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Wednesday, 30 May 1928

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- One cannot but admire the dexterity with which the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) is handling the bill. He is endeavouring to give effect to the wishes of the employers in Australian industries, and at the same, time to prove to the people that the bill is an impartial instrument designed to bring about peace in industry. Up to the present he has displayed marked ability, only tripping here and there, and blundering now and again in his statement of the case. When he fails in logic he ascends to the higher atmosphere of the High Court of Australia where only he and his colleagues in the legal profession may go. We laymen may look at them and read what they say, but we cannot understand. On two previous occasions to-day the AttorneyGeneral disappeared into High Court realms where no lay member may go. He made a fairly long speech in introducing the bill. In the course of his remarks he stated that the object of the measure was to bring about industrial peace in Australia. He went on to say that no one believed that this desirable state of affairs could be achieved by legislation only, and that we must rely upon the will of the employers and employees to work together in harmony to keep the wheels of industry going. Throughout his speech the Attorney-General stressed the necessity for industrial peace in Australia, and that there may be peace in industry, and the wheels of industry be kept going, he has incorporated these provisions in the bill. The act which is amended by this measure contains sections of a punitive character, designed to prevent strikes. The fines that have been referred to on many occasions are heavy, and, in the present act, range from £10 to £1,000. In the bill there are nine new sections which provide for penalties from £20 to £100. One of the clauses of the act is also enlarged, and, with the exception of two of the proposed new sections, all are directed towards penalizing the worker for participating in strikes. I grant that the bill does pretend to deal impartially with both employers and employees; but the section which we are now considering puts the acid test on the sincerity of those sponsoring the hill. This section would make legal that which is specifically declared to be illegal in the other sections contained in the 'bill. It would place a weapon in the hands of the employers which could, and I have no doubt would, be used harshly and vindictively. The Attorney-General, in his second-reading speech, dealt with the matter of lockouts in the following terms : -

The result is that some unions operate deliberately upon the policy of the double chance. They rely on arbitration when it suits them to do so, and they strike when arbitration does not suit them, knowing that they are reasonably safe in so doing.

That is one of the many more or less wild statements which characterized the honorable gentleman's speech. It embodies also the line or argument which has been followed by almost every honorable member on the Government side. Many wild statements have been made in regard to sectional strikes and so-called job control, but in the whole course of the debate only one specific case was mentioned. I do not propose to enter into the merits or demerits of the engineers' dispute further than to say that I know something about it, and I am quite satisfied that the employees were, to some extent, justified. The alleged job control was exercised in only three establishments, and assuming that the merits of the case lay with the employers, that would not justify such extreme legislation as is now proposed. The Attorney-General would find it very difficult to quote half a dozen instances of sectional strikes or job control.

Mr Brennan - And even if he could, it would not justify this section.

Mr BLAKELEY - Even if he could quote a large number of sectional strikes, it would not justify making one portion of thebill, do that which nine-tenths of the bill is ostensibly designed to prevent. A pamphlet has been issued by the Metal Trades Employers' Asspciation, of O'Connellstreet, Sydney. It was in the workshops of these metal trades employers that the engineers' dispute took place. If the statement made by Mr. John Heine, junior, who is president of that organization, may be taken as representative of the opinion of other members, it is evident that the Metal Trades Association is opposed to compulsory arbitration, and would prefer to go back to the system of conciliation. Mr. Heine made the following comment: -

The compulsory arbitration system has not prevented strikes, but it certainly has prevented lockouts. The courts were quick to notice that, in the case of strikes, the employers have always worked within the Constitution and abided by the law, and have not attempted to retaliate by a general closing down of the workshops.

Later, he says practically the same thing as the Attorney-General said in his second-reading speech when referring to the engineers' dispute. In the metalliferous industry of Australia, copper, silver, lead, and gold mines have been closed down, though we suspect that in some cases, judging by the profits made in ' the past, the mines could have been kept working. The law of the country, however, permits the employers to close the mines. In Broken Hill three mines were closed recently, and there is no law in existence which can compel any of the mines there to continue working. In any one of the mines which are still working some petty dispute might occur. It might be in a small mine, or among a section of the workers in a large one; but if, on the application of some person or organization, the court makes a declaration that a strike exists - and it is not difficult to prove that the men are not working - all the mines in Broken Hill could be closed down, and all the miners thrown out of employment. If the section were so designed as to be fair in its operation something might be said for it; but it does not cut both ways. Contrary to the statement of the Attorney-General, it is not an easier matter to prove a lockout than a strike. Employers these days do not lockout; there is no necessity for them to do so. A large manufacturing concern may declare that it wishes to re-organize its business, and in order to do so, proposes to close down for a period. This was done in the case of the Ford works when they started to produce the new model, and it has been done by the same company on previous occasions. All the employers have to do is to post a notice on Friday or Saturday that the works will be closing down indefinitely, and there is no law to prevent their closing. It is merely a matter of finding an excuse, and it would be extremely difficult for the union concerned to convince the court that the employers were not justified in taking such a step. It is not necessary for an employer, who wishes to bring about an alteration in working conditions, to say that he proposes to lock his men out. He need only close down his works, and then intimate to the employees that they may apply for work under altered conditions. I am satisfied that the allusion in the report of the Metal Trades Employers Association to strikes and lockouts has some relation to this secton as presented by the Attorney-General. I am sure that the influence of the employers - the vindictive intolerance of many, and the narrowness of others - has had its effect in the framing of this bill. I am not going to accept the idea that the bill is the spontaneous production of the AttorneyGeneral or of the drafting officers. Its main principles originated with the employers' associations, including such organizations as the Metal Trades Employers Association, which, as we have seen, has propounded views which are narrow, vindictive, and short-sighted.

