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Thursday, 17 August 1989
Page: 308

Senator BURNS(8.00) —When a proposal such as that contained in the Industrial Relations (Directions to Stop Industrial Action) Amendment Bill 1989 put forward by Senator Chaney comes before the Senate, normally I respond in a very angry way because, having worked for the trade union movement for many years and having seen the sorts of things that employers perpetrate against employees, I have a very keen interest in the future of employees. I suffer with them, as I have for over 20 years as a union official. But tonight I do not feel that way. I feel rather sad instead.

When I recall historical events, I think about the shearers' strike and the way the strikers were charged and put into chains. They were ordinary working men who were concerned about the inability of keeping up a reasonable standard of living and putting clothes on the backs of their wives and families. In 1969 we saw the imprisonment of Clarrie O'Shea. In those times heavy handed legislation was used to fine unions, until the stage when the workers said, `No longer'. There was a massive demonstration about that type of action and for many years penalties were not imposed.

One would think that a person who is as intelligent as Senator Chaney-it is the way he uses his intelligence that I question-would read that history, understand it and begin to learn from it. Because we now have a dispute which relates to domestic airline pilots, apparently Senator Chaney feels that something has to be done to make the current industrial relations legislation even more draconian.

A trade unionist, like me, might think-even though I am part of the Government-that if I were given the responsibility to legislate about these matters I would be even kinder to workers on the job than this Government has been. However, I believe the Government has done a good job and the current legislation provides plenty of opportunities to employers to use the facilities of the courts and the Industrial Relations Commission to solve disputes and in many cases, because of the information which is available to them, to prevent disputes from developing.

The pilots, to my knowledge and in my experience, have never been part of the trade union movement. Why the Opposition wants to attack them I fail to understand. The pilots have always been partly outside the system. I would not want to do them an injustice, but I cannot recall them ever being involved in a dispute where they helped other people in the trade union movement. If they have, I would like to know about it. They have really been special people. The pilots compare themselves with judges and doctors. They are not concerned about the policy of the trade union movement which is aimed at-and has accepted-dampening of wages and accepting responsibility in contributing to the way in which the economy has to be revived. The trade union movement is concerned about the future of this country. The Australian Council of Trade Unions and affiliated unions are.

I think of Senator Chaney as a little boy with a box of matches being out in the bush and deciding to light a fire to warm himself. All of a sudden the whole bush is set on fire and everything is destroyed. I would like to see someone take that box of matches off Senator Chaney.

If one looks at the current industrial relations position, the way in which the unions are behaving and the response of some employers-and to a great extent even the collective employer organisations-it is obvious that employers do get the best they can out of the system, as do the trade unions. The difference is that the trade unions want to get the best out of the system for ordinary people who want a decent standard of living but who are quite prepared to contribute to the development and the creation of wealth so that they can have that standard of living.

The prices and incomes accord set the basis for that situation. Prior to the accord, during the last 18 months of the Fraser Government when there was a freezing of wages and prices continued to climb, there was a loss to workers of 9 per cent. In part the accord says that we should be given the opportunity to regain that 9 per cent. That has not happened to this stage. We have only attempted to keep up with inflation. That is something that could not have been achieved under a coalition government.

But what do we have in these circumstances? We have the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Chaney) coming in here with a proposition for even more draconian measures that will not work. We need to continue down the path that the current Government has set itself upon; that is, we need to be able to continue to negotiate with the unions about a wages system which has produced a situation in which wages have barely caught up with inflation.

We had a second tier wage set-up recently which involved a 4 per cent increase in wages. One of the things that went with the 4 per cent increase in wages was an increase in productivity. It might not have been about how many units went out at the end of the factory production line, but as a result of it agreements between the unions and the employers were changed so that the wage increase was neutral. People had to show that there had been a 4 per cent saving in costs to the employer in order to get the 4 per cent increase. That not only went towards labour costs; it went to other things that might have occurred.

One of the things that the 4 per cent exercise did-and the legislation Senator Chaney proposes will destroy that-was to develop to some extent trust and cooperation amongst employers. If someone amongst the employer organisations had suggested 10 years ago a similar proposition to that in which the 4 per cent increase was negotiated, he would have been committed to an institution. It would never have been considered possible. But here it is. Who suggested the method of productivity bargaining? The trade union movement did. It suggested that there should be an increase of 4 per cent but because of its agreement with the Labor Government and its desire to contribute to the economic benefit of this country-and that clearly shows its concern about the community-it suggested that proposition. In other circumstances it would have absolutely opposed such a thing and has done so down through the years.

So we had this different situation being developed, but being developed because of the initiative of the trade union movement-not because of the employers. Many employers grasped hold of it and sought a fair return. They paid the 4 per cent but they got a 4 per cent reduction in other areas which made the increase neutral. Other employers who were either greedy or stupid, or both, wanted a 10 per cent increase for a 4 per cent payment. Those employers disregarded what should have been a clear understanding: it was not just the 4 per cent; it was not just a negotiation; it was a question of developing trust that could be built upon to the benefit of both sides of any argument in the industrial relations field.

We are now entering upon the restructuring of awards. Again, that is something that people once would not have believed possible. I am a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. That Committee recently completed a report in relation to trying to reactivate the manufacturing industry, looking at import replacements and at getting into the export market. One of the things we found-and it is clear in the report-is that attitudes were tremendously important. We found that many of the attitudes that needed change were in management, not in areas of the workers or in areas of the unions.

We are now embarked on an inquiry into new management techniques. While I know I cannot say too much until the report has been handed down, certain matters have been raised and certain attitudes have been expressed in public hearings. That information is now the property of everybody in this country. It is very clear that the companies which are concerned about giving information to their employees, concerned about communications, concerned to listen to people and not just to say, `You are not paid to think; you are paid to do what you are told' are really achieving great benefits. I will not mention any names, but I recall one company that reduced costs by something like 25 per cent. In other areas, it increased productivity by 50 per cent. If we talk about productivity, the workers in that company would say that they wanted their share, namely, a wage increase of 50 per cent. That was not the result because in that company there had been very good consultation between management and labour. They agreed on a closed shop and they knew with whom they were dealing. In that way, good faith has been built up. As a result of increased productivity and reduced labour costs, the company could offer a lower tender price and get more work. That resulted in more exports and more opportunities for employment. That is what happened in that enterprise.

Senator Chaney may say that he wants to talk about the enterprise aspect. There is no problem with that, but when he tries to isolate those workers in those enterprises from their trade union, which broadly provides them with support and the sort of information they need to negotiate and to understand matters correctly and when he tries to cut off their right to pass on their experiences to others in the working and business community as to the way to go about these things, he has a problem because he does not at the same time suggest that the enterprise has no such right. Senator Chaney says that the metal trades employers and the Confederation of Australian Industry have that right, but he wants to cut off the rights of employees. That is just crazy.

I have said enough to inform people that what Senator Chaney is suggesting will not work. It is crazy to suggest that people can be bludgeoned and dragooned into not taking some action, because the difference between someone who can withdraw his labour, which after all is all he has to offer, and someone who cannot is the difference between freedom and slavery. We need to look at mutual benefit; we need to be able to talk together and to get away from the crazy `us and them' concept. The avoidance of that in some areas has meant that some people in other countries have been able to achieve the sort of prosperity that we have been unable to achieve. I agree with those things, but when we are developing better cooperation why would we use these methods? I suggest that we should not. Senator Chaney should reconsider his position and withdraw the legislation because it is ill-advised and it will not work.