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Saturday, 9 June 1928


Mr LATHAM (Kooyong) (AttorneyGeneral) . - This clause introduces a new factor into our arbitration system in the form of conciliation committees. It has been developed and worked out after a very careful consideration of what appeared to be some of the defects of the law. Honorable members are aware that frequently criticism is directed against the Commonwealth arbitration system, on the ground that it is too legal in character and that it would perhaps work better if the parties were given an opportunity to meet and discuss their differences at a conference, though not necessarily a compulsory conference presided over by a judge. The provisions of sections 16 and 16a are largely used and are of the greatest service. They provide that a compulsory conference of the parties to a dispute may be convened under the presidency of a judge of the court. It is a regular part of the court procedure to hold such conferences in relation to every dispute. I think I am right in saying that no dispute comes into court to be determined by arbitration until the resources of conciliation have been exhausted at a compulsory conference.


Mr Charlton - Has the Government exhausted all the resources of conciliation in connexion with the trouble with the marine cooks ?


Mr LATHAM - Yes. At the beginning of that dispute the conciliation commissioner convened a conference of the parties, over which he presided, and other conferences have been held since the matter has been before the court, but honorable members will know, from the reports that have appeared in the press, that the union concerned unfortunately adopted an attitude of deliberate defiance of the court. The arbitration authorities of the Commonwealth have taken every possible step, up to the present, to bring about a settlement of that trouble. Last uight the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) communicated with the Premiers of all the States and received a reply from Mr. Hogan, the Premier of Victoria, expressing a doubt whether all constitutional and legal means had been exhaused, and asking the Government to take steps to influence the Arbitration Court to intervene in the dispute. This view was expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) last night. In response to the suggestion made by Mr. Hogan, the Government sent his communication on to the Industrial Registrar, who is the executive officer of the court, stating that while the Government would consider it wrong to attempt to control or even to influence the discretion of the Arbitration Court, the Ministry considered it only courteous to the Premier of Victoria to inform the court of the communication which he had sent to the Government. Mr. Hogan's telegram has been placed before the court without any expression of opinion from the Government as to what action should be taken. I can assure honorable members, therefore, that every effort has been, and is being made, to utilize the machinery of the Arbitration Court to end this most unfortunate trouble.

Returning to clause 28, as I have said, objection has been taken to the' existing procedure of the court on the ground that it does not provide sufficient means for the parties themselves to meet face to face to endeavour to settle their disputes. There is already provision for compulsory conferences, and this method as I have stated, is utilized in practically every dispute that arises. It has proved very valuable. There are also boards of reference appointed under awards for the purpose of dealing with various matters. The scope of these boards of reference, at which the representatives of the parties meet around a table under the presidency, as a general rule, of the industrial registrar, is being extended by the provisions of this bill.


Mr Seabrook - Will members of boards of reference be paid?


Mr LATHAM - I think not. Nor will members of the conciliation committees be paid. It is thought that there is room for still further development of the round-table procedure. The proposed new section, therefore, provides that the Chief Judge may appoint conciliation committees, consisting of representatives of employers and employees with a chairman to be appointed by the judge. I propose to introduce an amendment to allow the parties to nominate their own chairman, and that, I suggest, will improve the original clause. If they are able to agree upon a chairman, so much the better. It is proposed also that employers and employees may make recommendations for appointment to the committee.


Mr Maxwell - Why should they not select?


Mr LATHAM - That would make the system unworkable. Reference has been made to the recent award in the clothing trade. I think there were 9,000 respondents in that case, each one of whom had to be served with a copy of the log and the proceedings of the court. It would be impossible for them to select representatives on a committee because no practicable means could be provided for them to meet.


Mr Brennan - The road to peace is very hard for the trade unionists.


Mr LATHAM - Under a system of election by which every body interested would have the right to vote, months would be occupied in selecting representatives of the employers, and enormous expense would be caused. That would cripple the system.


Mr Charlton - If they cannot meet to select, what are they to do?


Mr LATHAM - Proposed sub-section 5 reads -

Before appointing the members representative of employers or of organizations of employees, the Chief Judge shall take into consideration any recommendations made by employers or by organizations of employees in relation to such appointments.

