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Wednesday, 24 May 1989
Page: 2558

Senator COONEY(11.40) —We are debating cognately some Appropriation Bills. In that context, I would like to speak about the need for productivity increase in Australia. I would like to say something about the accord and how the union movement and others have benefited from it. Cooperation between the union movement and management in this country has advanced considerably over the last few years. I have just been speaking to somebody from the Prices Surveillance Authority. It is interesting to note the comments made by that body, which was set up in March 1984. At that time there was no proven record of wage restraint. There was some unease in the business sector as to how the Government would operate. But since that time this Government has proved that through the accord a rationalisation of wage increases can take place. Business has been given a very thorough and a very profitable context in which to proceed.

It is now proper to discuss the decision made by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, as it was then called, in August of last year, when it laid down certain principles in the national wage case. It is in the light of those principles that there is now movement towards award restructuring. If one looks at the record of this Government since it came to power in March 1983 it can be said proudly that the productivity of this country has been given a most fruitful context in which to move forward. There has been a realisation that there is a need for cooperation between management and people on the shop floor, on building sites and elsewhere. Of course, from time to time there are problems. For example, last night I spoke of the problem that arose in North Melbourne and I think in another place in Northcote with Henderson's Industries Ltd.

Senator Cook —Very eloquently too.

Senator COONEY —Thank you, Senator Cook. I pointed out that from time to time the strain placed upon workers becomes so great that, in their view, industrial action becomes necessary. If one looks at the circumstances, one can sympathise with those actions. At the same time I have to say that those actions create problems for the economy. But they are not the sorts of problems that can be solved simply by saying that one section of the community should bear all the burdens, that section being the people who actually produce the goods and the services, the workers on the shop floor or on the building site. There is a need to understand that there must be trade-offs between employer and employee, trade-offs between workers and management. Unless that approach is taken there will be difficulties in making award restructuring as profitable as it might otherwise be.

On Monday I was in the Industrial Relations Commission, as it is now called. Some proceedings were brought in respect of negotiations between the Food Preservers Union of Australia and employers of that industry.

Senator Puplick —That is not a second job, is it, Senator?

Senator COONEY —I am asked whether it is a second job. I went down there simply to equip myself with the ability to speak with some sort of sense to the people of Australia--

Senator Cook —And to gain firsthand knowledge.

Senator COONEY —And to gain firsthand knowledge when I speak in debates such as this.

Senator Puplick —So you didn't take any money for it?

Senator COONEY —I certainly did not take any money for it. I was there in an observer capacity. What came out was that the employer groups on that occasion-simply on that occasion-were premature in bringing that application. The Commission found, I think fairly, that the employers were unprepared, at that point in time, to discuss fully and properly how award restructuring might go on. I will speak of some of the propositions put from time to time by employers which on reflection would be better not put. For example, they have asked workers to work 12 hours a day, three days a week. There was one suggestion that the hours per year be worked out and that once people had worked those hours, in whatever period of the year that management chose, that would be sufficient for the year. The hours could be worked perhaps in nine months. For the other three months the worker would not be employed and the wages paid would be paid not in terms of overtime worked per day but in terms of overtime worked beyond the total yearly hours. When one thinks of the need for people to enjoy family life and to enjoy a reasonable and steady income over a full year, those propositions become quite absurd.

There is a need to think not only in terms of the economy but also in terms of the sort of society that we wish to live in. It becomes quite oppressive if people are asked to work unreasonably long hours and under poor working conditions for pay which is at times sufficient to sustain only the most frugal of living. The problems come not so much from top management but from middle management and from the way those people who are in direct control of the work force conduct themselves. We are a more sophisticated society than was the case in the nineteenth century. People are now better educated and have a better understanding. There is less need for the master-servant relationship than there used to be. Instead, there is a need for cooperation between those who manage and make ultimate decisions and the people who actually do the work. If that cooperation is forthcoming production will increase.

