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Thursday, 7 June 1928

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) . - I wish to congratulate the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) for having taken some interest in this measure. He has indicated that he has made himself acquainted with some of the provisions of the bill, and that is more than can be said of some of the members behind the Government.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They are mere cogs in the party machine.

Mr CHARLTON - That is my impression, with the exception perhaps of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the honorable member for Wannon. I am prepared to support the amendment, but at the same time I wish to point out that it does not go far enough. In addition to paragraph b, paragraphs c and d should be deleted; in fact, the whole clause should be negatived. The existing provision is quite sufficient for all purposes. The Attorney-General has spoken on two or three occasions, and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) seemed to be a little annoyed because of the interjections. As a matter of fact the Attorney-General has not yet explained the position in respect of the penalties which are to be imposed upon the organization for the act of an individual member.

Mr Latham - I have spoken on the point on three occasions.

Mr CHARLTON - The AttorneyGeneral has endeavoured to justify his attitude by quoting supposititious cases. Last night he talked about a shadow committee which Senator Sir George Pearce, the Leader of the Government in another place, had mentioned to him, probably at a Cabinet meeting. There has been no concrete evidence of such a thing happening in the history of arbitration. Surely a responsible Minister of the Crown should not make statements that have no foundation !

Mr Latham - Does not the honorable gentleman understand that those things to which I have referred may be done, and, in that case, this clause, if amended as is proposed, would be rendered ineffective ?

Mr CHARLTON - The AttorneyGeneral has stated that these things have happened.

Mr Latham - That is so.

Mr CHARLTON - Why not give us some evidence of that?

Mr Latham - It would be quite immaterial to the point that I am making, and I am not going to revive the embers of dead disputes for no practical purpose.

Mr CHARLTON - That is an easy method of getting out of a difficult position. It is playing the game very low to place that kind of argument before the Committee. The clause provides for penalties to be imposed upon an organization for an action of a member of the committee of management of the organization, or of a branch of the organization. Paragraph c relates to any body of persons controlling the organization or a branch of the organization, and paragraph d to an officer of the organization or a branch of the organization. Does the Attorney-General or any other honorable member contend that an organization should be penalized simply because an officer connected with a section of that organization has acted in a manner to be construed as being in the nature of inciting to strike.

Mr Theodore - He may merely give advice to the members of the organization.

Mr CHARLTON - Does the AttorneyGeneral consider that, in that case, the organization should be considered guilty and be fined?

Mr Latham - Yes.

Mr CHARLTON - Then we can say good-bye to arbitration.

Mr Latham - That has been the law, so far as the officers of organizations are concerned, ever since 1920.

Mr CHARLTON - No penalty has been imposed under the law as it now stands in the case of a union not being cognizant of the action of its officers. What is an organization? It is a registered body with many branches, which may extend throughout Australia. Every branch would have a separate committee of management and a separate set of officers. If one of those officers does something that can be construed to be an act of incitement to strike, then the organization may, under this provision, be adjudged guilty, and liable to a heavy fine.

Mr Nelson - Notwithstanding the fact that the executive may have condemned the action of the officer.

Mr CHARLTON - In many cases the executive would have no knowledge of the actionsof its officers. What would be the use of appealing to the court? The case would be heard, not before the Arbitration Court, but probably before a police magistrate. If the law provides that an officer of the organization - it may be the secretary or the president of a branch of the organization - who has done something in the nature of inciting men to strike shall be liable to a penalty, as provided for in this clause, the magistrate must find on the evidence, and if the officer is guilty, then the organization may be fined £1,000, or £100 if the officer is expelled from the organization.

Mr Latham - That is the maximum penalty.

Mr CHARLTON - The penalty under the law as it exists to-day is quite sufficient; if the organization infringes the law, it is liable to certain penalties. That was provided for to make arbitration compulsory as far as possible. But we are now getting beyond that stage. It has been shown clearly during this debate that the employers have been responsible for the drafting of this measure. Their representatives have been seen in the vicinity of the chamber.

