Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 5 July 1949


Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The long title to this measure states that it is a bill for an act to provide for the prevention or settlement by conciliation and arbitration of industrial disputes, extending beyond the limits of any one State, in connexion with stevedoring operations; to regulate industrial matters in connexion with the performance of stevedoring operations in the course of trade and commerce with other countries or among the States; and for other purposes. I have referred to the long title because I am certain that to many honorable members it has a familiar ring. It has a familiar ring because a bill with precisely the same objects was presented to the Parliament by this Government in 1947, two years ago. Therefore, this measure, on the face of it, bears the stamp of failure. In his second-reading speech on this bill the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) described the Stevedoring Act 1947 as a bold legislative experiment. I remind the House that what was done then was to remove the stevedoring industry from the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and to establish, by legislative action, a body to deal with certain matters in connexion with the waterfront. That legislation was based upon certain war-time experience, but, so far as legislation in this Parliament was concerned, it was an experiment. As honorable members know, the experiment of removing an industry from the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court and placing it under the jurisdiction of a specially appointed tribunal has not been confined to the stevedoring industry. Far from being a bold legislative experiment, as the Minister claimed, that was a cowardly legislative experiment. Instead of revealing courage on the part of the Government in venturing into a new field it represented on the part of the Government a surrender in three important industries which are vital to the economy of the Commonwealth and the successful conduct of our trade and commercial affairs. It was a surrender by the Commonwealth to Communist pressure. These special tribunals were created as the result of the direct pressure of Communist leadership upon the Government to take away from the authority of the Arbitration Court matters which for many years had been dealt with by the court. That .pressure was exerted not because those Communist leaders who put their thumb upon the Government believed that in that way they would get more effective arbitration upon the- problems arising in these industries, but because they were determined to smash the arbitration system of this country, and because they believed that by a policy of dividing they would be able to conquer and implement their policy of industrial? anarchy.


Mr Menzies - As has been done in the coal industry.


Mr HOLT - Any one who ha9 followed the events of the last two years since the Parliament passed that legislation will realize just how successful that Communist policy has been. The three particular industries in which this experiment was applied were: First, the stevedoring industry, which we will examine in some detail in the course of our consideration of this legislation; secondly, the other maritime industry, the seamen's industry, for which a special tribunal was created; and, thirdly, the coal industry, for which also a special tribunal was created. Those industries were taken outside the scope of the Arbitration Court. To-day, the people of Australia are experiencing something of the consequences of this bold legislative experiment insofar as it was applied to the coal industry. In passing, it is interesting to note that the central leadership in each of those industries was under Communist domination, and that that leadership remains under Communist domination. The coal industry is under the leadership of Idris "Williams, who is a selfconfessed Communist; the Waterside Workers Federation is under the leadership of Jim Healy, another confessed Communist, whilst the Seamen's Union is under the leadership of Mr. Eliot Valens Elliot, another Communist. Those men are not merely members of the Communist party; each of them exercises leadership in the central organization of the Communist party in Australia. It may be a bitter reflection for hundreds of thousands of Australian trade unionists who are out of work at present as the direct result of the policy which this Communist leadership has pursued, thanks to the weak-kneed submission of this Government to the pressure that they put on it in the course of the last few years, to realize that each of these men is not a native of Australia. He is not a man native to this country who knows its problems and wants to see it advance and progress as the result of help that he personally can bring to it. Those men have come to this coun try, and Australia has been kind to them. It has placed them in positions of authority in the industries which they have been elected to control by methods for which they themselves will have to answer at the proper time. We may well pause in our consideration of th* special problems of these industries to realize that these three vital elements in our economy, the operations on the waterfront^ on the sea and in the coal mines, are all under Communist leadership and under the leadership of men who have come as migrants to this country and to whom this country has proved a generous motherland. So far as the stevedoring industry is concerned, the Minister told us that this legislation was to follow that already on the statute-book. He said that the Government is making an earnest endeavour to retain for this industry and the community the benefits that were obtained by its former legislation and to provide for further progress, greater efficiency and more harmony in the industry. I emphasize the Minister's reference to the benefits that were obtained by its former legislation for the industry and for the community because, whilst we shall not have an opportunity in this debate to examine what has happened with regard to the seamen and on the coalfields, we can have a close look at what has happened in respect of operations on the waterfront. The legislation certainly provided benefits for some of those who came within its scope. It had a very direct benefit, for example, for " Comrade " Healy, because during the short period for which the legislation has been in force and prior -to his summary dismissal from the Stevedoring Industry Commission because of his repeated defiance of the orders of that body, he hag collected in fees from the Government an amount exceeding £1,100.


