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Tuesday, 14 June 1904

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - Before the honorable and learned member for Angas withdraws his amendment, I will ask him to consider whether it is really too wide. We are now dealing with a measure that affects every citizen in the community. The helpless man ought to be more dear to us than the man who can help himself. At anv rate, we should be careful not to thrust any disability upon him. But that is what we are going to do, if this clause is passed as it stands, without great care being taken to prevent the committee of management of an organization going to the Court on a matter on which the majority of the mem- bers of the organizations may be against them. Surely the majority of the members of an organization ought to be allowed to determine what they shall do. Who are the leaders of the organizations, and whenever have they exhibited such sense as should lead us to believe that they will fairly, represent the majority of their unions ? What have they ever done , for the advancement of the men whom they lead ? We know that they have clone much for their misery. Are the majority to rule or not?

Mr Hughes - Certainly, they are.

Mr CONROY - Then how dare we say that the majority shall not decide a matter like this?

Mr Watson - The Court will decide it.

Mr CONROY - How can the Court decide properly unless the reference to the Court has the approval of the majority of the members of the union? As the Bill at present stands, workmen who are outside the unions may not be able to get any employment whatever. They will become outcasts. Say that there are 100,000 men in the trades organizations throughout Australia, The vote of these men is not to be taken. A small minority of leaders for the time being mav decide whether they shall go to the Court or not.

Mr Johnson - Is there not a discretionary power given to the Judge to hear a case of that kind ?

Mr CONROY - How can he decide ? I quite agree with the honorable .member for Darling that there are difficulties in matters of this kind. But difficulties only exist for honorable members to overcome them ; and if the present difficulty is one which cannot be overcome, and the majority of the members of a trade cannot be ascertained, how dare any committee of management ask Parliament to pass a measure that would allow them to decide for the majority? The Bill provides that a common rule may be made, which will apply to every employe in the industry affected, throughout Australia. So that absolutely a small minority of men can cause the whole of the employes in an organization to be brought under that common rule. What does the honorable and learned member for Corinella think of that? Does he think that the minority of an organization ought to be allowed to take a dispute to the Court, which a majority, not only of that organization, but of the whole of the employes of the industry, might be against ?

Mr McCay - I merely pointed out that the amendment would not work.

Mr CONROY - That is a good reason for honorable members to apply their wits to devise some means by which it may be made to work. In ninety-nine industries out of a hundred it can be worked without the slightest difficulty. Is there any difficulty, in the coal-miners' organization in New South Wales, about consulting the majority of the employes?

Mr Webster - Yes.

Mr CONROY - It may be somewhat difficult, but it is done frequently. I remember an instance in which the Minister of External Affairs was engaged. The wharf labourers of Sydney were consulted as to whether their hours of work should be altered. According to "reports, three or four meetings were held, and at every meeting a different resolution was passed. The Employers' Federation agreed to the first alteration which the wharf labourers desired to make. Then a second meeting was called to confirm the resolution. But, lo and behold ! a different body of men attended, who entirely reversed the decision of the first meeting, and declared for a second alteration. That, again, was taken to the employers, who agreed to it. A third meeting was held, which altered what the second meeting had done; and after an animated discussion, the whole matter was left in the hands of the secretary of the union, who left matters exactly as they were. If this measure had been in operation, on the vote of the first meeting, a dispute might have been referred to the Court, although it by no means expressed the will of 'the majority of the employes. I mainlain that the opinion of the majority of the employes in any industry should be ascertained. If the decision of the Court is to bind the whole, why should not the majority be consulted? Suppose an honorable member represented 10,000 workmen who did not belong to unions. Would he consider it proper that the will of 100 workmen in the same trade should have the effect of taking a matter to the Court and establishing a common rule that would bind every one of the men? Under clause 48 the Court has power to direct that -

As between members of organizations of employers or employes and other persons offering or desiring service or employment at the same time, preference shall be given to such members, other things being equal.

That means that the men who are not members of organizations will not be consulted in any way. It is a very serious thing for Parliament to take upon itself to determine a matter of that kind, considering thai; probably in all the unions throughout Australia there are not 100,000 men.

Mr Hughes - There are 66,000 unionists registered in New South Wales alone.

Mr CONROY - Paid members?

Mr Watson - Yes; there are others not registered.

Mr Ewing - The number registered in New South Wales is 66,900.

Mr Watson - Those are registered under the Act, but there are many more.

Mr Ewing - There are 400,000 other workers.

Mr CONROY - Exactly ; so that one man in seven belongs to a union. The proportion of unionists in New South Wales is larger than in any' other State. Only one man in every seven belongs to these organizations, and the Committee is asked to say that the seventh man shall have the power to go to a Court that shall dictate to the other six men how they shall live. I hope that the other six men will wipe out the seventh man, and that if the seventh man will not allow them to live they will set aside Parliaments, and will not permit them to exist except in the Northern Territory, where all the land will be at their service, and where, if, as they say, labour is the only source of wealth, they will not disturb the rest of the community.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Fleming talks in that way.

