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Wednesday, 23 May 1928


Mr YATES (Adelaide) .- The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), has declared that our arbitration system is artificial. He should have got down to fundamentals and quoted a law which is not artificial in one form or another. Laws are made to govern communities, and without them a state of anarchy would prevail. Our arbitration laws were framed as a result of the experiences of those engaged in industry and those conversant with the requirements of the people. The honorable member declined to reply to a question put to him as to what would be the position of the people, if the just demands of employers and employee* were not considered. The honorable member could not reply to my question. He asserted that the Navigation Act, the tariff schedule, and the Conciliation and" Arbitration Act were three incubuses upon public life, and left us in no doubt whatever that if he could have his way they would be removed. I asked him what he would give us in their stead. H« replied that he would tell me a little later, but be did not do so. He then proceeded to deal with another aspect of the subject, and when I interjected, he told me that he intended to make his speech in hi3 own .way, and would not suffer dictation from me. I had no desire to dictate to the honorable member. I merely wished to get a clear understanding of his views. The honorable member had something to say about "clearing the debris," and observed that before a new structure could be erected the old one which cumbered the ground had to be removed. Unfortunately, he did not indicate the kind of new structure that he would erect.


Mr Mann - The honorable member could not have paid- much attention to my speech. .


Mr YATES - I asked the honorable member to be definite in order that he might make his meaning clear, not only to me, but to the general public. He did not do so. It is unfortunate for him that freetrade is about the only plank in his political platform. He said that the Chamber of Manufactures of South Australia desired the abolition of the Arbitration Court, and condemned our system of arbitration root and branch.

But how did we come to institute this method of controlling industry? It is the result of the influence of the Labour party in politics. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) told us that the first rule of the American Federation of Labour was "No party politics." His statement was approved by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster). But the Labour party is in politics in Australia because of suggestions made by our opponents during the great maritime strike of 1891. We were told then that if we were not satisfied with the conditions that existed we should enter political life with the object of altering them. That is how the political Labour party came into being. We realized that strikes involved our wives and children in a good deal of misery and suffering, and endeavored to find a better method of settling our disputes.

Honorable members opposite who have spoken so glibly about the effectiveness of the wages board system do not seem to realize that compulsory arbitration is a development of it. We have been told that the object of this bill is to make our arbitration machinery more effective. I do not think that that is the intention of the Government. Its desire is to make the system so unworkable that it will have good grounds for asking that it shall bc scrapped. If one listened only to the speeches which honorable members opposite are in the habit of delivering, one might be led to believe that Labour is indebted to its political opponents for every advantage that it enjoys. The fact is that Labour representatives in Parliament, and in industry generally, have had to struggle for many years to place upon the statute-book the measures which we now enjoy. Labour governments have been in power at different times in all the States of the Commonwealth, and also in the federal sphere; but even when they have been in the minority, they have been able to force their opponents to grant concessions which have improved the standard of living.

The wages board system of South Australia was granted grudgingly, and after much agitation. It was necessary that a. motion should be carried by both Houses of the State Parliament before a wages board could be appointed for an industry. Another evidence of the reluctance with which the Government of the day granted this measure of reform was that a provision was inserted in the act that wages boards could only be established for industries operating within a radius of 25 miles of Adelaide. That limit was fixed so that Gawler, which at the time was an important centre for the manufacture of locomotives, could not be granted wages boards. Yet honorable members opposite would have us believe that from the earliest days our opponents have been only too ready to set up wages boards to determine industrial conditions. It was a long time before the wages board system had general application. It took seventeen years for the system to apply to the industry in which I was engaged. After I left the factory in which I had been employed the employees went on strike for a week in order to obtain justice. At the end of that period the person who controlled the industry approached the Hon. R. P. Blundell, who at one time represented Adelaide in this

House, but was at that a time a member of the South Australian House of Assembly, with a view to having the wages board system applied to that industry. From that time that industry has had a wages board, although recently the employees gained an award from the Arbitration Court. I mention these things to show that what is asked for now has been tried. The arbitration system has grown out of the conditions that existed in industry in the past. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) said that the workers are penalizing industry. Seeing that the awards of the Arbitration Court are made by judges, and based on sworn evidence, I cannot understand his statement. Under the wages board system a matter is sometimes determined by the casting vote of an individual who is biased. I know what I am talking about, because I have been a member of a wages board.


Mr Makin - There is always the possibility of intimidation.


