involved in a stoppage might have said at the union meeting that they should- not stop work. But, being real democrats, trade unionists believe that the decision of the majority must prevail. Consequently, they comply with the decision to stop work. Yet, under this legislation those men will be treated in the same way as those who- have advocated- stopping work. I will admit that, very often when a ship is held UP, it may seem to the ordinary person that there is no justification for it. But the waterside workers concerned in a stoppage act in a democratic way, on the decision of the majority.

The withholding of attendance money will be automatic unless the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority decides otherwise. This means that an authority which is not a court will decide the issue. It will determine, in effect, whether a fine should be imposed on the men.

I say to honorable members: What is the Government doing to get over its difficulty? On my interpretation of this bill, the Government's whole idea is not to give long service leave to the waterside workers. The prevention of stoppages is the Government's real idea.

Mr Turnbull - That is quite laudable.

Mr THOMPSON - The prevention of stoppages may be quite laudable, as the honorable member for Mallee says. But the point is that the Government wants to use this measure to prevent stoppages on the waterfront and not to give the waterside workers long service leave. I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Government would not have introduced this measure now if the purpose had been only to provide for long service leave. There are two aspects. One was brought up by the honorable member for Blaxland, who stated that the Government's purpose was to force the waterside workers to carry on. I forget the honorable member's actual words, but that is the effect of them.

I suggest that we ought to look back at the past. I recall an occasion some few years ago when an earlier Stevedoring Industry Bill was before us. The present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), who was then Minister for Labour and National Service, introduced that measure. He wanted to give the employers and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the right to register men for work on the wharfs and to deregister waterside workers if they were considered not to be doing as they ought to do. I warned the present Treasurer on that occasion that he was just playing with fire and I told him what the consequences would be. I was pleased to note that the provisions to which I am referring were not put into operation. When the Govern ment went into the matter, it realized that it would be trying to do something that would not have worked. We remember, also, an occasion when the Government proposed to have a reserve body of men to bring in to work on the waterfront. I objected to that proposal, also, and it was never given effect.

The Government's approach to the circumstances of the elderly men on the waterfront to-day resembles its former proposals in these matters. What is the position of the elderly waterside worker? I have known since long before 1942 men who are now elderly and who have worked on the waterfront for very many years. Some of them have come to me and said: " I am nearly 65. I have never been able to save much, because work has always been intermittent." We hear people talking about waterside workers now receiving an income of £21 a week. Let those people reflect back on the earlier years of the elderly men who are now reaching the age at which they will be entitled to long service leave. Let those who talk about the high income of to-day look back to what these men earned in earlier years. Let those people go back with me to the time of the Lyons Government, which gave preference to volunteers on the wharfs. Day after day, in those times, men came to me and told me that they were getting only a miserable dole of 4s. lOd. a week from the State Government. There was no unemployment benefit then. Labour had not been able to legislate for it. These men told me that they were getting only 4s. lOd. a week for rations. They were given, in addition, half that amount for their children, if they had any. These men said: " We cannot get along. What shall we do? " One can imagine the bitterness of those men.

We hear talk to-day about workers going on strike and not playing fair. Those who say such things should have been with me more than twenty years ago among the waterside workers in the days when the United Australia Party Government led by Mr. Lyons gave preference to volunteers and the genuine waterside workers were pushed aside. The bulk of the volunteers at that time were not Australians; they were men who had come from southern Europe. In those days, many of the genuine waterside workers, with their wives and children, were practically without clothing and other necessaries because the men's employment was given to others. That is no criticism of the men who took the work. They did not know any better. They did not understand, and they were only trying to do the best for themselves and their families. But men who had given their lives to the waterfront industry were badly treated, and I do not wonder at their attitude since and at their stopping work at times over issues that may appear to persons who do not understand the situation not to warrant stoppages. Knowing these men and their history as I do, I can appreciate their stopping work at times, even though sometimes stoppages may not have been in the best interests of everybody. The fact is that influences are carried over from the past.

I have already mentioned things that were done for years in South Australia to men who have grown old in their employment on the waterfront. These men come to me and say: "I am 65. What can I do now? I cannot really keep working for five or six days a week at the hard work that has to be done." I tell them that they are entitled to an income of £7 a week in addition to the age pension, if they are married and the wife is over 60. In some weeks, they get that much. We have read about what the Government proposes in this bill, and we have heard the statements made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) to the effect that these men can get intermittent work. This bill will accentuate the position that already exists.

One honorable member just a little while ago asked what was the effect of the rollon, roll-off system. I can tell him what has happened at Port Adelaide. As a result of the introduction of this system, one of the shipping companies has removed from service a ship which used to run weekly to the area known as the west coast in South Australia. Before this intrastate vessel was removed from, service, elderly waterside workers were able to get work for one day a week rolling off the vessel empty petrol drums returned from the farms in the west of South Australia and undertaking similar tasks. Sometimes, these men could get two days' work in a week. Provided that they did not earn more than £7 a week averaged over the whole year, they could get the pension. We are now told that these men are to be put on the pension.

