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Tuesday, 5 July 1949

Mr LANG (REID, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct a series of questions to the Prime Minister. 1. Has the Joint Coal Board intimated to the Government that it is prepared to accept the principle of a 35-hour week and long service leave for the miners ? 2. Did the formula of the Australian Council of Trades Unions propose that the Joint Coal Board should convey such an assurance to the Coal Industry Tribunal, if the miners returned to work? 3. Did the representatives of the Deputies and Shotfirers Association offer at the compulsory conference, to concede the mechanical extraction of pillars, if the board accepted the 85-hour week? 4. Would the mechanical extraction of pillars compensate for the 35-hour week, according to the board's figures? 5. Has the Joint Coal Board advised the Government that it would be possible to increase production, even with long service leave and the 35-hour week, by increased mechanization? 6. Finally, failing a settlement of the strike at a compulsory conference within a week, will the Government consider having aggregate meetings called at which terms of settlement would be submitted direct to the miners by representatives of the Government and of the Australian Council of Trades Unions?

Mr CHIFLEY - Some phases of the .honorable member's question involve reference to the authorities that he has mentioned. However, I think that I can make a couple of points clear. I know of no offer by anybody to make a settlement with relation to the claim for a 35-hour week in the coal-mining industry. That matter would be determined by the Coal Industry Tribunal. Long service leave could not be granted to the miners unless some provision was made to meet the cost involved. Some time ago the Minister for Shipping and Fuel and I were asked whether the Government would be prepared to make finance available if the Coal Industry Tribunal decided that long service leave should be granted to the miners. We indicated to the Coal Industry Tribunal that it was of no use his making an award granting long service leave unless there was some provision for meeting the cost of it, and that because of the existing conditions in the coal-mining industry, that could not be done by the various owners. I then intimated that if, in the judgment of the Coal Industry Tribunal, the principle of long service leave for the coalminers should be established, I should be prepared to recommend to the Government that it apply an excise on coal to provide the necessary money. It was of no use his granting the long service leave claim unless he had some indication that money would be found. No attempt was made on the Government's behalf to persuade the tribunal in one way or the other.

Mr Beale - Was it a case of a wink being as good as a hod.

Mr CHIFLEY - I think it has been generally agreed that the principle of long service leave is sound. I expressed no opinion about the duration of long service leave, or the conditions on which it might be granted. Those would be matters for the Coal Industry Tribunal to determine.

Mr Rankin - In how many strikes would the miners have to be concerned in order to qualify for long service leave?

Mr CHIFLEY - My reply to the honorable members inquiry whether the Government would be prepared to call aggregate meetings on the coal-fields for the purpose of addressing the miners, is " No ". If aggregate meetings are desired they should be called by the miners' federation. I do not think that the honorable member is getting anywhere by these tactics. As I have said before, I hope that the miners themselves will see the wisdom of reversing their decision'. I understand that there is no suggestion that the miners on the northern coalfields are Communist-controlled. I think that they are mostly supporters of the Australian Labour party. I am certainly not going to attempt to call aggregate meetings unless they are organized by representatives of the coal-mining industry.

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