Mr Holloway - The bill does not retain that.


Mr HOLT - I am glad to have that interjection from the Minister; but at least that legislation conferred that benefit on " Comrade " Healy.


Mr Menzies - And that was in a period of about two years.


Mr HOLT - The period was less than that. We feel a little cynical at the benefit conferred upon these men, who claim to be spokesmen for the underdog and for the proletariat masses in this country, that in addition to the substantial salaries they receive as heads of their own unions they are able from time to time to acquire these rewards for their participation in activities conducted by the Government. So far as " Comrade " Healy is concerned, that benefit is to be cut down by the passage of th s legislation, but the workers in the stevedoring industry may fairly feel that since the commission began its operations they, too, have received some very substantial benefits. So, when the Minister says that he is proposing to continue the benefits already obtained, we should refer to what has been received by those workers because, as has also been the case in the coal industry, the existence of the special tribunal set up in this industry has conferred great benefits upon them. Despite the fact that it is a casual industry and its wage level was computed by judges of the Arbitration Court on the assumption that those employed in it would work on the average only thirty hours a week, the commission during the brief period that it has been in operation has found it practicable to prescribe annual leave with pay. Despite the fact that wage rates in the industry were computed on the basis that this work would be casual and intermittent, it has been found practicable to pay attendance money to members of the Waterside Workers Federation who may not receive a call on any day they attend for work or, indeed, on any day they receive notice that they will not be required to work. When we examine the figures in relation to those employed in the industry, we find that since the commission was set up they have earned what may be regarded as a high average rate of wages for a comparatively short working week. For the information of the House I shall give figures showing the average earnings during that period, and the average hours worked for those earnings, for the main ports of the Commonwealth, which I shall give in their alphabetical order. The figures relating to hours worked are approximate, as I do not wish to weary the House with decimal fractions. In Adelaide from July to December, 1948 - which is the last period for which I have been able to obtain figures - the average weekly earnings of waterside workers were £11 4s. 3d. for a 38-hour week; Brisbane, £10 3s. 2d. for a 32- hour week; Fremantle, £11 16s. Id. for a 37-hour week ; Hobart, £10 0s. 3d. for a 34-hour week; and Melbourne, £12 ls. 9d. for 41 hours. I pause here to mention that Melbourne is the only port in which the hours worked have on the average been more than the regulation 40-hour week. The Sydney figure was £9 12s. Id. for 34 hours. The average for the whole of the Commonwealth, taking all the ports into consideration, was £10 9s. 8d. for 35 hours worked. The Minister has interjected to say that some night work would be included. That may be so, but, on the other hand, there would have been periods when, as the Minister will acknowledge, no day work was required. I have gone into some detail regarding that matter because I am certain there ar« many members of trade unions throughout Australia, particularly of those unions that cover tradesmen who have gone through their regular apprenticeship, perhaps for six years, who will hear with some envy of the rates of pay now received by waterside workers for the hours of work that I have mentioned. But, in addition to those facts, there was one other important fact to which I shall refer in a moment in more detail. That is, that by a process that I regard as unprecedented in this country - and I should be interested to learn whether the Minister could find any other illustration of it - a particular union, the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, has had conferred upon it by legislation a monopoly of the provision of waterfront labour. Under this measure it is impossible to become a waterside worker without being a member of the federation. By a process that I shall explain in more detail later, it was the case that unless the federation nominated a particular person to become a waterside worker, that person was not appointed even if the Stevedoring Industry Commission as it was formerly constituted required the appointment of additional watersiders.