Mr YATES - That is true. Members of wages boards who represent the employees are not free to express themselves as they would like. They cannot speak plainly in the presence of their employers without jeopardizing their interests. But in the Arbitration Court the representatives of the employers meet on equal terms with the representatives of the employees. The real cause of the objection of the employers to the arbitration system is that under it the employees are not so liable to victimization as they are under other systems. The South Australian legislation governing wages boards provided that representatives of employees must be actually engaged in the industry, and have been so employed at least three months prior to their appointment to a wages board. Fortunately, when I was a member of a wages board, I had lately left the active work associated with the industry, and was, therefore, free to express my opinions without fear of victimization. The sole purpose of the insertion of that provision was to intimidate the employees. The representatives of the employees in the Arbitration Court are usually men with actual experience in the industry - not men brought in from outside. If honorable members opposite are successful in their attempt to scrap the arbitration system, are they willing for it to be supplanted by direct action?

We have made such progress in industry in this country that it is now too late to retrace our steps and go back to what some still describe as the " good old days." The Government's action in introducing this bill is in conflict with public opinion. The public generally believe that industry must be regulated, and that the worker has some rights. Do honorable members opposite say that the workers have taken more from industry than the employers have taken? It is not a question of whether industry can stand the strain which the payment of fair wages imposes upon it, but whether it can meet' an interest payment of £1,000,000 per week on the part of the Commonwealth.


Mr Watson - The amount is more than that.


Mr YATES - That interest has to be earned by the workers. Of all the members who have spoken in support of this bill not one has suggested that there should be any investigation into the amount of profits earned by an industry.


Mr Makin - Nor have they advocated the limitation of profits.


Mr YATES - The wages board system in South Australia precluded any investigation into the profits made by a business. Moreover, a wages board could not make an award which would place an industry in that State at a disadvantage compared with a similar industry in another State. There were all sorts of restrictions. But the Arbitration Court deals with questions in a different manner; its awards are made only after full evidence has been tendered by both sides.

Do honorable members opposite contend that the awards of the Arbitration Court are made without a proper investigation? When a union submits a plaint to the Arbitration Court it gives reasons in support of its claim. Generally, the case of the workers is put to the court by men engaged in the industry, so that the exclusion of lawyers from the Arbitration Court would not affect the unions very much.


Mr Makin - The unions would prefer their exclusion.


Mr YATES - The employers, having greater funds at their disposal, are generally represented in the court by the best advocates procurable. After hearing the representations made on behalf of both parties to a dispute, the judge arrives at a decision. Will any honorable member go so far as to say that the employees in industry should not receive reasonable treatment ?

The Government has now decided to attack the arbitration system. The workers have striven for arbitration, and they understand the system, but the Government has introduced the bill to restrict the operations of the court and to overload the act with amendments so as to make the present system inoperative, and, as the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) has suggested, to educate the public mind to the belief that there is only one thing for Australia, and that is to scrap the Arbitration Court. I do not know what may be in the mind of the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham), but if he expressed himself candidly he would say that that suggestion has a lot to do with the introduction of the bill.

Honorable members behind . the Government have spoken of reducing the cost of living and the cost of production, but they have not explained how this can be brought about other than through the Arbitration Court awards. It has been suggested that the hours of labour should be increased, and that payment should be by results, which really means the survival of the fittest in industry. The time has long passed, in Australia at least, for that system to be revived and made universal. It is not the custom nowadays to exact the last ounce of energy from a man for the least amount than can be paid to him. Some suggestion for reducing costs might well come from honorable members behind the Government. The majority of the workers to-day are on the basic wage. No one would suggest that there should not be a margin for skill. Honorable members opposite will not say straight out that the basic wage should be reduced; but the trend of their remarks is in that direction. At whose expense is the basic wage to be reduced?


Mr Nelson - It can be done under the provisions of this bill.


Mr YATES - I daresay, and perhaps it will; but at whose expense? Would it be in the interests of Australia to reduce our standard of living? I, for one, as a representative of the workers, would certainly not vote for a decrease in the basic wage, which' has been arrived at only after years of effort on the part of the workers. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said that he represented the workers, and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) insinuated that the Labour party had the interests of no other section of the community at heart. He endeavoured to place the Leader of the Opposition in a false position. We certainly represent the working class; but when measures of a non-party character are introduced which, in our opinion, make for the development of Australia, we are very pleased to support them. When the interests of those whom we represent are attacked, as they are being attacked to-day, we should not be worthy of our positions as the people's representatives in this chamber if we did not fight tooth and nail for them.