Mr Maxwell - Have not the employees' representatives been in close touch with the Opposition?

Mr CHARLTON - That is not the question. I have not seen one.

Mr Latham - I have seen several, and they have interviewed me. I have no objection to being interviewed by representatives of either side.

Mr CHARLTON - I have no doubt that men are fully justified in coming here to look after their own interests, but the fact of the employers'" representatives being here, in addition to the statements that have been made in their behalf in the different States, shows clearly that a determined effort is being made to abolish compulsory arbitration. The Victorian Chamber of Manufactures is against arbitration altogether, and desires the Government to repeal our arbitration laws. In Sydney recently a gentleman representing the Metal Trade Employers' Association declared that arbitration should be wiped out. Then again we have statements such as that made last week by the Chairman of the Newcastle Chamber of Manufactures that the condition of the workers will have to be broken down by degrees. There is no doubt whatever that the object of this bill is indirectly to rob the workers of the conditions which they have won through the medium of industrial arbitration. The Government is afraid to take the bold step of repealing the whole act, but it is doing it piecemeal. This clause will undermine the system to a considerable extent. It is hardly believeable that the Government would have even suggested that a sectional strike should be a sufficient reason for a court to give power to an employer to declare a general lockout.

Mr Latham - The court may do so only if it thinks proper.

Mr CHARLTON - Of course the court will think it proper to do so if such a request is made by the employers, and the evidence shows a sectional stoppage. We are jeopardizing the whole system of arbitration by introducing provisions of this description. Why should one man sitting as a judge in a court have the power to make possible a general cessation of work in an industry? If effect is ever given to that provision the workers will be finished with arbitration as a system of settling their disputes. They are not likely to consent to a provision of this kind for it is wholly in favour of the employers. There is no gainsaying that this bill has been designed to provide the employers with a powerful weapon to reduce their employees to a state of submission in the event of a sectional dispute occurring. The wording is too clear to allow any other meaning to be considered. The provisions of this clause, together with those of the clause which we were considering yesterday, will be like a whip in the hands of the employers.

Sitting suspended from 1.48 to 2.30 p.m.

Mr CHARLTON - The AttorneyGeneral has given no evidence in support of his assertion that it is necessary to amend the existing act because individuals connected with industrial organizations have done certain things and the committees of management of those organizations have sheltered themselves behind those individuals. No one can cite an instance in which that has occurred. Rash statements should not be made in support of a proposal of so much importance to the future welfare of this country; solid reasons should be given before any drastic change is made in our legislation. No solid reason has been advanced to justify this proposed alteration. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) seeks to delete paragraph b. Let us also look at paragraph c, which imposes a penalty on an organization for the action of " any body or persons controlling the organization or a branch of the organization." If this proposal is accepted by the committee it will lead to endless trouble among the unions, and cause the greatest conceivable dissatisfaction with our arbitration system. It is a preposterous idea to think of making an organization responsible for what the official of a branch may do. I have already pointed out that the committee of management in control of a widespread union throughout the various States may be located in one State, and that it is possible for a union to have a number of sections within each State. The task of controlling the affairs of the whole organization may prevent the central committee of management within the State from having anything to do with the sections. When our arbitration law was framed that possibility was taken into consideration and the penal provisions were made applicable to the actions of the organization itself. But the proposal before us to-day is to make an organization liable for the actions of persons who may not be on the committee of management. For instance, it is very seldom that an officer of a miners' lodge is oh the management committee of the miners' union. An organization which does not countenance a local dispute and may have taken steps to punish the officer who has brought it about without referring the matter in dispute to the management committee, will thus be subjected to heavy penalties. If the purpose of the Government is to break down the arbitration system by imposing penalties in this way, it should be straightforward about the matter and repeal the act. Why I am so strongly opposed to this clause is that I know the effect it is likely to have on the industrial unions. It is not just to find an organization guilty of something of which it is not cognizant, or of which it disapproves, and why the Government should make this departure from the existing law and go to the extreme of making an organization liable to penalties for the act of some secretary or chairman of a local lodge, is beyond my comprehension. The membership of a local lodge which may have been incited to cease work for a few days or a few weeks may not be more than 200. The stoppage of work might have practically no effect on the output of the industry generally. There would be at least 18,000 other members of the organization fully employed. But because these 200 men may have stopped work without consulting the management committee and may have refused to obey the instructions of the central management committee, an application can be made to the Arbitration Court and on the evidence adduced the court may declare that a strike exists in the industry and impose on the whole organization a fine up to £1,000. Something, of course, may be 3aid in mitigation of the offence and the fine may be merely a nominal sum.

