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Thursday, 17 May 1928

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And they would have the law behind them

Mr CHARLTON - Yes, to the detriment of the whole community.

Mr Latham - Only if the judge, in his discretion, declared that a lockout' or strike existed in the industry or in some section or part of the industry.

Mr CHARLTON - Of course.

Mr Latham - The honorable member's interpretation is not the natural meaning of the words, and is not intended to be the meaning.

Mr CHARLTON - That is the only interpretation to be placed on them. If the Attorney-General is going to run away from the facts, so much the worse. As the measure now stands, it would be possible to make application to any judge in Australia, and he would come to the conclusion that he would have to decide whether there was a strike in a portion of the industry, not in the whole of it. If he decided that there was, then the owners would be free to lock out the rest of the men. The result would be that we should go back to where we were before arbitration was introduced in the nineties. It would mean a return to direct action on the part of the employers. I suggest to the Attorney-General that, while the Government has not had sufficient backbone to repeal the Arbitration Court altogether, it has opened a door by which the principles of arbitration may be nullified. There is no escape from that conclusion. Only recently Mr. John Heine, president of the Metal Manufacturers' Association, said -

While the courts are in existence the employers are unable to fight; they are bound hand and foot, whilst the employees have all sorts of extra facilities for mischief.

In other words, this president of the Metal Manufacturers' Association invites the Government to give them a free hand. Well, they are getting it in this bill, so that they may be in a position to fight the employees. The statement continues -

Industrial arbitration has a beautiful ideal, and a righteous one. It was originally evolved to protect the workers who were unable to economically protect themselves, lt has done so. It has overdone it. It has pampered them so that they have become bowelless tyrants and unmitigated ruffians towards the industries from which they draw their sustenance.

I take exception to the language used in that statement. This man, and other members of his organization, will approach Parliament for protection for their industry, and yet the nien who have to work for them, whose assistance is essential for the production of the articles which they manufacture, are called unmitigated ruffians.

While the Government has not gone so far as to ask for the cancellation of the Arbitration Act, it has brought in a measure which will virtually have the same effect. The Prime Minister has not attempted to answer the criticisms levelled against the bill, but has attacked the Leader of the Opposition and other members on this side of the House, who have attempted to explain what the bill really means. Instead of answering the criticism, he has tried to smooth the matter over in his glib way by saying that the Government is desirous of promoting industrial peace. The Prime Minister has deliberately refused to take any steps in that direction, and now he brings down a bill of this kind, the effect of which will be to promote industrial strife and direct action. Then we shall be confronted, not with a Crimes Act as now, but with the military suppression of strikes as in years gone by. Let us consider the statement John Brown, to the effect that the mining industry should bc brought back to the conditions of 1914. The cost of living has increased by at least 60 per cent, since then ; but, in spite of that, he would have wages revert to the 1914 level. The mining industry is in a very bad way at present, and thousands of pounds are being spent in relief. So bad are the conditions on the coal-fields that Mr. Stevens, of the New South Wales Ministry, after a visit to Newcastle, has induced his Government to make available £600,000 to find work for the unemployed. Honorable members on the other side of the House claim that conditions on the coal-fields are due to the workers' own fault. Yet what does Mr. Stevens himself say? He is not a Labour representative, but a member of a Nationalist government. He says that the miners are not responsible; but that the slack conditions of the coal trade are due to the prominent part played by oil in reducing the consumption of coal by 300,000 tons a year. Further factors contributing towards dullness of trade are, he says, the development of hydro-electric schemes, the use of brown coal for the production of electrical energy, and the development of mines in South Africa, Burmah, Japan and China. These things have cut heavily into our foreign trade, and yet there are honorable members in this House who say that the depression is entirely due to the miners holding up production. The honorable member for Warringah said that the miners were responsible for all the trouble. I maintain that if any one thing was responsible for killing our foreign coal trade, it was the action of the Government during the war period in decreeing that not one ton of coal should be exported from Australia. In consequence of that, practically the whole of our foreign coal trade was lost; and it has never since been recovered. The mine-owners have been opening new mines, and equipping them with up-to-date machinery, so that at the present time from 2,500 to 3,000 tons of coal are being produced from one mine in 7% hours drawing. This gives an idea of the efficiency of the equipment, and of the workmen. More coal "has been produced than is required.

Mr HUGHES (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that a record for daily production?

Mr CHARLTON - I cannot say, but it is among the highest in the world. Now the mine-owners say that there mustbe a reduction in the wages of the workers. As the bill provides for taking economic conditions into consideration in making awards, lot the financial condition of the coal companies be dealt with so that arbitration may be placed on a proper footing. One mine, for instance, has one-third of its capital consisting of watered stock. The companies maintain that they must receive so much return on their invested capital, say 8 per cent., on £500,000, when actually no more than £300,000 has been invested. Yet there is nothing in this bill to deal with that, aspect of the situation. Surely it is fair for me to contend that a thorough investigation should be made' as to what is the genuine capital of the coal companies, as against their fictitious capital.

Mr Latham - Hear, hear!

Mr CHARLTON - The AttorneyGeneral agrees with me, but will he put a clause to that effect into the bill?