The Prime Minister has gone to some pains to convince the House that this bill is not an attack upon trade unionists. It would be absurd to expect anything else from him, but his assurance has been discounted by the utterances of his supporters. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) well summed up the position when he said- that the relations between employer and employee were ever-changing, and that an adjustment of the conditions between buyer and seller, whether of labour or of any . other commodity, would always be extremely difficult. He also stated that in the past the question of fixing prices and wages has always been one for the employers, and he made a partial reference to the tyranny which used to be practised by them in their unbridled strength. No thought was given for the employee except to get as much out of him for as little outlay as possible. His physical condition was no concern of theirs. It did not matter to them what hovels the workers were housed in, and oftentimes they had . barely room to work. It is not difficult to carry our minds back to the days when our women-folk worked under sweating conditions. Since then we have evolved our present system of arbitration. Australians will never countenance a return to the conditions that prevailed in the past.

If this Government went to the country and fought the elections on the issue of this bill, I am quite satisfied that it would be defeated. The workers have gained many advantages through Labour in politics. At one time an honorable member supporting the Government stated that all that the workers held that was worth having had been given to them by the Nationalists. He referred particularly to our educational system. I remember the time the Hon. Thomas Price, then Labour Premier of South Australia, was endeavouring to make compulsory education more effective, and the Hon. John Darling, who was head of the Liberal party in that State, said boldly and without reservation, "If you educate all the workers, who will do the dirty work?"


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -. - I have never heard that before.


Mr YATES - The remark will be found in the records of the South Australian Parliament, and it shows that the conservative element was not so desirous of giving increased advantages to the workers as honorable members opposite have claimed. In more recent times a prominent New South Wales Nationalist - I think Sir William McMillan - made the callous statement that marriage was a luxury for the workers, and industry should not be called upon to pay the incidental cost.


Mr Bell - He could not be called a Nationalist.


Mr YATES - He was one of the honorable member's crowd; he certainly was not a worker. Men of his class are never seen wearing bowyangs. A " Sir " is never seen at the business end of a shovel. The times are not long past when children slaved in factories under appalling conditions, and when all workers had inadequate space for their employment, and lived in dirty, illlighted, and ill-ventilated hovels. To-day factory buildings compulsorily conform, to the requirements of modern hygiene; but I am afraid that the cost will be included in the economic effects which are to be considered by the court in making an award.


Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - Surely that is governed by the Shops and Factories Act, and cannot be altered by any judge?


Mr YATES - That is so ;. but the cost has to be paid by the boss from the proceeds of his industry, and this outlay will be considered amongst the economic effects of awards. At one period not many years ago the whole penalty of an accident or misadventure fell on the worker; the boss had no liability and no concern in it beyond getting another man to take the place of the one who had been injured or killed. Presumably the provisions of the Workers Compensation Act will be taken into account as an " economic effect." Honorable members opposite may ridicule that suggestion, but I recollect that when the Prices Regulation Commission was taking evidence in New South Wales in 1915 one witness included in his production costs a donation of £250 to the War Chest Fund. Under cross-examination by the commission he said that other business men subscribed to the fund, and he, therefore, was obliged to do so; the obligation was one which would not have fallen on him if he had not been in business. The evidence I heard at that time convinced me that every item of expenditure, including taxation and all other charges upon the owner, is included in the cost of production, and will be covered by the term " economic effects." Thus the liabilities of the boss in respect of his employees under the Workers Compensation Act will be taken into account by the court when making its awards.

Much has been said about extremists, and the trouble they cause, but the conditions that preceded the development of unionism are forgotten. I do not justify the actions of men who are never satisfied, and are always looking for grievances. Such persons are found in every section of society; no matter what conditions are prescribed some people will always be dissatisfied.


Mr Bell - Those are the people with whom we want to deal.


Mr YATES - The bill might not be so objectionable, if it dealt specifically with individuals; but it is so comprehensive in its scope that it will apply to the innocent and probably allow the guilty to escape. The bill should be made more specific, as to the persons whom it is proposed to prosecute. I suggest that in the trades unions the extremists do not, in the main, occupy official positions.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Some of them are occupying official positions.


