Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1368

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - As the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) said, we hoped when the new Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) took over in December we would have more industrial peace. The fact is that in the Government's period of office we have had twice as much industrial strife as occurred in the corresponding period of last year. But many people are still hopeful that the Minister will be able to make a worthwhile contribution. I am not pretending that I have easy answers to a difficult problem. I accept that the Minister has had a lot of experience in union affairs. We have heard of it in some detail on past occasions. Everybody knows that he is not a fool. No one could properly call the Minister a fool although occasionally he has been known to behave like one. I have never thought of him as a fool. Perhaps he is blessed with more cunning than wisdom but cunning is better than nothing and he is certainly well endowed with that attribute. When I consider the significance of this task I realise that there is no easy answer to the problem.

I was very interested to hear that the Minister was going to Sweden. The experience of industrial peace in Sweden is in stark contrast to industrial peace here. In 1967, 400 man days were lost in industrial strife in Sweden

In that year 705,300 man days were lost in Australia. That was a remarkable year and I do not think we ought to take it as a true sample, because it is not. There have been some bad years. During the years 1967 to 1971 an average of 161,000 man days were lost in Sweden. We had 1,360,000 man days lost. So, the Swedes obviously have a lot of knowledge and ability to tackle this problem.

When I heard that the Minister for Labour was going to Sweden - knowing that he is not a fool - I hoped he would return with some answers which would help us solve this very difficult problem. As many of us know, the Minister is not noted for his reticence but since his return from Sweden he has been noticeably silent about his experiences. I wonder why. One of the many differences in industrial relations in the 2 countries is that Sweden does not depend on an arbitration system at all. It has a system of collective bargaining where employer and employee groups examine the relevant position in detail. Both groups, employer and employee, employ a large number of particularly well qualified people. They realise that they have the responsibility of setting the general guidelines. This is done with a great deal of ability on both sides. They examine with care the size of the economic cake that is to be cut up and realise that if an increase occurs in the size of the economic cake the worker is entitled to an increased slice. The big argument centres around how big the increase in productivity has been. I do not pretend that this argument can be easily settled between the 2 groups. As I say, the discussion is conducted with a great deal of professionalism on both sides. They decide the general guidelines that should guide the agreements between particular industries and particular unions. When this more detailed bargaining takes place leaders of both parent groups are present. The parent groups see firstly that the employers toe the line and secondly that the employees toe the line that has been set by the general agreement. Because of this, the most disciplined and the most competent collective bargaining is achieved.

Having obtained the facts, both sides, which are competent and well trained in arriving at the facts, reach an agreement. Both sides of the industrial scene, the employers and the employees, are forced by law and are willing to abide by the agreements so made. I know the trauma that the Minister for Labour went through when he realised that one way to get a more responsible attitude towards industrial strife was to do just that - to reach voluntary agreements and then adhere to them. In Sweden, if a voluntary agreement so made is broken the employers and the employees both realise their proper responsibility is to take the matter to the labour court. Penalties are awarded against whichever side breaks the industrial agreement. This seems to be an eminently sensible system and I am certain, from past experience, that the Minister thinks it is an eminently sensible system that voluntary agreements when made, particularly when made with such competence, should be adhered to. If the agreements are not adhered to the civil processes of law should punish those who break the voluntary agreement.

I am certain that the Minister for Labour has made it clear in the past that this was a system he very much wanted. Unfortunately, the unions turned him down flat. The other matter which interested me about Sweden was its different attitude towards piece work. For some reason or other, perhaps because of the previous history of industrial relations in this country, piece work tends to be thought of as a dirty word. No one can say Sweden is a backward country yet about half of its people are engaged in piece work. The Swedes realise that one can have sensible humane piece work conditions. I am certain that if the Swedes can have those conditions we can have them also. If there are such conditions we can provide an incentive to produce a bigger economic cake. In the long term it is only by the production of a bigger economic cake that the worker will get a bigger slice of it. I repeat that the Minister is no fool. I am glad that he went to Sweden but he has been noticeably reticent about the lessons he learned there. I hope he will tell us of them at some stage. As I say, he has had a great deal of experience in this field. Surely we could learn something from the experience of a country that has such a remarkable performance in industrial relations.

In conclusion, I should like to say that I do not pretend that there is an easy answer to this problem. Sometimes with a feeling of complete despondency I wonder what possible solutions there are. Sometimes there is the monopoly power of a big industry group opposed by the monopoly power of a big union group. It often seems impossible that we will have any industrial peace in an economy with the forces ranged in this way. The only hope I have - it is a poor hope - for a solution is to recall the words of Nye Bevan, the left wing socialist leader in Britain who was asked one day by a questioner why it was with such a large proportion of the British electorate being unionists, the Labour Party did not win every election. He said " sourly that at each election the British unionist votes in condemnation of his own anarchy. This is a desparate kind of solution. We have to do better than that. This is the ultimate kind of discipline. The Minister for Labour has a real responsibility, with his experience in the union field and knowing that he has the support of this side of the House, to have a deeper look at the industrial front. We know that there are no easy answers.

I should like to congratulate the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) for a particularly thoughtful speech today which brought out the fact that we are tackling this problem with some humility and with the knowledge that we do not have all the easy answers. In conclusion, I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will do me the kindness of telling me something about his Swedish experience. I hope he will say that one thing we could learn from Sweden is the introduction of more employee participation in business management. I certainly accept that that is a responsible attitude if we have responsible unions, and I hope that we are gradually working towards that end. I would appreciate it if the Minister would give us the benefit of his experience in Sweden.

Suggest corrections