Mr Parkhill - It may be treated as a merely technical offence.

Mr CHARLTON - That is for the court to decide; but there is something which is even worse than the fine. If the court imposes a penalty of only £1 the employers will be in a position to lock out every one in the industry, and what, then, happens to the general public? If, because a couple of hundred men in the coal-mining industry decline to work, the supply of coal to the public is cut off, the result will be disastrous to the Commonwealth. Surely our Arbitration Act should enable us to prevent contending parties from inflicting hardship on the general community. Yet to-day we are so framing our legislation that, in certain circumstances, the utmost injury will be inflicted on the general community. This clause provides a, penalty up to £1,000 if an officer of a union is responsible for bringing about a cessation of work, although his action may not be endorsed by his organization. There can be only one result from such a law. It means good-bye to arbitration. The existing section which makes theorganization liable for what is done by its committee, of management is quite sufficient, and, as it is impossible to prove the existence of a lockout, it applies only to organizations of employees. But this bill goes further. If a judge inflicts a fine and declares the existence of a strike, this will enable employers to lock out every one in the industry if they are so inclined. A further penalty may be imposed upon the union if it is found that a section of an organization has stopped work on the advice of an officer. Although the organization may itself take step's to expel that officer, and disavow the stoppage of work, a fine may be imposed upon it up to a maximum of £100. The maximum penalty is £1,000. but it is reduced to £100 if the union removes from office and expels the persons concerned in bringing about the stoppage of work. But that is not all. The provision goes further. Proposed new sub-section 4 provides -

Where the court has been satisfied that an organization found guilty of an offence to which this section applies has, as specified in the last preceding sub-section, removed from any office or position and (where they were members of the organization) expelled the persons by reason of whose acts the organization has been found guilty and has imposed a penalty in accordance with that sub-section and, within twelve months of the conviction any of those persons are appointed to any office in the organization or any branch thereof or admitted to membership of the committee of management or of the organization the organization shall be guilty of an offence. Penalty: One thousand pounds.

The honorable member for Dalley spoke last night upon this sub-section, and as the penalty it seeks to impose is exceedingly harsh, I desire to say a few words in connexion with it. I have already instanced the case in which 200 men in a miner's lodge have done something in contravention of the act, and the organization, all of whose members number 20,000, has taken steps to expel the officers of the lodge involved. It cannot merely fine them. To-day many unions impose penalties on their members. Some miners' lodges impose fines on wheelers for ceasing work. Under this bill an organization is compelled to expel those of its members who contravene the provisions of section S, and if it does so the penalty on the organization itself may be mitigated; but if the members of the union so expelled are re-admitted to membership within twelve months, the fine is increased to £1,000". I do not think any trade union in Australia is likely to submit to such treatment. Whatever fault may be found with a member of a union, even if he has to be dealt with in the manner prescribed by this bill, his fellow unionists and comrades will not see him deprived of a livelihood.

Mr Parkhill - Would that mean that they would be in agreement with what he had done?

