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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4459

Senator PARER (10.35 p.m.) —I would like to comment on this amendment from the government and reinforce the remarks made by Senator Crane and Senator Chapman. It seems to me to be introducing legislation which is a throwaway, like Marie Antoinette's `They haven't got bread. Let them eat cake'. The government has introduced the right to strike and someone has said, `Well, there's another side to that coin. Why don't we throw the employers the right to lockout?'.

  Senator Chapman raised the question of lockouts. Lockouts have not been a feature of industrial relations in this country. I can recall reading left-wing trade union papers some years ago that said that one of the worst things that an employer could do was lock out. We can hark back to examples in history. I might be wrong, but I have an idea that the miners reckon the 1949 coal strike, where Chifley put the troops in, was a lockout. To the union movement, this was the equivalent of scab labour. That was the sort of ferocity with which they looked at lockouts.

  I ask the parliamentary secretary—because it was raised by Senator Chapman—just how many lockouts have been recorded by the Department of Industrial Relations over the past 10 years. Senator Sherry said that strikes have diminished. I might be wrong, but it is my understanding that there are still something like one million man days lost in strikes in this country.

  The purpose of this bill, supposedly, is to encourage enterprise agreements. That means agreements at the enterprise level, whether they be with people who are members of recognised unions or people who are not members of recognised unions. There is no doubt that, once we start to introduce a bill or an amendment like this which gives various rules and regulations regarding lockouts, we will have lockouts where we have never had them before because they will be legal. On 72 hours notice it is possible to have a lockout. What that will do for employer-employee relationships boggles the mind.

  I think everyone would agree—I have even heard people on the other side say it—that we need a more cooperative framework for industrial relations in this country. We need an attitude similar to the attitude of the successful countries in South-East Asia: for example, the very well-known attitude in Japan where there is a recognition between employees and employers that if the company is successful so too will be the employees and that if the company is not successful people's jobs are at risk.

  As Senator Crane said, it entrenches the them and us position—`East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet'. We do not want that. No-one wants that. Yet it goes down the line of the ACTU because the ACTU and the trade union movement have a vested interest in maintaining that split between the two. They would like the people who work for companies to believe that they are employed simply because of their union membership, not because of the fact that they work for someone who has made an investment and who wants to have a cooperative work force which is to the benefit of all concerned. I would be interested in the figure, if the parliamentary secretary could get it for me from the department, of just how many lockouts there have been over the last 10 years.

  The other thing that concerns me about this amendment—there is a complete section on it—is in regard to immunity from civil liberty, which means that we entrench the right to strike and the right to lockout under certain conditions. There is talk about a bargaining period. When written notice may be given before the start of the bargaining period of either a lockout or a strike, whatever it might be, it seems to be open ended.

  I would have thought that when framing industrial relations policy for any country, we would look at those countries whose policy has been successful as compared with those where it has not been successful. A classic example is the United States system at the time of the end of three-year agreements. It is not unusual to find that there is either a six-month strike or a six-month lockout or a combination of both, which is not to the advantage of the business, or to the employees, or to the country as a whole. It would be particularly disadvantageous for a country such as Australia with our high unemployment and our current account deficit continuing to run at an enormous deficit to go down that track. I fear that we will follow the United States line, which is not the one to follow in this particular instance.

  It would surely be more productive if we were to follow the Japanese line. It is not that we should copy anyone in particular, but when we look at other countries and see what they have done we look to see why they are successful. It is not a matter of union bashing because those countries which are successful have company based unions. They are all working towards a common cause.

Senator Margetts —Those companies often give jobs for life. That is not what you are advocating.

Senator PARER —I am pleased to have that interjection from Senator Margetts who said that those companies would often give jobs for life. Nothing would give employers in this country more pleasure than to be able to offer people jobs for life. If we have a successful and productive work force, people will have jobs for life. I do not know any company that does not have the ambition to grow, to become more successful, to become more productive and to employ more people. It is the natural nature of man and woman; satisfaction comes from growing and becoming successful. It used not to be the case in this country. I can recall complaints being made in the 1960s that people often stayed with one organisation too long and that they became entrenched and narrow and that it would have been better if they had done a little swapping and switching. That just shows us how things change.

  I ask the minister how many lockouts there have been. I think it is important that we know. It is a throwaway bit to say, `Let's appear to be even-handed'. My concern is that we are going to introduce something into the industrial relations scene which has not been a feature of Australian industrial relations. Leaving aside all the other bad things that have happened with industrial relations in this country, one thing we have not had is a history of lockouts.