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Tuesday, 1 May 1973
Page: 1494

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - The purpose of this Bill is twofold - to increase the levy of payments to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority and to remove the disabilities experienced by non-permanent ports. Insofar as the Bill guarantees the future viability of decentralised ports, the Opposition supports it. However, we believe that the conditions of employment of waterside workers, including excessive payments for idle non-working time, call for urgent examination so that the rate of stevedoring industry charges may be substantially reduced in the interests of exporters, importers and the community at large. In view of the developments since the guaranteed wage for non-permanent ports was introduced in 1967, we welcome the proposal to make part of the increased levy attributable to new funding arrangements for the guaranteed minimum wage in non-permanent ports by funding these payments through a general industry levy applicable to all ports. This move will materially assist the future operations of non-permanent ports which fulfil a vital function in many parts of this country. It is, in fact, a recognition that there are significant advantages in enabling the many decentralised ports in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania to continue their operations on a competitive basis.

The case of Portland, which has been so eloquently put in this Parliament by my colleague, the distinguished honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), is a telling example. The recent move by the Victorian Government to establish a committee consisting of the Chairman of the Marine Board, the Chairman of the Portland Harbour Trust and a senior Treasury officer to examine what additional measures ought to be taken to assist the cause of decentralised ports such as Portland is a reflection of the many cogent arguments to support and maintain the economic viability of decentralised ports and is a positive action taken by the Victorian Government. Those arguments are strengthened by the increasing awareness, at both State and Federal levels, of the need to achieve a greater degree of decentralisation to obviate many of the problems caused by our high degree of urbanisation.

Insofar as the increase in the actual levy is concerned, the Opposition believes that the provisions of this Bill are demonstrably excessive. This is a major increase which can have no valid justification at this time. The magnitude of the increase can lead only to the conclusion that this Bill is being used by the Government as a device to bring down a maximum increase in the ceiling level of charges for A class waterside workers in the stevedoring industry. As the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) pointed out, the Bill does not increase the maximum rates under the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act for B and C class waterside workers. Under the Act, the maximum rates of charge are now$1 per man hour, $1.75 per man hour and $1.20 per man hour for A, B and C class respectively. However, the Bill makes specific provision to increase the maximum rate of charge for class A waterside workers from $1 to $1.50. This is a 50 per cent increase. The Minister pointed out that in the case of class A waterside workers the actual rate charged within the existing maximum rates which are fixed by regulation has now reached the maximum level of $1 per man hour. This circumstance is directly attributable to the very substantial increases which have already occurred in wage rates and conditions of employment. Clearly, the reason for the proposed 50 per cent increase in the maximum rate of charge is the anticipated magnitude of further increases in wage rates, conditions of long service leave, and the continuing levels of idle time, all of which were foreshadowed in the Minister's second reading speech and which he, on behalf of his Government, apparently is prepared to condone, completely contrary to the public interest.

In the context of foreshadowed increases it is pertinent to point out the existing levels of wages and conditions of work pertaining to the 14,285 registered waterside workers as at 31 January this year. It should be emphasised that we are discussing an industry in which the average hours worked by a permanent waterside worker - and this includes the class A waterside worker who is the subject of this Bill - amount to 29.6 a week. This is an average calculation based on the full year ending in June 1972. For these same workers, working 29.6 hours a week, average weekly earnings now amount to $92.71, made up of $78.40 in wages and $14.31 in idle time. The indulgent nature of these conditions is a salient indication of the extent of the weakness of the employers, vis a vis the bargaining power of the Waterside Worders Federation, the degree to which wages and salaries are a major cost factor and the extent to which they have added to our inflationary experience. I am glad to see in the advisers' box one of the senior advisers from the Department of Labour who himself knows full well the outrageous nature of the condition we are now discussing. My only regret is that the Minister for Labour, who is in charge of the Bill, for whatever reason, has not seen fit to be in attendance in the House, because no doubt he is completely unable to answer the serious charges which are being made.

The financial position of Australia's Stevedoring Industry Authority is clearly outlined in the supplementary report of the AuditorGeneral for the year ending June 1972.