Mr CHARLTON - Even if they are not in agreement with what he has done they will not prevent him from earning a livelihood. Surely we ought not to go so far as to provide that the men who are to be punished under this provision must not remain members of their organizations. If we do, we shall be depriving them of their means of livelihood. Preference to unionists is provided for in our legislation, and obtains in most industries, even in some where there is no award. Where men are paid by results, employers prefer to give the work available to unionists. Seeing that the organizations of Australia extend throughout the Commonwealth, where could a man who is put out of an organization secure employment in his calling? A man who has worked all his life as a coal miner does not feel inclined to take on any other occupation, but because of this legislation, unless he does so, he will be debarred from earning a livelihood. The very fact that a man has been prevented from being a member of a particular organization, will debar him from securing employment, because, not being a member of the union, he will not be permitted to work alongside members of a union. _

Mr Maxwell - But it must be remembered that he has deliberately broken the law knowing the penalty he would have to pay for breaking it.

Mr CHARLTON - My claim is that a big organization cannot be held responsible for what an individual member of it does. Yet whatever step it takes to punish the member, it is still liable to a penalty of £1,000 for what he has done, unless he is expelled from the union and remains out of it for at least twelve months, in which case the fine is reduced to £100. I want to know what is to become of that man during that twelve months. He will certainly be deprived of his livelihood.

Mr McGrath - When a man commits a crime and is committed to gaol he is fed.

Mr CHARLTON - Yes, I was just about to say that this bill inflicts a dual penalty. As I understand British jurisprudence, there is only one penalty for a crime. Yet this bill seeks to impose a dual penalty. It is not fair to deprive a man of his livelihood because of some small offence, and to make the organization also responsible for his act. When a man is expelled from his union he becomes a non-unionist, and cannot get employment.

Mr Maxwell - Why not? Surely his fellow unionists would not object to his employment in those circumstances?

Mr CHARLTON - I remind the honorable member that many of the awards provide for preference to unionists.

Mr Parkhill - Only in a very few industries.

Mr CHARLTON - It applies in very many. Preference to unionists and the last comer to be the first to go are two old-established principles in the mining industry. Arbitration has done so much good that we want it continued in the interests of everybody, but provisions of this kind, which will penalize only one side, are converting a court of equity and good conscience into a criminal court. It was never intended that an offender against an industrial law should be placed in the same category as offenders against the criminal code, yet these clauses will place a stigma upon the men to whom we must look for our future production. Both the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) who understands unionism and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) have supported honorable members on this side of the Chamber in their opposition to the clause, because of its certain detriment to the welfare of the country. In the circumstances, the Attorney-General would be well advised to withdraw the clause. I do not believe that he wishes to abolish the Arbitration Court, but that must be the effect of the legislation of which he is the sponsor. We cannot shut, our eyes to the fact that throughout Australia the employers are moving to change the conditions of industry?

Mr Jackson - Do they not suggest an increase in output?

Mr CHARLTON - In the coalmining industry the hewers are paid by results. They work hard for long hours, to produce as much as possible, so that they may earn the maximum amount. Yet, despite their output half the mines are closed, and others are working only intermittently.

Mr Jackson - That is only half the story. The coal cannot be sold because the ships are not running.

Mr CHARLTON - That has been the state of the industry for the last two years, and the honorable member cannot attribute it to the present trouble on the coastal ships. Although the AttorneyGeneral has had experience in the Arbitration Court, he has no knowledge of the practical working of the trade unions. We on this side of the chamber know that this clause can only cause trouble, and who, but the supporters of it, will be to blame if a. big industrial upheaval should result? The employers have asked the Government to repeal the arbitration legislation. . The Government has refused that request, but is saying in effect to the employers "Use these pinpricks to provoke a sectional stoppage of work, and then appeal to the court for a lockout."

Mr McGrath - The Government has to do what its bosses tell it. What is the use of appealing to it to withdraw the clause ?

Mr CHARLTON - There may be something in that. If, as a result of these pin pricks a sectional stoppage occurs, the employers can manoeuvre a general lockout.

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