Employees engaged on the waterfront may well accept the Minister's statement that substantial benefits have been conferred upon them since the Stevedoring Industry Act 1947 came into force. But what about the community? The Minister made some reference to the fact that the community also had benefited. I do not know what tests could be applied to this claim that the community has benefited. Has the community benefited from the fact that there has been more efficient labour on the waterfront in return for those high wages that I have mentioned? Is it claimed that there has been a speedier turn-round of shipping? Is it claimed that freight rates, because of greater efficiency brought about by the act, have been substantially reduced? Of course not, because on all of those counts the results have gone against the interests of the community. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride), in a very telling speech that he made some time ago in this chamber, provided some details that I shall mention now, without attempting to quote them fully, so that we may have a balanced view of the Minister's claim. He pointed out that at the present time there is a little more than 40 per cent tonnage in excess of that available for coastal shipping in the pre-war period. He also pointed out that despite the fact that we have this 40 per cent, increase of tonnage available the actual cargo carried last year was 1\ per cent, less than that carried in the year before the war started. What is true in that illustration we find exemplified for us in another direction. In Victoria recently, the Chamber of Commerce issued a report showing that compared with the cargo handled in that State in 1939, there was a falling off by more than 500,000 tons in 1948. So here we have the situation - additional available ships, less cargo handled. If we examine the discharging and loading rates, for which I shall again quote the figures given by the honorable member for Wakefield, we find that the discharging rate during the three-year period 1937 to 1939 was 804 tons a day but in the three-year period 1945 to 1947, which were the last figures that he quoted, the average rate had dropped to 355 tons a day, or a fall of more than 50 per cent. We do not get a very much better picture regarding the loading rate. The average loading rate before the war was 434 tons a day. In the three-year period 1945 to 1947, it had dropped to 321 tons a day. So there we have another illustration of how the conduct of this industry has failed to secure the efficiency of operation that was hoped when the Stevedoring Industry Bill was submitted to us in 1947. When we examine the impact of these factors on freight costs we find that the freight rate for general cargo between the port of Sydney and the port of Melbourne has increased from 27s. a ton in 1939 to 82s. a ton at the present time. It would be difficult to find in any other field of industry a rate of increase of cost as high as the alarming increase that I have mentioned. That is a consequence for which the Government cannot escape some share of the responsibility, because of the policy pursued by it during the period in question. When we are told that the present measure, which is designed to supersede the legislation of 1947, is intended to continue the benefits conferred on the community by the previous legislation we may ask ourselves what those benefits are. What was then a turbulent industry has continued to be a turbulent industry despite the efforts made by the present Government to appease the waterside workers. We cannot appease the unappeasable. We cannot appease the Communist leaders of the waterfront, the shipping and the mining industries. They cannot be appeased because their avowed object is to smash the arbitration system of this country. Although the present Government has gone as far as any administration could go in placating them, it has found that the Communist leaders of the waterfront industry have, by their own deliberate act, shown themselves to be unappeasable.

