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Wednesday, 6 July 1949

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- Before the suspension of the sitting the Minister (Mr. Dedman) had replied to some comments which I had made on behalf of the Opposition arising out of the discussion of clause 13. We had expressed criticism of the current arrangement under which the Waterside Workers Federation had been given a monopoly in the engagement of labour on the waterfront and was, from time to time, requested by the commission, and no doubt in future will be requested by the board to be established under this legislation, to provide additional labour at particular ports. The Minister's reply was, in my view, entirely inadequate and unsatisfying. It evaded the real point of principle which our criticisms had raised. Therefore, it is necessary for me to say a word or two more about it. The Minister submitted as an excuse for non-compliance with the directions of the commission in the past that additional labour be provided had not been complied with that there had been a general shortage of labour throughout the Commonwealth. The implication in the honorable gentleman's reply was that the unions would have had difficulty in obtaining additional labour for the waterfront. I do not think that many people will seriously accept that excuse. Most of us have had complaints from citizens of the Commonwealth who want to engage in this industry that they have not been able to break into it. When they have applied for admission to the union they have been told that they cannot join it. It is common knowledge that conditions on the waterfront at present, both in respect of wages and working conditions generally, are so favorable by comparison with those of other comparatively unskilled occupations, that there is a rush of applicants to join this section of industry. I do not know whether the Minister seriously believes that what he has submitted to us is the case, or whether he is merely trying to hoodwink us on this matter. I do not imagine that any one could seriously contend that in certain ports of the Commonwealth the Waterside Workers Federation has tried to recruit additional labour but that it has been unable to do so because the men have not been offering. There is a simple way .to test the reliability of the information supplied by the union, if it is upon such information that the Minister has relied for his answer. Let the Government do what the Opposition has recommended and make the waterside employment committees responsible for recruiting labour for the waterfront. After all, these committees are thoroughly representative. They represent the unions, the employers and the Government in this matter. We should then soon find out whether or not there is sufficient labour offering on the waterfront.

The second comment which the Minister made was that Judge Foster had recommended in his report on the industry that only one union should cover employees on the waterfront. We had a good deal to say on that point when the original legislation was before us in 1947. We then referred to the fact that by a thoroughly unprincipled process other unions, which were not perhaps so popular with the Labour Administration because they had been established only comparatively recently, were slowly strangled. I refer to the Permanent, and Casual Waterside Workers Union, which was established as the result of the disastrous war-time strikes, when the Government appealed for volunteers to load the ships in order to help get supplies to our troops abroad. That organization had never been acceptable to the political Labour movement or to the Waterside Workers Federation, and when the opportunity to do so arose, the Government by a singularly unprincipled process condemned that union to death by slow strangulation. We did not need the Minister to remind us of the conditions which led to the continuance of only one .union for this industry. There was no other logical connexion between what Judge Foster had to say and the policy which is now under attack here. Judge Foster did not say that the Waterside Workers Federation should have sole responsibility for the recruitment of labour on the waterfront. Indeed, I am certain that the learned judge would be astonished, if not shocked, to learn that a monopoly had been granted, to this union which was enabling it, alone, absolutely free from government supervision, to recruit labour on the waterfront. On the one hand, the Government has introduced legislation which is designed to cast on to the board the responsibility for the provision of additional labour, for seeing that that labour is efficient and for supervising it, but on the other hand, under the pressure of "Comrade" Healy and "Comrade" Roach, it says to the Waterside Workers Federation, in effect: "You shall have a monopoly in the engagement of labour. We shall put your organization in such a position that no person who is not a registered member of your organization can work on the waterfront. You are to recruit labour and supply us" with a list of the names of your members ". The Minister replied that we submitted a similar case in 1947 and that he was not impressed by our reasoning then; but I remind him that if the legislation of 1947 and the policy of this Government had brought the results it expected at that time, we would not now have this bill before us. We are considering this legislation only because the .attitude of the Government in 1947 has resulted in the failure and final breakdown of the Stevedoring Industry Commission. We are surely entitled to have more consideration paid to the views which we submit to-day than the Government was prepared to give to the views we expressed in 1947. If it had listened a little more carefully to what we said then, this bill would not have been necessary. If the Minister is not prepared to give an undertaking that the recruitment of labour shall be left in the hands of the board at least he should give an undertaking to the committee that the board, which should be able to make a fresh attack on these problems, will be able to examine this matter and express its views to the Government. If we are merely to be left where we were in 1947, we can expect from this legislation no better results than those which flowed from the earlier legislation.

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