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Thursday, 18 August 1960

Mr McMAHON (LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - I think the Australian Council of Trade Unions, as well as the members of this House, should be aware of the traditional approach of the Commonwealth Government to the question of increased wages and reduced hours of work. Not only this Government but also former Labour governments have taken the view that these major questions should be left to the Commonwealth arbitration tribunals for decision. I hope that in this matter of such enormous importance to the economy of the country as a whole, particularly to the working man himself, no State government will take any action prior to an impartial and independent inquiry by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

I should refer to certain facts, which ought to be known. The first is that, in the two major industrial States of New South Wales and Victoria, there are now more job vacancies than people applying for employment. Secondly, a reduction of hours of work to 35 a week would mean a reduction of normal working hours by one-seventh. In these circumstances, with virtually over-full employment and very few people available for jobs, T believe personally that the attitude of the A.C.T.U. at this time can only be classed as incomprehensible and quite irresponsible. 1 should also like to point out that the number of hours of overtime at present being worked is growing steadily over a large section of industry. It appears to me, therefore, that what is behind the move of the A.C.T.U. is not so much an attempt to reduce actual hours of work, although there would be a reduction of nominal hours of work, as an indirect attempt to have wages increased by this means rather than by an approach to the Arbitration Commission. Lastly, I think the A.C.T.U. should be well aware of the fact that two of the big problems that face this Government are the possible increase of costs and the difficulty that exporters, particularly of primary products, have in selling goods overseas in competition with the products of other countries. If there were a one-seventh increase in the price of goods we sell overseas, competition could become unbearable and export earnings would fall. If this should happen I think that the worker could find it extremely difficult to sustain his present standard of living. In the light of all these facts the attitude of the A.C.T.U. becomes all the more incomprehensible.

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