Coming now to the legislation before us, we ask ourselves to what extent it represents a departure from the experiment that was made in 1947. Admittedly there are one or two variations. The previous legislation established a Stevedoring Industry Commission to deal with administrative matters, such as the regulation of conditions on the waterfront, the establishment of a bureau for picking up labour, and the provision of amenities. lt also dealt with other matters of the kind that were formerly dealt with by the Arbitration Court. The Government realizes that its failure to placate the militants has been abject and costly, as it has also been in the coal industry, where its failure has brought us to the brink of national disaster. The Government has therefore decided to bring the waterside workers once more under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. On behalf of the Opposition I say that we welcome that decision as a consummation much to be desired. When the Stevedoring Industry Act, which removed them from the direct control of the Arbitration Court, was introduced in 1947 we contended that its enactment would weaken the authority of that body. We told the Government that the establishment of special tribunals for particular industries would create anomalies that would cause a great deal of friction. It is obvious that the head of a tribunal which deals with one particular industry must tend to become blind to the requirements of other industries and their employees and to ignore the effect upon other industries and workers of his decisions. Because of his isolation from other industries it is obvious that although the decisions which he makes may meet the desires of those with whom he is concerned, he will inevitably create problems for other industries for which special tribunals are not provided. So it has proved. I recall that a very serious strike occurred in a sugar refinery in Victoria because some of its employees who were handling goods brought from the wharfs complained that they were not being treated exactly similarly to waterside workers who also handled the goods. That is an example of the kind of dispute occasioned by the establishment of special industrial tribunals for particular industries. Members of the Opposition have at all times stressed the need for maintaining the supervision of the Arbitration Court over all industries in order that uniformity of treatment may be given to all industrial workers. Uniformity of treatment can come about only when the arbitrating authority has some recognition of the consequences upon other industries of the decisions to which he makes. The provision of special treatment for any section of industrial workers must inevitably increase the difficulties of maintaining industrial peace, develop friction and cause industrial disturbances. Insofar as this measure intends to bring waterside workers back to the authority of the Arbitration Court, the Opposition welcomes it. However, I doubt whether the legislation will achieve the Government's objective. Why are special provisions included in the bill concerning the matters that may be referred to the Arbitration Court? Why should special provision be made for this industry when no such provision is made for other industries? Most of the industrial workers of this country come under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court without any special legislation having to be provided, and, that being so, waterside workers would automatically come within the ambit of that court. Despite the Government's claim that it is returning the waterside workers to the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court, the bill provides for special treatment to be given to this particular section of the industrial community. Furthermore, the remaining parts of the measure do not remove the weaknesses contained in the previous legislation, but perpetuate them.

Let us review the provisions of the measure from the point of view of industrial discipline. Force without justice may be tyrannous, but justice without force is futile, as we have so often learned. The bill contains no effective disciplinary provisions, although this particular industry, _ of all industries, requires strong disciplinary provisions. .It is not sufficient to say that the legislation which has returned the supervision of the industry to the control of the Arbitration Court gives added power to that body to control waterside workers. The disciplinary powers of the Arbitration Court itself have proved ineffectual. In his annual report the late Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, Mr. Justice DrakeBrockman, informed the Government that the power to enforce awards and orders against employees still remains ineffectual. He stated -

There have been too many instances of the refusal to accept decisions of Conciliation Commissioners made in settlement of claims.

Although that complaint was made many months ago the Government has done nothing to rectify the position. It certainly does not propose to strengthen the disciplinary powers of the Arbitration Court under this bill. Section 16 (3.) of the Stevedoring Industry Act 1947 provides that -

A person shall not contravene or fail to comply with any provision of an award or order made by the Commission which is applicable to him.

Penalty: Where the offence is committed by a waterside worker, Five pounds; in any other case. One hundred pounds.

A waterside worker may refuse to comply with an order to load cargoes which must be loaded urgently. A ship which is carrying valuable food or other cargoes to Great Britain or other parts of the world may be held up in consequence, but the maximum penalty provided in that legislation, and repeated in this bill, is a fine of £:"). That provision is sufficiently innocuous, but its ineffectiveness is even more clearly demonstrated when I assert - and the Minister will correct me if I am wron; - that there has never been a fine of £5 imposed upon a waterside worker, notwithstanding that no one will contest that there have been many breaches of the act that would warrant the infliction of a fine. Of course, the Minister may rejoin, " Oh, but there is a power of suspension ". That is so, but I understand that that power has been exercised most sparingly. But there again, that is not an effective penalty. A man who is engaged in casual employment, in an intermittent occupation, may be suspended for two days, from, say, Tuesday to Thursday, but he can still obtain employment at the week-end when the penalty rates of pay apply, and thus earn morn than he would have earned had he worked from Tuesday to Thursday. In practice, it has been found that the penalty of suspension carries no real sanction whatsover.

