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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 953

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Health) (5.14) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to make provision - in a similar manner to the provision in section 28 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act - for the Public Service arbitration tribunal to deal with what are termed industrial situations'. In short, these are strikes, bans or limitations on work engaged in by officers or employees of Commonwealth departments or instrumentalities.

By the terms of the Bill, if an industrial situation occurs or is threatened, a Minister, the Public Service Board, a Commonwealth instrumentality or a union may notify that situation to the Public Service Arbitrator. The Arbitrator or a Deputy Public Service Arbitrator will then be required to call a conference of the parties in an effort to put an end to the industrial situation. The Arbitrator or a Deputy Arbitrator is given power to make orders for the purposes of putting an end to or preventing that situation or orders which, in his view, are otherwise necessary or desirable because of the industrial situation. These orders may relate to the conditions of employment of the officers or employees concerned in or affected by the industrial situation or they may direct the cessation of or prohibit engaging in conduct constituting an industrial situation. These are the essential features of the Bill.

The basic framework of the Public Service Arbitration Act is not changed. The provisions of the Act by which an organisation may lodge with the Arbitrator a claim as to conditions of employment or by which the Board, a Minister or an organisation may seek to vary an existing determination of the Arbitrator are not affected by the Bill. Why, then, is this legislation being introduced?

The existing processes of the Public Service Arbitration Act are not designed to deal with situations of direct industrial action. The processes of the Act have remained virtually unchanged since the first Public Service Arbitration Act was enacted in 1920. They do not empower the tribunal to deal with situations of industrial action. This form of jurisdiction by the Public Service Arbitrator was simply not required when the legislation was first enacted. The system created in 1920 was designed for a far different set of circumstances from those now existing. There was then a much smaller and more homogeneous Commonwealth Public Service, with many employees being engaged in administrative and clerical duties or, put another way, in non-industrial duties.

Today more than a quarter of a million employees or a little over 6 per cent of the total number of wage and salary earners in Australia come within the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator. Because of the growth of industrial employment with the Commonwealth in departments and instrumentalities including the Departments of Works, the Navy and Supply, the Post Office, the Commonwealth Railways and the Atomic Energy Commission, the situation today has changed.

Some years ago, industrial action on the part of employees of the Commonwealth was mainly confined to limited areas where the employment was essentially industrial. Of more recent years, there has been an increasing tendency for a wide range of officers and employees in the Public Service to either threaten or take part in industrial action. Honourable senators will be well aware, for example, of the many interruptions to the work of the Post Office, resulting in inconvenience to the public, that have taken place as a result of strikes, bans and limitations on the performance of work by such bodies as the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists. White collar and professional organisations have also shown on occasion that they are prepared to impose bans on the performance of work causing considerable disruption to the work of government in this country.

In 1969, Parliament enacted an amending Public Service Arbitration Act which recognised the increasing arbitration activity before the Public Service Arbitrator. The stage had been reached by then with the growth in the number and variety of occupations of persons in Commonwealth employment" whereby one Arbitrator could not be expected to deal with the volume of normal business which came within his jurisdiction. Hence, the 1969 legislation made provision for the appointment of Deputy Public Service Arbitrators of an unlimited number. Presently, there are 2 Deputy Public Service Arbitrators. This measure has resulted in a streamlining of the processing of claims and applications before the tribunal.

The Government now believes the processes of the Act need further strengthening to enable speedy resolution of industrial situations. The increased incidence of industrial situations arising in Commonwealth employment demands that formal machinery be established to handle their settlement. The community is entitled to expect this when repeated efforts are made by a number of unions with members employed by Commonwealth agencies to interfere with the activities of those agencies.

In recent years, too many situations have developed in which unions with employees in the Public Service have declined to take their claims before the Public Service Arbitrator in the normal and proper manner. Instead, they have resorted to direct action thus interfering with a wide range of Commonwealth activities such as the essential services provided by the Post Office, work in defence production establishments, the naval dockyards and the operations of such bodies as the Commonwealth Railways, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Works. Moveover, industrial situations have arisen in which the claims by the unions have already been the subject of close and detailed examination by the Public Service Board including discussions and negotiations with the unions. The unions have then declined to use the normal arbitration process.

The system of the Public Service Arbitration Act, as it stands, envisages that in circumstances in which a union is not satisfied with the response of management - in the form of the Public Service Board or a departmental or an instrumentality - it will take its claims to the

Public Service Arbitrator. Most unions with employees in the Public Service do, in fact, follow this course of action but there are some with members employed in key areas of Commonwealth activity which reject the proper processes open to them under this Act and resort to intimidatory tactics by way of strikes or bans on work. The recent serious disputes in the Post Office fall within this category. Under the Act as it stands, it is not possible for the Public Service Board or a Minister to notify the public service arbitration tribunal of these strikes and bans. Management may only invoke the processes of the Act by seeking to vary an existing determination of the Arbitrator.