Mr YATES - There may be one or two, but this is a drag-net measure which includes everybody, while not specifically mentioning any one. As to the employers, it would be the hardest thing in the world to prosecute any of the extremists in their ranks under this bill.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It would be quite easy to do so.


Mr YATES - It has not been done up to the present, and it will not be done under this measure. This bill is obviously directed against the workers' wages and conditions. That is evident from the remarks made by honorable members on the other side. Nothing is said about the enormous profits that have been made out of industry. My friend opposite cannot deny that such profits have been made, because if he did, he would deny the statistics prepared by the Commonwealth officials. Never was there so much accumulated wealth in the country as now, nor have there ever been such large bank deposits. ?


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The bank deposits are largely the savings of the workers.


Mr YATES - There are two kinds of bank deposits, and the amounts deposited in the trading banks have gone up by more millions during the last few years than they increased by thousands during a similar period prior to 1915.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But not out of proportion to the savings bank deposits. _


Mr YATES - Yes, out of all proportion. But even if they had not, it would merely prove that industry has not lost as a result of the arbitration system, but is giving the workers something, as well as giving the bosses millions more than they ever received before. -Labour has no need to apologize for its conduct of industrial affairs. I have a very keen recollection of the~ early industrial days in Australia. One honorable member on the other side who spoke against the bill never, I think, did a hard day's work in his life. When he was speaking on some aspects of industry he showed a woeful lack of knowledge. I do not think that he ever worked for a wage, or that he was ever what is called a "wage plug," such as those who worked year in year out on low wages and with no holidays.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member surely does not suggest that any one wants to get back to those conditions.


Mr YATES - I do suggest it. I say that this bill was fashioned with that end in view. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) said that he would wipe out the compulsory arbitration system altogether, and the Navigation Act as well.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But this bill does not propose to wipe out the arbitration system.


Mr YATES - No, it only makes it impossible for the arbitration system to be carried on. The honorable member for Perth is anxious to wipe out the system, and that opinion is held, I think, by most members on the other side of the House.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member for Perth is the only one who has said so.


Mr YATES - The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said the same thing by implication. He said that our arbitration system was antediluvian, and should be brought up to date. He went further, and said that the compulsory arbitration system held this country in shackles, and asked what comfort it was to those who were unemployed to know that there was a high standard of living if they were not able to enjoy ft. New Zealand and Australia were the first two countries in the world to adopt this system, and later, he said, New Zealand was forced to scrap the arbitration system and go back to conciliation. Even with that he was not satisfied. Though very few honorable members opposite are game to say that they are against the arbitration system, they recognize that this bill will, if passed, destroy it, and therefore they are in favour of the measure.

The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) told the House how impotent this bill would be to do the things claimed for it by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said in regard to the British seamen's strike that the threat of gaol held no terrors for the workers when their economic existence was in danger. It is not possible to gaol men by the thousand; it is too big a proposition. If what is proposed in this bill is put into operation, there is a possibility that the general public will be stampeded into the belief that it really is arbitration which is bringing about unemployment and industrial unrest. I believe that those who evolved the bill were actuated, not by any desire for industrial peace, but rather by a desire to discipline the workers by means of the hob-nailed boot and the big stick, as suggested by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). History shows us that it is not possible to dragoon the workers and flog them into submission by the exercise of powers such as this bill would provide. The honorable member for Barker says that no one wants to get back to the "good old days'"' Mr. John Brown, thecoal baron, says straight out that he wants to get back to the good old days, and to the conditions which prevailed in 1914. He wants to return to' such conditions as will enable him to sell his coal for 8s. 6d. a ton. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. M. Cameron) also knows very well that Sir Henry Barwell fought an election on the slogan "Wages must go down," and " We must get back to the good old days of the law of supply and demand, and of freedom of contract." The honorable member for Darwin says, by interjection, that Sir Henry Barwell does not now count for much. I suggest that he counts to a considerable extent with the section which he represents. The main thing that was considered wrong with Sir Henry Barwell was that he spoke as he thought, which cannot be said of many people. The reply that he gave to the Chamber of Commerce which entertained him in 1922 - and he would say the same thing to-day in similar circumstances - was -

The Arbitration Courts and the arbitration laws stand right in the way. By various awards the Arbitration Courts have said what shall be the basic wage for various industries and what marginal differences shall be paid, and those awards stand regardless whether or not the industries concerned can pay them. The industries have either got to pay them or to close down. For an employer to pay less is an offence: for an employee to take less is an offence. Bach case is subject to a heavy penalty.

