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Tuesday, 20 October 1964

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN -(Senator Drake-Brockman).- Order! To what part of the estimates is the honorable senator relating his remarks?

Senator CAVANAGH - I am linking them up with Division No. 330 which covers proposed expenditure on salaries and allowances. At page 184 in the schedule of salaries and allowances reference is made to senior industrial relations officers and industrial relations officers. I am trying to show that there is some need for the industrial relations officers of the Department of Labour and National Service to make some other approach to the settling of industrial disputes than is at present made. I think it was Senator Murphy who said that there is need for a new approach to this matter. I was about to say that no working man with a sense of responsibility - the Australian working man has a sense of responsibility - would be so unmindful of his responsibility to his family that he would put himself in the position of having no income for a period of time and of being faced with the threat of having some of his property repossessed by the hire purchase companies to which he is heavily indebted unless he believed that he was suffering from an injustice. One of the principles of British law is that not only must justice be done, but it must also appear to be done. Irrespective of whether justice is being done today, it does not appear to the working man that justice is being done by arbitration. Senator Morris says that we have one of the best arbitration systems in the world. I say that we have one of the most severe arbitration systems in the world. We do not have a system of conciliation operating in Australia today. Although the Act is entitled the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, it is loaded with penalties for those who will not accept decisions taken after conferences with employers.

It has been stated that conciliation went ' out of the Act when penalties were incorporated in it. The Act now threatens: " Unless you are good boys you will have to pay penalties". The more penalties that are provided for in the Act, the greater the number of strikes that occur. We have only to read the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority this year to see the frequency with which strikes are occurring in that industry, despite the penalties that are imposed.- The men are not getting justice because the arbitration system is not giving to them today the wages that industry is prepared to pay. The working men are not receiving an equal distribution of the wealth of (he community, or a share of the wealth in proportion to the contribution they make to the welfare of society. Even the Victorian Liberal Government has found it necessary to raise the wages of its employees above the amounts awarded by arbitration. The South Australian Liberal Government - a government with a record of never paying wages above an arbitration award - is not satisfied that arbitration is doing justice to State Government employees. It has decided to pay a service bonus to employees pf State Government Departments. The payment will not be provided for in an award, but is the result of an agreement between the South Australian Government and the Trades and Labour Council of South Australia.

Over award payments are made everywhere today, including in the plants of General Motors-Holden's Pty. Ltd. Wages determined by the arbitration system do not truly reflect what industry is prepared to pay the workers, or what is the capacity of industry to pay. The arbitration system is falling down on the job and the workers are incensed that one section of industry should be awarded an increase instead of the industry being examined as a whole and increases granted to all workers in the industry. The management of General Motors-Holden's Pty. Ltd. has said that it is prepared to meet the unions to discuss anomalies in the wages of foundry workers, but it is not prepared to discuss with the unions the question of wages generally in the industry. That is the basis of the dispute. General Motors is relying for its strength on the penalties provided for in the arbitration system. The company believes in arbitration but not rn conciliation.

Some Government supporters are proud of the fact that because of the penalty provisions of the Act, fines totalling £2,500 were imposed last week on the unions and today, I believe, further fines totalling £1,000 were imposed. It is hoped that by this means the unions will be broken. Of course you will break the unions. Of course if management sticks out it will make the workers submit, but it will never get back the contented unionists it had before the dispute occurred. It will never regain the production it had achieved and it will never restore the good relations that previously existed between employers and employees. Unionists are embittered because of the desire of one side to impose penalties to the detriment of the other side.

I do not appeal to the Government to decide who is right in the dispute, but to use its good offices to get the parties around the - conference table to discuss wages. Can we not arrange for a discussion on this matter? Has there been any approach by the Government? ls there any desire to settle this dispute? Or is it once again a case of determination to show the unions that the Government is going to abide by a system of arbitration that is heeded by no-one at present, not even by the State Liberal Governments. I appeal to the Government to employ its experienced officers of the Department of Labour and National Service in an attempt to settle this dispute. 1 do not ask anyone to accept what I say or what Senator Morris has said, but a lot of unexpected and surprising results are achieved from time to time at conferences attended by parties who wish to settle a dispute and to see justice done. A tolerant chairman who will permit a free discussion around the table can achieve wonderful results. We have seen it time and time again. As the dispute stands at present, the men in Victoria have decided to meet again next Monday, which means that another week will pass without income for the employees of General Motors. There will be another week without production of Holden cars for sale on a competitive market.

Senator Morris and I are able to present the points of view of both sides of the dispute. The Government's neutral attitude will not achieve a solution to the problem. The Government should not be bound by hard and fast rules, nor should it say: " Here is the arbitration machinery. Let us see how long it takes for this machinery to settle the dispute ". On many occasions the Government has made approaches to disputes and parties have backed down. I am not intending to suggest that General Motors should back down. I am saying that an effort should be made to get the parties to confer.

It was suggested to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) in another place that he should consider the appointment of a royal commission to examine the system of wage fixation in Australia to see whether it is adequate for our requirements and for the solution of problems it was intended to solve. I believe that the Minister stated that he was prepared to give the suggestion his consideration. I again appeal to the Government to approach the parties to the dispute, and not to adopt the attitude of saying: " We are going to bludgeon the men back to work without giving them an opportunity to explain the justice behind their application ". lt is useless to say that the arbitration machinery has been established to determine the justice of applications for increased wages. As 1 have pointed out, the arbitration system today is not awarding the wages that industry is prepared to pay or that the economy can afford to pay.

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