Mr Latham - That statement to which the honorable member has made reference opposes the provisions of this bill, and was issued after the bill was presented to the House. As a matter of fact, it asks Parliament to throw the bill out.

Mr BLAKELEY - Perhaps ; but it is significant that the point of view of that organization is just as narrow as that of the framers of this measure. This body thinks that its members will be far better off untrammeled by the provisions of a Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The bill proposes to give certain things to the employers which they never had before, and it imposes on the workers restrictions to which they were never previously subjected. It was left to the AttorneyGeneral and the Bruce-Page Government to bring down this piece of proposed legislation, which, I am quite sure, will kill arbitration in this country if ever the court attempts to apply it. No law can be administered unless it has the approval of the people. There are, in Australia, close upon 900,000 trade unionists. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) pertinently remarked that, if the Attorney-General was enamoured of the secret ballot, he challenged him to submit this proposal to a secret ballot of the trade unionists of this country. I am sure that they would not accept the principles of this bill, and if that is the case the measure is of no value. The Attorney-General has stressed his desire for industrial peace; but I point out that that object cannot be attained by provisions such as those contained in the present and following clauses. If the Government desires industrial harmony, it cannot obtain it by handing a big stick to the employers to enable them to take vindictive action against the workers.

Mr Prowse - Why did not the unions meet the employers in a friendly way, when invited to co-operate in a movement to bring about industrial peace ? .j

Mr BLAKELEY - The honorable member refers, I assume, to the Prime Minister's invitation to the trade unions. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is truly representative of the workers of Australia.

Mr Latham - Including the Australian Workers' Union?

Mr BLAKELEY - No. There are exceptions, and one is seen in the case of the marine cooks' strike. From the time the Australian Council of Trade Unions began negotiating in that matter, the position has become infinitely brighter than it was before. Apart from the marine cooks, there are other unionists who will not affiliate with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and that, of course, is to be expected. Even in the ranks of the Government supporters we find, from time to time, men like the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), who refuses tobe dragged at the heels of the Prime Minister and his Government. Even in the- best regulated political parties, break-aways occur; but, generally speaking, the Government is truly representative of the wealthy classes and the employers of this country. Similarly the Australian Council of Trade Unions is truly representative of the great majority of the trade unions of Australia, and it will, no doubt, be compelled to take action if the punitive provisions of the bill are brought into operation. Visualize the engineering industry of Australia, and the result that the harsh arid vindictive provisions of this bill would have upon it. The outcome of any attempt to administer such laws would simply be a general strike. Take the Australian Workers' Union, which is not affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, but which, of course, is working under an award of the Federal Arbitration Court. If action were taken against that organization or any of- its members, a general upheaval would occur in the pastoral industry throughout Australia.

Mr Fenton - Although the dispute might be confined to one shearing shed.

Mr BLAKELEY - That is so. That might be described as drawing a fairly long bow, but it would be possible for it to occur. If a strike took place in a. shed in which 20 of 30 men were employed, it would be competent for a neighbouring pastoralist to approach the court and ask for a declaration that a strike existed in the -industry. If it could be proved that a strike had occurred - and it would be an easy matter to do that - the court would thereupon declare that a strike existed in a section of the industry. That would enable the whole of the employers in that industry throughout the State to lockout their employees, and so the trouble could extend throughout the Commonwealth.

Mr Mackay - Only by permission of the court.

Mr BLAKELEY - The whole procedure would be easy under the bill. The court, upon evidence being submitted to it, would declare that a strike existed in the industry, or in some section or part of it. No matter how infinitesimal that section or part might be, the existence of a strike could be declared, and thus the employers would be enabled lawfully to create a lockout in the industry. Only one case has been cited in support of the proposed new section, and that is the job control strike among the engineers in Sydney. Does that case justify the enactment of a provision with such farreaching consequences to the workers of this country as that contained in this clause? The proposal is consistent with the rest of the bill, in that it aims at imposing hardships and penalties upon the employees. It would inflict conditions on the workers that are not imposed by any other legislative enactment in Australia. The Government seeks to hand a weapon to the employers; but it will prove useless, because no government could administer a measure of this character. If the Ministry attempted to enforce it, the gaols would soon be full, and there would be such an outcry against the measure that the government would be compelled to repeal it or let it remain in abeyance. V arious State governments have set out in the past with high hopes of being able to enforce coercive legislation, but their efforts have met with failure. It was found that the Wade Coercion Act, and the Irvine Coercion Act could not be administered, and I do not think that the present Government will be foolish enough to attempt to administer this proposed law.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment (by Mr. Latham) proposed -

That, after the word " may ", sub-section 3, tlie following words be inserted - " if it thinks fit in all the circumstances of the case ".

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