The maximum penalty that may be imposed on the employers' organizations is £100, but I cannot find any provision for the imposition of a penalty on the Waterside Workers Federation, which has been given the monopoly of engaging men in this industry. I remind the the Minister that there have been times when the union has been requested by the Stevedoring Industry commission to make available at certain ports an additional number of employees. Without refusing

Ifr. Holt. to do so in so many words, the federation, has delayed, evaded or avoided nominating additional employees, and, in consequence, the ports have been without the additional labour that the commission has required. In those instances, nopenalty has been exacted from the federation, and I cannot find any provision in this bill for the imposition of a penalty or sanction on the federation if it does not carry out the direction of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. If there be a penalty at all, it is to be found in clause 17, to which I have already made reference. That clause provides for a maximum fine of £100. To a union which, on the facts disclosed in recent proceedings, is able to withdraw many thousands of pounds from the bank in order to assist a striking union, the penalty of £100 does not appear very formidable. In relation to this industry, the Government has not been prepared to go so far as it went, in the act of 1946, with the coalmining industry. In that legislation at least the Government did provide for the imposition of a fine of £1,000 and sis months' imprisonment on those who did not obey the direction of the Coal Industry Tribunal. It may be that those provisions have not been enforced, but at least, they were inserted in the legislation by the government at that time. There- . fore, I say to the Minister that the Stevedoring Industry Bill, now under consideration, will prove just as futile as the act which it supersedes, unless those who are given by the Government the authority to make orders are also given power to ensure that those orders are obeyed.

Earlier, I mentioned that the Waterside Workers Federation had been given by legislation the monopoly of engaging labour. This House should consider the position for a few minutes, because it represents a most remarkable development in Australian legislation. The development is all the more remarkable because it emanates from a government which has always expressed its abhorrence of the evils of monopolies. Does it not strike this Parliament that a union which is able to say whether or not an Australian citizen shall enter a particular industry has an extreme power - a power which a government itself would hesitate to exercise? When that right to admit «r exclude an Australian citizen from working in a particular industry is given to a union which is notoriously dominated by Communist leaders, I say that the Australian people as a whole should not countenance the situation for five minutes. The Port of "Sydney is one of the most important ports of the Commonwealth, and the kind of person, and the number of persons who may engage in waterside work there is determined by the Waterside Workers Federation, the deliberations of which are dominated by * Comrade " Healy, a notorious Communist. That is wrong. The Stevedoring Industry Bill, which is now under consideration, provides for the appointment of waterside employment committees on which the Government, the employers and the union will be represented. If anybody is to be given authority by the Australian Government to determine whether or not an Australian citizen shall have the right to work on the waterfront, it should be a waterside employment committee and not a union which may be exercising its choice either in a capricious or vindictive manner, or from motives of a political character. I wonder why the Government, having taken the power to set up waterside employment committees, has not given to those bodies the responsibility of determining who shall be employed in the industry.


Mr Holloway - The waterside employment committees will have that power.


Mr HOLT - I am astonished to hear the Minister say that the waterside employment committees will have that power. Will the honorable gentleman inform me whether the existing port committees have that power, and whether the waterside employment committees will have that power in future?


Mr Holloway - The port committees have had that power in the past and the position will not be changed under this legislation. The port committees decide how many hundreds of men shall be admitted or dismissed.


Mr HOLT - The Minister cannot catch me with that one. He says that at present, a port committee decides how many men shall be admitted to the industry if labour is short, and how many shall be dismissed from it, if the number of the employees is excessive. That i* not the point which I am making. .


Mr Holloway - The port committees decide who shall be registered.