I was struck by the Minister's remark in which he asked, in effect, " Why should these people be privileged above other people and get a benefit in addition to the age pension? " That can be read in the report of the Minister's second-reading speech. We do not hear him telling the public servants anything like that. We do not hear him telling them, for example, that the Government will subsidize by £2 or £3 a week every £1 that they receive out of a fund to which they have contributed, and that they may in addition receive the age pension provided that their total income is not more than £17 a week. What the Minister says may be all right for the Government and for those who are helped by the social services legislation when they grow old. But it all depends on what class one is in when one gets old. I do not ask the Government to deprive the public servants of anything. They should receive what they have a right to receive from funds to which they have contributed in an effort to do something for themselves. They are entitled to have that benefit supplemented by the age pension up to a total of £17 a week. If they receive superannuation of £14 a week, they are entitled to another £3 a week in age pension to give them a total income of £17 a week. Nobody growls or complains about that.

The Minister has the audacity to ask what right waterside workers have to talk about pensions, because there is no provision for pensions in this bill. When he said that, he was just having a smack at the waterside workers. My interpretation of this bill is that it will not help the elderly men on the waterfront. It will not help the men who, as I said a few moments ago, used to be able to get work on one day a week on an intra-state vessel in South Australia which has now been removed from service. Their only chance of getting a job now is when work is still offering after the full-time gangs have been employed. The men in these full-time gangs receive appearance money if there is no work for them, and .the Minister says that only when ali of those men are employed can the elderly .men .get a job.

What is the true position? At certain periods of the year in some ports there is not a general run of cargo all the time. At Wallaroo, in South Australia, for example, there is work only in the wheat season ot the barley season. At these times, the men on the waterfront there are able to get a reasonable amount of work loading ships, although, of course, bulk handling has been adopted and large bins are now used. As a consequence, elderly waterside workers are unable to get work and do not know what to do.

J do not know whether some of the provisions proposed in this measure will operate for very .long, because they are to apply only to men who were in the industry in 1947. I refer to the provisions under which those who were in the industry in 1947 will not be put off on the ground that they are old. If they began working on the wharfs in 1948 - that is thirteen years ago, and sixteen years will have expired by the time this proposal begins to operate - they will not be protected. Those who were not working on the wharfs in J. 947, no matter what their age .may be, will go. This proposal indicates quite clearly to me that, as the honorable member .for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) has suggested, the intention of the Government is for young men to enter the industry. The Minister for Labour and National Service has said that many of the older men are being carried by the younger men. I have never heard one complaint from the younger men to the effect that they were carrying the older men, although I know that to some extent they are doing so.

Mr Curtin - Who is carrying the Minister?

Mr THOMPSON - I suppose there is some one carrying us all, and undoubtedly some one is carrying the Minister. As to the suggestion that the younger men are carrying the older men, let me tell the Minister that in all walks of life there are some middle-aged men who do much more that some of the very young ones.

I oppose this measure because the men concerned feel that it will be of no benefit to them. The few nien who will have It the.y are not good boys, then, for every twenty days for which they have been parties to a stoppage, they will lose the equivalent of 80 .days at £1 4s. a day, .It must be remembered that Australia is not the only country in which there are militant waterside workers. In America, England, and, indeed, in almost every country the most .militant workers are those engaged on the waterfront. They are .the men who will put up -a -light, even though .at times the cause for which they fight is wrong. Now it is proposed to penalize them to the extent of £4 16s. for every day on which they take part in an unauthorized stoppage, so we see .that those who .would receive the benefit of long service leave might lose much more than the value of the proposed benefit. I can understand the feelings of the men when they consider this point. On the other hand, if they were granted long service leave without any tags in the way of penalties, they would feel that the Government was -trying to do something for them.

Let me emphasize, too, that this benefit will not be paid for out of the public purse by way of parliamentary appropriation; it will be something for which the community in general will be required to pay. The benefit will not be paid for by the imposition of any additional tax or special tax on :any individual. It will be a community contribution.

Perhaps 1 have failed to relate my remarks closely to the clauses contained in this measure. I should like to deal with many of them, but this proposal affects people whom I know very well, some of whom went to school with me. When the Government seeks to apply to people whom I know very well provisions which are not fair or just to the people concerned, I must protest. I shall gladly vote against the second reading of the bill. Although the introduction of a retiring benefit for all people when they reach a certain age is something that I have worked for over the years, I feel that it is unfair to ask any one to agree to the imposition of penalties as a condition for the granting of long service leave.

As I said earlier, I do not think there is any provision to pass on any accrued long service leave benefits to the dependants of those who die before attaining 65 years of age, although they might have been penalized heavily while they were working. We all know too, that quite often, because of accident or for some other cause, men are not able to continue in their employment until they have accumulated even ten years' service, but, on the waterfront, a penalty of £4 16s. would be imposed upon such men for every day on which they are engaged in a stoppage. I am very sorry indeed that the Government has been misled and believes that this type of legislation will put an end to the trouble on the waterfront. My tip is that on the first day on which a penalty of £4 16s. is imposed there will be further trouble.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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