In most dispute circumstances, there is no variation of the termination which management wishes to seek and, even if it did, this could not necessarily mean that the dispute situation could be brought before the Arbitrator. As 1 have emphasised, instances have arisen in which unions refuse to lodge claims with the Arbitrator. They have chosen to resort to strikes and bans. With all the avenues by which unions in Commonwealth employment may seek to have their claims resolved there ought not to be any resort to direct action. The Government has decided, therefore, that this Bill should be brought down in an effort to ensure that situations such as those I have just referred to can be dealt with by the public service arbitration tribunal. The tribunal will be able to make efforts to bring them to an end, to prevent them occurring and to deal with the underlying issues.

In the past, means of an ad hoc nature have been employed to resolve Issues between parties. In some instances, these have resulted in unions finally agreeing to process their claims before the Public Service Arbitrator. This state of affairs cannot continue. The Government has concluded that the Act needs amendment in oder to ensure that industrial dispute situations are brought before the tribunal quickly. The tribunal which plays a major role in fixing terms and conditions of employment for Commonwealth employees should also be given the opportunity of making every effort to put an end to strikes, to have bans on work removed and, where appropriate, to deal with the issues that lie between the parties.

In genera] terms, what the Bill now before Parliament contains are essentially provisions that have been part of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act since its inception. That Act enables disputes to be notified to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It places an obligation on the Commission to take steps for the prompt prevention or settlement of the dispute by conciliation or by arbitration. When an employer and a union are engaged in a dispute with which there may also be associated a strike or ban on work, that dispute can be notified to the Commission under section 28 of the Act. A provision of this nature is the essential feature of the Bill now before the Senate. There will be power for the Arbitrator or a Deputy Arbitrator by virtue of the proposed new section 12d, which is in clause 4 of the Bill, to call an immediate conference of the parties on being notified of an industrial situation. He will hear them and he will be able to make such orders as he thinks necessary or desirable for bringing the industrial situation to an end. Those orders may relate to conditions of employment of those involved in the industrial situation or they may direct the cessation of the conduct that constitutes that situation.

Honourable senators will note the word forthwith' in the proposed new section 12d. As the Act now stands there are statutory periods to be fulfilled in the making of claims and applications and the calling of conferences. These periods can take up to at least 5 weeks. Where there is industrial action involved, however, it is imperative that the tribunal should be able to act in the quickest possible manner. Therefore, there will be no statutory periods to be fulfilled when matters of this nature are brought before the tribunal.

It has been a feature of a number of industrial disputes in Commonwealth employment in recent times that officers and employees indicate that they are not prepared to carry out all of their normal duties. One example has been the refusal of PMG staff to handle certain classes of mail or to ban the handling of telegrams or to refuse to connect telephones to certain premises or to ban the maintenance of telephone equipment. This means that officers and employees will carry out only those duties determined by them or by their union. This is nothing short of job control. It is an attempt to undermine the undoubted right and responsibility of management to decide which work will be performed and the responsibility of Commonwealth departments and authorities to provide essential services to the general public. The Government does not believe that its employees can abrogate management's authority in this way and, at the same time, receive pay as if they had performed all their normal duties. Moreover, situations can arise in which, because of bans and other limitations upon work, the work of other Commonwealth employees is affected to such an extent that they cannot be gainfully employed.

It is for these reasons that the definition of an industrial situation has been cast in the form in which it appears in the Bill. In addition - and I wish to be quite explicit about this, Mr President - we envisage that, in future situations, management may ask the public service arbitration tribunal to deal with these restrictions upon the performance of work by making orders permitting the standing down without pay of employees who cannot be gainfully employed, and/ or by making orders affecting the pay of persons who refuse to perform the full range of their duties. The power of the Arbitrator or a Deputy Arbitrator to make orders is not expressed in specific terms, however. We recognise that the tribunal must be given flexibility of approach in dealing with industrial situations. Nevertheless, we envisage that the tribunal may be asked to make orders, for example, relating to -

(a)   the standing down of officers or employees involved in a dispute or who cannot be gainfully employed as a result of a dispute;

(b)   application of the principle of 'No work-no pay' where officers " or employees refuse to do all the duties they are required to do;

(c)   organisations being directed to withdraw bans or stoppages;

(d)   alteration of the terms and conditions of employment of the particular class of officers or employees in an effort to overcome the cause of the 'industrial situation'.

In concluding this speech, Mr President, I want to refer to a submission made last year by the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations. In the course of the tripartite national conference on the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, the Council proposed changes to the Public Service Arbitration Act. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) agreed to discuss these matters with the Council. The Bill I am now introducing does not relate to matters advanced by the Council, and the Minister has indicated that he still intends to have discussions with the Council about its proposals. In the meantime he has met with representatives of another of the white collar 'peak* councils, the Council of Professional Associations. He has also invited the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations and CCPSO to meet with him on the Public Service Arbitration Act at a convenient date. The ACTU will also be invited to participate. The matters covered by this Bill are considered by the Government to warrant immediate action.

The Government sees this Bill as fulfilling two main purposes. The first is that it should be seen as a further step in bringing the Act into line with current needs. Thus the provisions of it will enable the Arbitrator or a Deputy Arbitrator to be brought into industrial situations in an effort to resolve them. The second purpose of the Bill is to ensure that remedies are available through the normal processes of conciliation and arbitration in circumstances in which Commonwealth services are disrupted by strikes or bans and limitations on work. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Brown) adjourned.

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