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Friday, 8 June 1928

Mr MAKIN - Prior to the dinner adjournment I was endeavouring to impress upon the committee the difficulty that would be experienced in applying the proposed new section 25d, which provides that the court, before making an award, shall consider its probable economic effect in relation to the general community and the industry concerned. I pointed out that this provision would prevent the employees from receiving a fair share of the fruits of production. At least two honorable members opposite referred to the mining industry. If the economic position of that industry were taken into consideration, I presume that the " mining companies would be expected to carry on their operations profitably, having regard to the market prices obtainable for ore at the time. It is safe to assume that only employees would suffer; they would be expected to accept a reduction in wages. I have before me authentic returns relating to the operations of mining companies at Broken Hill up to the end of 1924. I find that the total value of the output up to that time was £120,810,033 ; the bonuses paid amounted to £26,341,574, and the authorized capital of the various companies was £7,823,000. But those figures do not represent the full financial standing of those companies. During a long series of years they enjoyed great prosperity. When they were taking out rich ores they paid their shareholders handsome dividends, and put substantial sums to reserves. I find that the Broken Hill South Company, in the last period recorded at the end of 1926, paid a dividend of 65 per cent, to investors, and over the previous period of three years the dividends averaged 50 per cent. The company also amassed in reserves no less than £1,270,183. The Broken Hill North Company occupied an even more favorable position. During the last period to which I have referred, it returned a dividend of 95 per cent., and over the three years the dividends averaged 70 per cent., while £1,813,926 was placed to reserves. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company, which, of course, has interests other than mining, returned dividends over the three years averaging 5 per cent. ; but its reserves amounted to £2,687,708. In determining the wages paid to the workmen employed in the industry, will regard be given to the huge reserves that have been built up, or to the vast profits made in times of prosperity? I say emphatically that it will not. Every effort has been made to keep the miners' wages down to the lowest possible margin, and in many cases they have been begrudged even a living wage. The greedy shareholders have now picked the eyes out of those mines, and have fattened as the result of the labours of the miners, who have had to face many perils in the course of their employment. Now that the metal market is less favorable than it formerly was, and the ores won are not so rich as they used to be, it is desired by the companies that the workers should submit to standards equivalent to the prevalent depression and uneconomic position of the industry. It is upon this that the court will be compelled to base its decisions and as it applies to the mining industry so it will apply to others. We could not stand for a principle of that description. Chief Judge Dethridge recognizes that a man is entitled to at least a living wage. Commenting upon the claim of the Merchant Service Guild of Australia for increased wages, he said -

Every worker should be entitled to a living wage. In some cases the result may have been that some men have got more out of the industry than they have put into it; but the court has said that if they are willing to work they should get the living wage, even if they do not give adequate economic return. But, when it gets to the higher grades of labour, the court has not said anything of the kind. The court has said, " As far as we can we will give those higher grades of labour what their skill justifies." I can only measure what their skill justifies by what in the past it has been the practice to give them.

If the principle which underlies this clause is applied, the Chief Judge and every other judge of the court will be prevented from recognizing the margins of skill that have been observed in previous awards of the court, because they will be compelled in framing an award to take into consideration the economic circum stances which have been created, not by the worker, but by the inordinate greed of the owners, who as a rule demand from industry more than they have a right to expect. We frequently hear it stated that different industries cannot afford to pay the basic or living wage ; but I learn from the Investors' Guide that there are in Australia 271 companies or corporations whose dividends are- higher than any bank rate of interest. In many instances they are returning very substantial dividends on watered capital. Only seventeen companies are not paying dividends, and, with one exception, they have fairly substantial reserves. Will labour share in this treasure gained from industry ? No ; it is only in time of depression in trade that cognizance is taken of the economic position. If the worker received an appropriate share of the wealth which he produces he might be able to survive a period of depression; but that, is denied him. When a union makes a claim for an adjustment of wages and conditions the court will be required to take into consideration the economic position of the industry; and it will not be either entitled or prepared to increase the rate of wage above that sought in the log, even although the economic position of the industry -might fully justify such an order. It is deliberately intended that economic circumstances shall operate in only one direction, that of wage reduction. That is unfair and unjust to those who are the principal factors in industry. In the extreme view of the economic relation of the two units in production or service it may be logically advanced that labour could produce the essentials of community service without the aid of those who invest their capital merely for what they can get out of industry; but, on the other hand, those who have command of capital cannot carry on without labour. I say this merely to show the value and the absolute dependence on labour. It is anomalous to call upon the labourers in industry to suffer loss that is occasioned by either the avarice of the shareholders or the inefficient or unscientific methods that are employed. I cannot, therefore, endorse the principle which the clause expresses. We must recognize, also, the possibility of its undermining seriously the principle of affording our industries adequate protection against foreign competition. I believe that certain employers would be prepared to dispense with a margin of tariff protection so long as they can secure lower rates of wages, and thus reduce the cost of production. The whole of the burden would then be borne by the labourers in industry. While we assist different industries by means of the tariff and the payment of bounties, we should insist upon their being placed upon the most efficient basis. If the captains of industry are not prepared to take action along those lines they do not deserve the consideration which they seek from this Parliament from time to time. Before there is any interference with the standard of conditions enjoyed by the worker to-day we should compel those who are receiving such big rake-offs from their investments to disgorge a little so as to maintain the industry during a period of partial depression. We should certainly make it possible for the labourers in industry to share adequately in the benefits it confers. I should be an unworthy representative of those who are wealth producers if I did not endeavour to protect them from what I regard as a very serious intrusion upon their rights, meagre as those rights are. My experience in industry is shared by many of those who are engaged in a capacity similar to that which I have filled as a worker. I know that the worker in the great majority of cases lives only from week to week, or fortnight to fortnight. His wage or salary is sometimes mortgaged before the week has expired. That surely proves that he has only a bare existence, and deserves a more substantial and generous proportion of the wealth which he produces. The basic wage to-day does not provide for more than the most frugal sustenance. Many persons who have given good service to industry are to-day walking the streets because industry is unable to meet the situation in which it is placed on account of the unscientific methods that have been adopted. Whenever there is depression the champions of the employers and the investors want the sacrifices to be visited upon those who are least able to bear them. We should not be doing our duty if we supported the principle enunciated by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes). The honorable member for Boothby argued that it was better to have half a loaf than none at all. It is very poor consolation to be given only half a loaf when one is confident that industry can afford a full loaf.

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