Indeed, it is on that basis that many of Japan's industries have made the startling advances that they have. In many of Japan's successful industries there exists a cooperation between the work force and management. It is in that context that the move towards award restructuring is taken. If properly carried out award restructuring will set out career paths for people employed in industry and elsewhere, will set up an opportunity for that work force to earn more and will set up an opportunity for industry to become more productive. It will provide Australia with a better educated work force, and with a management that is more sophisticated and is better able to appreciate the true needs of any particular industry. In that way, Australia will go forward as, indeed, it must.

That happy situation will not be obtained if either side is put under undue and unwarranted attack. A disaster could occur in the future if either management, the people who manage and control business, or the work force, through the unions, is put under unreasonable attack. Unfortunately, the unions are often put under undue and unwarranted attack in this chamber. Recently, for example, there has been much discussion on the waterfront industries, the railway unions and others. If members of the Opposition were to come to power and were to pursue their present industrial policies, much harm could be done. It seems to me that there is an intent in many of their policies so to confine, restrict and restrain the unions that they would not properly be able to carry out their necessary functions in the interests of the work force of this nation.

There is talk of bargaining at the shop level rather than at industry level. There is talk of moving away from an accord to people bargaining to the best of their ability, which usually means that those with industrial strength-for example, those who have skills which are in short supply-get very large wage increases compared with those granted to workers who do not have industrial strength. It may be argued that that would encourage people to obtain skills. In my view it would not; it would lock them into a situation in which they and their children and grandchildren would be held down because of their inability to get out of their particular situation.

Skills can be developed through colleges of technical and further education and other education facilities. The question then becomes who should pay-how much industry should pay, how much the Government should pay and how much the workers themselves should pay. Those issues will be discussed over the next few months. It seems to me that this Parliament should be facing those issues rather than attacks being made in this chamber willy-nilly without an analysis of the best way forward.

One of the problems is that the Industrial Relations Commission itself has not made clear what it means by award restructuring. I had hoped that the decision of the full Commission setting parameters within which people were to discuss these issues would be given by now. I do not think it has come down yet but it is expected to come down quite soon. Once that happens, the way that the Commission intends discussions about award restructuring to proceed will become clear. Certainly, there are already reasonably well defined guidelines. Efficiencies should be built into the system, the productivity advances that we all desire should be looked to in any awards that are restructured, and efficiency and productivity should be increased. That will be done through a more highly skilled work force and, hopefully, increases in pay. It is quite clear that, if the work force is to continue to make sacrifices and is now to develop greater skills, it ought to be remunerated. It would be unfortunate if the work force were to obtain extra skills and not be paid for them.

Those are the issues that we should be looking to over the next few months to ensure the skilling of the work force and to ensure that the education not only of the workers but also of management can improve so that productivity can increase. This Government has set the pattern for that. It has provided a means whereby people can receive higher and better education. For instance, one Bill before us is entitled `An Act to amend the Higher Education Funding Act 1988, and for related purposes'. In the context of skilling the work force, this Government has made astonishing advances.

One of the issues to be dealt with is the audit of skills already available in the workplace. The skill auditing process should be done on a cooperative basis. It is for both management and workers to judge which skills are already there. It would be disastrous if management were to claim management prerogative and say, `We as managers will decide which skills are already there and what awards ought to be paid in respect of them'. Again, it is a matter for cooperation and it is that feeling of cooperation, that inculcation of a culture in which there is cooperation across industry and across all of those engaged in it, which will lead this country forward.

That could well become the most distinguishing feature between the policies of this Government and those of the Opposition because, unfortunately, the rhetoric from the other side is that of the adversary picking out one party in the industrial scene and attacking it. What is really needed is an approach in which the various players in the field, in the industrial scene, are encouraged and asked to cooperate and are given proper rewards. The track record of this Government since 1983 shows that it has the program by which this can be done. It will continue to pursue that line and to pursue it successfully. It has the runs on the board. It has the people in jobs-well over one million more of them. Industry has boomed. Investment is high. With some adjustments and considerable sacrifice still to be made, this country can go forward in the 1990s much better off than it was in the 1970s. It will be a decade of the Hawke Labor Government working in cooperation with the union movement which will give this country a flourishing economy in the 1990s.