Mr Latham - It is there already.

Mr CHARLTON - Never in the history of the Arbitration Court has the economic problem been probed as to the relation of genuine to fictitious capital of trading concerns.

Mr Brennan - But the court will probe into what a girl pays for her frock.

Mr CHARLTON - Yes, it will do that, but it will not investigate the capital position of the companies. It should be clearly understood that while everybody who puts capital into a business is entitled to a fair return, companies should not be permitted to bleed the public. The Government is addicted to appointing commissions, and while I do not as a general thing approve of its policy in that direction, I think that it might with advantage appoint a commission to inquire into the ramifications of the coal trade, and its effect on the living conditions of the people. Perhaps something would be discovered which would enable the mining industry to be placed on a better footing whilst allowing the public to obtain cheaper fuel. I have heard honorable members on the other side say frequently that the miners alone are responsible for the bad condition of the mining industry. Let me tell them that the last three increases which have been made in the price of coal have taken place without the miners receiving a farthing advance in wages. While increases are being heaped on to the price of fuel, the owners are seeking to have the wages of the miners reduced to the 1914 level!

Mr Brennan - That, perhaps, is one of the economic realities that the honorable member for Warringah wants us to consider.

Mr CHARLTON - Perhaps so. Many of the miners have not averaged more thar two and a half days' work a week during the past two years, while others have been working only half time. If it were possible for us to secure cheaper coal by means of a re-organization of the industry, more fuel might be used, as the present high price is inducing manufacturers to employ other means for generating power. The miner receives only 5s. or 6s. a ton for hewing the coal which is sold in Newcastle for 22s. or 23s.

The Prime Minister had a great deal to say regarding the penalties provided in the bill. He said that the Leader of the Opposition and other speakers had not told the people of Australia that the penalties were no greater than previously, while in some cases they had been reduced. But the Prime Minister himself did not tell either the members of this House, or the people of Australia, that the penalties apply in a far greater degree than previously to the members of unions. Take, for instance, section 8 of the present act, which makes only the committee of management of an organization responsible for encouraging strikes, and compare it with the clause in the bill. In this measure, in addition to the committee of management, any person controlling an organization, or a branch of the same, or an officer of a branch, is also liable, if he orders, encourages, advises, or incites to a strike. The scope of the clause has been greatly extended, and in that respect the penalties apply more severely than before.

Mr Brennan - Under the present act, if a committee of management was able to show that it was not cognizant of the events forming the basis of the charge, its liability ceased.

Mr Scullin - Those words are to be cut out. by the present bill.

Mr CHARLTON - That is true, but the Prime Minister glossed over that matter, making it appear that the penalties are less than they were before. The effect of this will be to make organizations liable for any small sectional trouble which may break out amongst their members. In the mining industry, th<* workers are paid by results, which honorable members on the other side of the House are constantly telling us is the best system. While the miners are at the face they produce all that it is possible for human beings to produce in the time. The only return is starvation of the workers, and attempts by the employers to still further lower their conditions. If a little local trouble arises in one of -the mines, the whole organization of miners becomes involved and liable to the heavy penalties prescribed by this bill, which is much more drastic than the present act.

Mr Seabrook - It needs to be.

Mr CHARLTON - The honorable member is frank ; he does not try to cloak the intentions of the Government. The additional severe penalties prescribed by the bill will apply to the workers only.

Mr Gregory - Why?

Mr CHARLTON - Because the big employers do not belong to registered organizations.

Mr Latham - That' is why a special penalty is provided for individual employers under proposed section 6a.

Mr CHARLTON - No attempt .has ever been made to impose penalties on employers.

Mr Scullin - The president of the Employers' Federation may order a lockout, but he cannot be fined because his organization is not registered.

Mr Latham - He would be personally liable to a penalty of £1,000.

Mr CHARLTON - There is a distinction between an association and a registered organization. Throughout the Commonwealth only 27 small associations of employers are registered, as compared with 149 organizations ' of employees.

Mr Latham - I believe those figures to be substantially accurate, but some of the employers' organizations are very extensive.

Mr Blakeley - The only big one is the Pastoralists' Association.

Mr CHARLTON - The mine owners' associations are not registered.

Mr Latham - They are under the Industrial Peace Act, and this bill will not apply to them.

Mr CHARLTON - There are other associations that do not register and, therefore, will not be liable to penalties. No doubt the Attorney-General recognized after the bill was presented to the House that it was unfair, and for that- reason drafted an amendment of which he has given notice.

Mr Latham - I cannot think of any proposed amendment which supports what the honorable member is saying.

Mr CHARLTON - With the exception of the provision relating to conciliation committees, clause 16 is the only one that may serve some useful purpose. For years I have endeavoured to induce the Government to agree to a system of conciliation committees. On this subject I have interviewed the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister and I have discussed it in the House. But when honorable members on this side sought to have conciliation committees appointed under the Industrial Peace Act in order to afford a readier means of redressing grievances in the mining industry our request was refused. Had the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) continued Prime Minister those tribunals would have been created, because he offered no objection to them.

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