Expenditure for the year was almost $16m, an increase of over $2m. compared with the previous year. This increase was essentially due to higher costs of benefits payable to waterside workers, particularly payments in respect of full shifts at permanent ports during which men were available but not required to work, which increased by over $2im. The excess of expenditure over income - almost $3m - was transferred to the capital account increasing the debit balance in this account to nearly $8,400,000. The financial difficulties of the Authority are symptomatic of the overall nature of the problems facing the stevedoring industry at the present time.

Concessions in wages and conditions of the magnitude which the Waterside Workers Federation and stevedoring employers - we are critical of both bodies - have negotiated outside the conciliation and arbitration system have posed particular problems in the industry and have added significant burdens to freight costs. On the one hand the Federation has been able to exploit a monopoly of labour in the industry with the prospect of direct action if its major claims are not conceded. On the other hand the employers, strongly influenced by overseas shipping interests, have been prepared to concede demands because of their ability to pass on costs by increasing freight rates to the detriment of Australian shippers, although this ability has been somewhat inhibited by the Australian Shippers Council established by the former Government.

These agreements, which have had a substantial effect on prices and costs in Australia, have been reached in isolation. They have had no regard for their impact on wage and salary levels in other areas of the economy. Yet no industry is an island. Changes in wages in terms of employment in one industry must affect costs in other industries, either through flow on or through the effect on the costs of goods and services purchased. Wage and salary developments in the stevedoring industry can be no less important than those developments in any other industry. In this context, sources close to the industry have revealed that the Waterside Workers Federation and the employers of waterside labour are about to announce an agreement whereby the loading on annual leave for waterside workers will be increased from 17i per cent to 224 per cent. I am glad that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), who is in charge of this Bill, has had an opportunity to hear that comment because no doubt later in the debate he will indicate the stance which his Government is prepared to take, having regard to the inflationary impact which that particular circumstance and others like it are causing, not simply on the waterfront at the present time but on the general level of wages and salaries throughout the community. This is exercising an influence on the general nature of our inflationary spiral.

The present Government seeks to endorse the philosophy that there must be no impediment to agreements negotiated between principal parties no matter how deleterious the consequences of those agreements may be in terms of the national interest. The Government's policy is clearly conducive to a situation where gains in wages and working conditions are to be dependent on a union's industrial strength rather than upon the merits of its particular case. This is a philosophy which will disadvantage small unions and small employers, fixed income earners and pensioners - in fact, all those sections in the community which have no access to monopoly power. This Government's attitude to negotiated agreements is entirely contrary to any acceptance of national responsibilities and anomalous to any concept of equity in the distribution of benefits derived from an acceptance of the concept of real economic growth.

The problem of idle time, which was referred to by the Minister specifically in his second reading speech, does call, as I am sure, he would be the first to appreciate, for urgent attention. Idle time is the cost incurred by the Authority in reimbursing employers at permanent ports for charges paid to waterside workers for full shifts during which they are available but not required to work. It does not include costs of unused full shifts, where employment is under special agreement, and unused part shifts. These costs are included in wages. While the total waterside worker labour force has decreased from 20,140 in 1967 to 14,285 as at 31st January 1973, the demand for labour has fluctuated substantially. The result has been large surpluses of labour available but not required for work. For the 14,000 registered waterside workers the current average idle time payment has been calculated at $14.31 per man week, industry estimates now show that idle time payments are running at an annual rate of between $7m and $8m. The surplus labour which contributes to this very substantial industrial overhead exists, as the Minister would know, at many ports - not just nonpermanent ports - not over a greater part of the year. For instance, in the port of Adelaide there has been an average daily surplus of approximately 400 waterside workers. The frightening cost pattern reflected in this excess of labour does not require to be detailed to be appreciated by honourable members on this side of the House. The overall level of idle time is a major cause of increased costs for shippers and the Australian community in general and it calls for urgent examination. Idle time at the present level cannot be seen as justifiable in any circumstances. It is the cause, indeed the most significant element, of the financial problems now faced by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. It is an indication of the featherbedding which has taken place and is, I believe, a corrosive influence throughout the total structure of the industry. Finally, it is a demonstrable disincentive to work on the waterfront.