Mr CONROY - It appears to me that he is thoroughly justified. If the seventh man tries through Parliament to prevent the other six men from obtaining a living, the latter have a right to turn round and say to him, " We shall deal with you in exactly the same way." If the seventh men were only to form themselves into industrial organizations for the purposes of industrial partnership or collective bargaining, they would be acting within their rights, and no' objection could be raised, but rather hope expressed, that such a state of affairs would continue, because it would bring about a truer system of contract between the two parties than would otherwise be possible. But when one man in every seven, having obtained certain power, coerce a great many other men into thinking that they are the only persons to be considered, it is high time for the six men to get up, and say what they think about the matter. Is it not a dreadful thing that, in what is called a democratic country, we should be putting out of consideration six men out of every seven, and only recognise organizations whose members have had the initiative drilled out of them to a certain extent ? It can be shown that the greatest rise in wages during the last century has not been obtained by trade organizations, but by those industrial classes which have had no organizations. In one case the increase has been perhaps over 200 per cent., while in other cases it has not exceeded 50 per cent. We should take good care that no organization is allowe'd to exist which places a limitation on the number of its members. If a hundred men like to come together and say, " We will not allow any one to enter our partnership," they can do so, but the moment they come to Parliament "and say, "We want power to prevent any one else from entering into our partnership," they ask for more than they should.

Mr Watson - The Government are with the honorable and learned member in that regard. I have announced that we shall take every step necessary to insure that the ranks of the unions shall be open to every person.

Mr CONROY - We ought to insist on some amendment of the sort being passed. The honorable member for Darling has shown that there are difficulties in the wav. but if he likes, let him pick out one or two industries, and we can make special exceptions in their favour. But where this opinion can be legitimately obtained, where the consequences may be so serious to other employes inthe industry who have no connexion with the dispute, surely the majority of the men should be consulted. What better instance could be given than the case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, where practically 100 members of an organization, not more than twenty of whom were financial, set up a dispute which affected the employment of 3,000 persons? In the case of the tanners' dispute, I know that many more men were desirous that it should not go before the Court than were desirous that it should. And in the case of the wool-scourers, the men engaged at Penrith earnestly prayed : o be kept out of the dispute. The rents of cottages are much less in the country than in the cities, and there are other advantages which render a lower rate of wages still more profitable. In fact, a rate of £2 5s. in one place is not so good as a rate of £2 in another place. There are instances of that kind to be found all over Australia, as the Minister of External Affairs is well aware.

Mr Hughes - The Court has power to vary an award.

Mr CONROY - Surely the Minister must see that the Court will not be able to keep on inquiring into these things. There is only one practical way in which to carry out this idea, and that is to do as was done in England once - to divide the country into districts, and legislate for them alone. The place in which the legislation existed would become deserted, while the place in which it did not exist would be resorted to by the people.

Mr Watson - That is not the experience of New Zealand. They are rushing in thousands to the place where this legislation does exist.

Mr CONROY - New Zealand would be enjoying a much greater degree of prosperity had no such legislation been passed, and I might mention that the rise in wages there has been infinitely greater in the agricultural industry, which has no union, and is not under the Act, than in any other. I submit that we ought to pass the clause in the form at first proposed by the honorable and learned member for Angas. It is perfectly clear that we ought to omit the words " without the approval of the President." Otherwise, what is the use of any of these safeguards at all ? Here we have three provisions to the effect that everything is to be certified to by the Registrar, and done as he may determine. If we require these things to be done, they must be done, and we should not allow any President, whoever he may be, to go outside the law. Schedule B of the Bill lays down the conditions to be complied with by an association applying for registration as an organization, and if we do not omit the words " without the approval of the President," we shall do away with that schedule; and that, I submit, we ought not to do. Another objection to the retention of the words is that it would allow the President of the Court to decide some matters on an ex' parte statement.

Mr Watson - He will not give a decision ; he will not award anything.

Mr CONROY - It might turn out that -the President would be misled, and that there was no true organization. The majority of the members of an organization might desire to withdraw; but the leaders would be very anxious to prevent them from doing so, and without any reference to the men they might rush on a dispute and secure the approval of the President before he knew what he was doing. During the whole of that time, not one of those men would be allowed to withdraw from the organization, or to discontinue his subscription, and that in the case of a number of poor men is a very important matter.

Mr Webster - The honorable and learned member has a wonderful imagination.

Mr CONROY - I am certain that there is a provision of that kind in the Bill. Some cases have been hung up in New South Wales for twelve months, and are likely to be hung up for another year. Under this Bill a man might be compelled to keep on subscribing for a couple of years after he wished to withdraw from the organization, and yet, in the face of that possibility, it is not proposed to take special care that the will of the majority shall be ascertained. I submit that there is no reason why it should not.

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