Thus those interested are given the power to make recommendations which the Chief Judge will take into account when making appointments. That, I think, is as far as we can practically go towards the attainment of a desirable object. The employees will experience little difficulty. In this matter the road of the trade union is not hard but easy, because it has always been a principle of the Arbitration Act that employees shall act only through their organizations. These bodies will readily make their nominations. The process may not be so easy for the employers, but there are registered organizations representing large numbers of employers. It is true that they number only 29, but they include very big individual enterprises and large aggregations of employers. Amongst them are the Commonwealth Steamship owners, representing all the interstate shipping interests; the Timber Merchants and Sawmillers, the Graziers, the Picture Showmen, the Licensed Victuallers, the Metal Trades' Employers, the printing and allied trades, and the Showmen's Guild. The individual industrial enterprises that are registered include the Broken Hill

Proprietary Company, H. V. McKay and Company Proprietary, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and Nestle's and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company. Generally it may be said that the organizations registered under the act represent a substantial proportion of the leading industries of Australia. Accordingly, the provision for the appointing of conciliation committees, after consideration of the recommendations of employers and employees, should prove quite workable. The number of members of a committee is not limited, except that half must be representative of the employers and half of the employees. Many modern industries are complex and intricate, and seldom, if ever, can one man effectively represent all the departments of his particular industry. There should be a degree of flexibility in the constitution of these committees, and the parties should not be limited to single representatives <.or even two or three representatives each. In fact, in Great Britain, industrial matters arc often dealt with by committees representative of employers and employees with a membership of up to 40.

I propose to move an amendment to provide that the chairman of a conciliation committee shall not have a vote. In New South Wales conciliation committees have been appointed, and a great controversy has been waged in the courts as to whether the chairman is entitled to vote. The Government considers it proper to make it clear that the chairman shall not have a vote. The reason is that this procedure is intended to be conciliation and not arbitration. When an independent chairman is brought in to decide a dispute, we at once get into the domain of arbitration, and when we leave the domain of conciliation we must, owing to the provisions of the Constitution', comply with whatever arbitration demands. The arbitration procedure hitherto has been rightly considered to entitle every interested party to give evidence. Thus, if the chairman of a conciliation committee were given a vote, we should have to provide for ever so many arbitral tribunals, with all the procedure for subpoenaing witnesses and so forth. That is not desired. We wish to keep these meetings of employers and employees on a conciliation basis. If the representatives of the parties are unable to agree, conciliation fails and the matter will have to go to arbitration. But the failure of conciliation may not be complete. It will at least have afforded an opportunity for employers and employees to meet under the presidency of a person chosen by themselves, if they can agree, and discuss their industrial difficulties. From such gatherings there may be at first no apparent result, but the mere meeting in conference is all to the good. Therefore, I sincerely hope that full advantage will be taken of the new procedure.

The proposed new section provides that if an agreement is reached it can be registered under the act by being certified in the ordinary way, and have the effect of an award. If the agreement is as to part only of the matter in dispute, it also may be certified, and that will represent so much gained. If, on the other hand, it is impossible to settle any of the matter by agreement, an entirely new procedure is provided in proposed sub-section 8 and the following sub.sections. A conciliation committee or the majority of its members, excluding the chairman, may make a recommendation for an award ; the whole matter in dispute may be worked out in detail by men who are conversant with and directly interested in the industry, and it is hoped that this procedure will save the court a great deal of work. When such a recommendation for an award is sent to the court, .the registrar will issue a summons calling upon all parties concerned to show cause why an award should not be made in the terms of the recommendation. It would be unjust for an award to be made on the basis of a committee's recommendation without the parties, interested having an opportunity to express their views. The summons will be accompanied by the full terms of the recommendation.


Mr Maxwell - No special pleaders are provided for.


Mr LATHAM - There is no provision for anybody to participate in the conciliation proceedings other than the representatives of the parties and the chairman. On the return of the summons any employer will be able to attend and show that a certain provision in the proposed award is unsuitable to his business, or is unfair and should be amended. It is hoped that in this way the conciliation committees will be able to solve most of the difficulties, and that it will not be necessary to incur the delay and expense of hearing evidence in court. The court will be limited to points of difficulty and difference which remain after the conciliation committee has given its best mind to the subject. Then, after everybody has been given an opportunity of being heard, the award will be made by the judge in such terms as he thinks proper. This proposed section also provides for the utilization of the procedure of representative orders, on exactly the same lines as those to which I referred yesterday.

The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) has an amendment dealing with this clause, but he will find that some of his suggestions have been incorporated, in effect, in amendments of mine which have been circulated. I assume that the honorable member desires to address himself to his own amendment before I say anything about it.







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