At that time there was a great deal of unemployment, and the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) had called what he termed a " peace " conference, just as the present Prime Minister is doing today. It was in discussing that proposal that Sir Henry Barwell made the statement I have just quoted.

This bill is an attempt to make the Arbitration Court worse than useless - to make it anathema to the workers - so that it will merely stand in the way of a peaceable solution of existing difficulties. Let the Prime Minister take his courage in both hands and get down to the root of the trouble. The Government is introducing clauses that will make the bill inoperative, and arbitration will have to be scrapped. Honorable members opposite want to get back to the " good old days " of the law of supply and demand, of the right to use the black list on the worker, of the right to have individual bargaining and to victimise men who endeavour to get out of the economic slough into which they have been precipitated. When the public has details of the general discussion that has taken place on this measure it will be convinced that the bill is a mere subterfuge, and an attack upon trade unionism. Industrial peace can be obtained only when the worker participates in the correct ratio in the profits of industry. I admit that the worker has reaped a wonderful advantage from the Arbitration Court, and I am prepared to stand for it as it is, but not as the Government propose to amend it. When a Labour Government occupies the Treasury bench it will incorporate provisions in the act to enable an investigation to be made into the affairs of capitalized industry.


Mr Bell - That will be too late for the present-day worker.


Mr YATES - I admire the optimism of the honorable member, but it will not be many years before my forecast is consummated. The honorable member must realize that he is not here because of the policy of his Government, but because of the hysteria that took possession of the country at the time when he was elected. However, that cock will not fight too often. Our arbitration law now provides for a basic wage.What becomes of the unfortunate basic wage earner when he suffers misadventure? Then he is scarcely able to exist, proving that he is not getting sufficient out of industry, even with the assistance of an arbitration court. The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has been twitted about saying that the present effective wage is 5 per cent, less than it was in 1922. We are now undergoing a period of depression, but production is still plentiful, and a good deal of wealth is being taken out of industry by capitalists. It is unfair to make the allegation that the claims of workers before the Arbitration Court afford the reason for any existing depression, and to attack trade unionism by the introduction of this bill. Let the Government act fairly. Let it look into the cost of production and the cost of living by first examining the bank balances of the big industrial concerns. It will not be, because the opportunity lay at hand during the war for the exploiter to exploit the "bleeding nation." I am reminded by an interjection that wages have been chasing the increased cost of living, but wages have not been able to get abreast of it because those who are in the position to manipulate the industries and the production of this country are too cunning to allow any act of any workers to prevent them from making big profits. Quite recently we heard Sir Henry Barwell declare that wages and prices must come down, and only to-night the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) declared that rents must come down. How does he propose to bring rents down? Fair rent courts are anathema to the honorable member and his friends. But let the honorable member, who knows thousands of rentlords, ask them to come together in a peace conference with the idea of reducing rents. Let him go further. Let him get all the bosses together so that they may declare, "We have more than we ought to have. It is a fair thing to give some of it to our employees." Let him get the pastoralists together so that they may declare how they bled the nation during the war. What were the words of the late Senator E. D. 'Millen, as recorded in Hansard? He said, " I grew a little wool, and if I got 6d. per lb. for it I thought I was getting a good price; when I got 8d. per lb. I began to fancy myself; but I never dreamt of getting1s. 31/2d. per lb for it." The price of wool is now 3s. and 4s. per lb. Yes, let us get the woolgrowers together, and find out what their position is to-day compared with what it was prior to the war. Let us get all the manufacturers, the- farmers, and the rentlords together at a peace conference so that, for the sake of the community, they may call a halt in their profit-making.


Mr Prowse - Would they attend such a conference?


Mr YATES - The honorable member would have to drop a little of his " pile." I guarantee that if he found a stray farm in Western Australia at a price that suited him, although he is already gorged with land, he would buy it. But if awages board should seek to determine what he should pay his jackeroo,he would say, " You are ruining me, I cannot afford to pay that wage." Let the honorable member start with himself. In fact, I would say to honorable members on the Government side generally, " Start with, yourselves." The worker has to go before a judge and justify his claim for a better wage before he can get it, but the merchant and big business man can" slug " the community, and the community has no say. When honorable members talk about giving the general public a chance, let them make some attempt to bring down prices so that the worker can say,. " These chaps are trying to be a little honorable."







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