Another major contributor to cost and inefficiencies is the level of industrial unrest. It is a matter which commands the attention of the Minister for Labour because he knows that the Waterside Workers Federation has become a vehicle, along with certain other maritime unions, whereby minority elements within the trade union movement have sought to convert industrial power into political action. In many instances strike action has been taken on a unilateral basis without the sanction of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Trades and Labour Councils. There have been recent instances of strike action which have compromised Australia's international reputation and this Government has abrogated its national responsibilities by its tacit approval in each case. Political strikes on the waterfront are an increasing problem. In 1969-70, 81,205 man-hours were lost through strikes of this nature - equal to 6.7 pes cent of all man-hours lost through strikes. In 1970-71 losses through political strikes amounted to 214,214 man-hours, or 31.9 per cent of all man-hours lost. In 1971-72, 137,525 man-hours, or 33.3 per cent of all time lost through strikes was over political or non-industrial issues. Unwarranted agreements on wages and conditions of employment, increasing levels of inefficiency attributable to idle time and the degree of industrial unrest for political reasons impose unnecessary and unjustifiable costs on exporters, importers and the community in general. The nature and extent of the increased costs are, in fact, very considerable. There has been a 20.8 per cent reduction in average hours worked at permanent ports in Australia between 1969-70 and 1971-72 and over the same period there has been an increase of 13.3 per cent in average wages at the same ports.

The average cost to the ship owner of moving a ton of goods into or out of a ship in July was S6.42 per ton. As at 1st July 1971 this had risen to $10.63 per ton. On 31st December 1972 the cost to the ship owner of moving the same ton of goods had risen to $14.42 per ton, a rise since July 1969 of 124.6 per cent.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Who was the government then?

Mr LYNCH - The Minister for Labour interjects. He should be the first person to know that if one has regard to the former Government's capacity and strength in relation to industrial agreements it was a government that was prepared to say of both of the principal parties that they exercised, on the Australian waterfront, a cynical abuse of monopoly power. The Minister should know full well that the former Government was prepared to be as critical of the employers on the waterfront as it was of the Waterside Workers Federation. I want the Minister in this debate later, when he has an opportunity to speak out, to do just that - to be critical of both of the principal parties - because he knows that those parties have taken the Australian community for a ride; that the agreements into which they both freely have entered, according to the terms of his own industrial philosophy, have created a level of featherbedding on the waterfront which has been a major national scandal affecting not simply the parties concerned.

Mr Kelly - Hear, hear!

Mr LYNCH - My honourable friend, the honourable member for Wakefield, who interjects, fully understands the direct impact which these concessions have had on the whole of the rural sector. He is a colleague in this Parliament who will speak out in this debate and say full well just what burden the producers and the exporters are facing at the present time because of the nature of the concessions which have been brought down.

Any arguments which the Minister might seek to bring to bear, to the effect that fewer men today handle a greater tonnage of goods and that further there has been an increase in labour productivity, cannot be upheld. Where improvements in cargo handling have occurred they have been due principally to the introduction of bulk handling, better and more highly mechanised equipment or the provision of better ships such as roll-on rolloff vessels. The Opposition believes that there is ample justification for urgent examination of the stevedoring industry because the current waterfront practices have assumed disabling proportions for a nation as reliant on trade as Australia. We view with concern the extent to which this Bill clearly foreshadows increased costs for the community. The Minister who is in charge of the Bill and who has a responsibility on behalf of the Australian people, not simply on behalf of the unions that seek to exercise their total control over him and the conduct of his portfolio must, we believe, should speak out in this debate and let the Australian people know where he stands in relation to the agreements which have been made and those which are foreshadowed at the present time. He should let the community know whether he is prepared simply to bless and endorse the agreements which will be made - out of all proportion to any sense of national responsibility - and their impact on the public interest. Nevertheless, because of the manner in which this Bill has been drafted we support the Bill as it seeks to enable - this is the point of our support - a number of important decentralised ports to continue their operations on a competitive basis and assist the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to meet its financial commitments.

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