Mr HOLT - Again, that is not the point. The bill provides that a person shall be registered with the port committee; but, speaking broadly, the only persons who are eligible for registration are those who are members of the Waterside Workers Federation. 1 invite the Minister to correct me if I am misstating the position, but I believe that this is what happens in practice at the present time. The port committee says to the Waterside Workers Federation, "We want 500 additional employees in the Port of Sydney ". The Waterside Workers Federation then nominates to the port committee an additional 500 persons. That is not the same as if the port committee were to advertise for 500 additional employees for the waterfront, make its selection from the applicants, and then, perhaps, say, " Now, boys, you must become members of the Waterside Workers Federation, because we register only those who are members of that organization ". Such a position would still confer great benefits on the federation and give to it a virtual monopoly of employment in this industry, but that situation would not call for the same criticism that I make of the present practice. However, that has not been done. Once the number of additional employees has been indicated, complete authority for their recruitment rests with the Waterside Workers Federation. How many men will be enlisted as members of that organization in the port of Sydney who are not men whom " Comrade " Healy regards as suitable material for his propaganda and his particular brand of tactics on the waterfront? That is one of the most serious criticisms which honorable members on this side of the House level against this legislation and against this Government. The proper course in future would be for the waterside employment committees on which the Government, the employers, and 'the Waterside Workers Federation will be represented, to recruit and select new labour for employment on the waterfront. Then let the committee, if it will, tell the new men that the act provides for preference in employment to members of the federation, and let the recruits join the organization. At least, the waterside employment committee would have some supervision over -.the personnel to be enlisted for this responsible work which is so vital to the efficient transport of Australian goods within the Commonwealth and to other parts of the world.

There is one final point that I wish to make. The normal means whereby fair dealing and discipline are assured in an industry is the relationship between employer and employee. The Arbitration Court and other tribunals have laid down the relationship that should apply between employer and employee, but they have left to the employer, as I think all fairminded members will concede to be necessary in any occupation or industry, a reasonable measure of disciplinary control over those whom he engages. Efficient industry is impossible unless those who pay the wages and fulfil the conditions laid down for employees by the industrial tribunals of this country are permitted to enforce a reasonable measure of discipline, and to expect a fair day's work from those whom they engage. In this industry, as the result of legislation which the Parliament has already passed, the normal relationship between employer and employee does not exist. Instead, there is a sort of " infernal triangle ". We have the employer and the employee, but standing somewhere in between them are the government authorities, and unless those administering on behalf of the Government the strong powers that this bill confers upon them are very careful, we shall have a situation in which discipline will become impossible. In practice, that has already happened. Let us suppose, for example, that, at a pick-up centre, there is an unruly waterside worker who refuses to obey the orders given to him. Such orders, I remind the House, would be issued to him, not by his employer, but by the port committee. The " boss ", on the other hand, wants the labour. He has a ship perhaps carrying perishable cargo, to be unloaded. It has to make scheduled calls at various other ports in this country or overseas.


Mr Holloway - The employer will be represented on the port committee.


Mr HOLT - Surely the Minister will not suggest that that is how it works out in practice so far as the pick-up is concerned. He is not the boss directly engaging men for a particular ship. He may be represented on the port committee, but the Government's representative has the casting vote. It cannot be claimed that the person who really employs and pays the labour, has any direct supervision of the pick-up. Therefore, if the government authority is not prepared to redress a breach of discipline, it will be impossible for efficient operations to be carried on. That is why I refer to the position as an " infernal triangle ". Unless that administration is exercised with skill, authority and judgment, the relationship between employer and employee will become utterly unworkable. I do not wish to detain the House at greater length at this stage. There are other matters that can be dealt with more effectively when the bill reaches the committee stage. I merely repeat that, in introducing this measure, the Government is having another " go " at bringing peace to this section of industry, and facilitating more efficient working on the waterfront. Events since the first attempt was made in 1947 have been disastrous, and costly. From the point of view of the community, the experiment has failed completely and I am afraid that this measure will not be any more successful than the last because it still contains the weaknesses to which I have referred in the course of this debate. We on his side of the chamber prophesy - not happily, I assure the Minister, but with some confidence - that unless these weaknesses are eliminated, he will come back to this Parliament before long, if he has the good fortune to remain in office, and confess that the second experiment has failed to produce the results that the Government seeks. The Minister will have to strengthen the authority of the tribunal; he will have to provide for a greater measure of discipline on the waterfront both between employer and employee, and between the Stevedoring Industry Board and its employees. If he is to remove what my colleagues and I regard as a very obnoxious provision from this bill, he will take away from the federation that power of engagement which now exists, and place it where it more properly belong£ - in the hands of the body for which this legislation provides.







Suggest corrections