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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 2356

Mr WALLIS (Grey) - -I support the attitude that has been adopted by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) and the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), who spoke in complete opposition to this Bill, and fully endorse what they said. The honourable member for Stirling mentioned that last year the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the employers got together and were able to thrash out a number of their problems but, unfortunately, there was, it appeared, Government interference and what could have been the establishment of guidelines for a decent industrial policy in Australia was not permitted. I think this was done by the Government with the intention of making sure that the industrial peace that looked like coming about would not eventuate, because this was a matter that could be used for purely political purposes. It appears at this point that the proposed amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act have been introduced for purely political reasons. This is an election year. It is a year in which the Government is not faring too well, and it has to pull some chestnuts out of the fire. It thinks that if it can raise the question of industrial relations this will assist it. So it is quite obvious that this Bill has been motivated by purely electoral reasons. During the course of his contribution to this debate the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) referred to what the LiberalCountry Party Government haH done since it came to office in 1949. I shall mention a few of its actions. In the early 1950s the Menzies Government put more teeth into the Arbitration Act. This happened because of what is now known as the boilermakers case, to which the Prime Minister referred tonight. As a result of this case the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Industrial Court were established. Perhaps we should consider the background to this case. A number of boilermakers employed by Mort's Dock in Sydney, not under any instruction from their union, decided to take up a collection for members of another union who were carrying on an industrial dispute. The union was ordered by the then Arbitration Court to instruct its members to stop taking up the collection. The union said it could not, with a fair conscience, instruct its members to do such a thing. As a result the union was fined £500 or, in today's currency, $1,000. The union was not prepared to accept this and with legal assistance the matter was taken to the High Court. As a result of this case the judicial and arbitral powers of the Commission were separated and subsequently the Industrial Court was set up. The late Dr Evatt referred to this Court as the Court of Pains and Penalties. The enabling legislation was introduced and a prominent Minister of the Liberal Party who piloted it through this House eventually was appointed as Chief Judge of the Industrial Court.

On a number of matters we have seen the Government carry out policies which have worked against the interests of the ordinary employee. It opposed the 3 weeks annual leave case in the early 1960s. Although it was agreed to in principle, the matter dragged on for the next 3 years until granted by the Court. The reasons the Government gave for this delay were the state of the economy and the possibility of Britain entering the European Economic Community. We saw the Government's support for the total wage concept. At the time the unions opposed this concept as they considered that the retention of the basic wage plus margins would have given the workers a much fairer deal. J, would fully agree with that at this stage because I think that the big differential which now exists between the higher paid and the lower paid worker has come about mainly through the operation of the total wage concept.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The Court agrees with that.

Mr WALLIS - It probably does. We have seen many actions since then which have resulted in a feeling against the Commission among the workers and which have in some way dissolved any confidence which the ordinary employer had in the Commission. If I may refer to a particular case concerning the firm of C. A. Parsons and Sons in Whyalla, the members of the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society who worked at this establishment carried out what was at that time union policy, namely, a 12-hour limit on overtime. The union placed a 12-hour limit on overtime to cut out not only the individual greedy member but also to prevent the exploitation of the ordinary employee. The union wanted to cut out excessive overtime. The union considered that 12 hours overtime a week was enough. The firm took the matter to the Commission and the result of this action was that because the union members refused to exceed the 12-hour limit on overtime the union was fined a total of $2,000.

I do not think this sort of this thing is conducive to happy industrial relations. I do not think anyone can say that 12 hours a week overtime is not an excessive amount of overtime. I think that we are all pretty well aware, particularly those members on this side of the House who have had anything at all to do with the trade union movement, of the whole history of the use of penal clauses in the past. We know what happened right up until the time of the O'Shea case. Prior to that case we saw the way in which penal clauses were used. Their use was such that they caused more disputes than they settled. This culminated in the O'Shea case in which we saw the Industrial Court back off and Government back off. As a result some improvements came about in the arbitration system.

I wish to refer to another case. I mention these cases to illustrate the way in which unions have run foul of the Commission and the unfair manner in which they have been treated at times. This particular incident did not occur under the provisions of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act but under Western Australian legislation. In this case members of a union were in dispute. Again these members belonged to the union to which I belong, the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society. The members were in dispute with the Western Australian firm of Forwood Down Pty Ltd. The men were instructed to lift their ban and to go back to work, which they did. Some of the members were not satisfied and decided that they would resign. The firm involved was able to go to the Industrial Court from which it obtained a court order which denied the men the right to resign. The men then had to approach the Court to get permission to resign from their job.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - When was that?

Mr WALLIS - This was in Western Australia about 3 years ago. Another case involved about 6 chaps who were prepared to go to gaol rather than pay fines which had been inflicted on them individually. If I may deal with the proposed amendments to this Bill perhaps I could first of all refer to that part which deals with the state of the economy or the effect of a decision of the Commission on the economy. For a long time we have heard Government sup porters more or less give hints that the Commission should take into account the effects which any decision it makes might have on the economy. I know that a provision relating to this is included in the Bill. This will certainly give the Government greater power of intervention in cases so that an application will not be considered purely and simply on its merits; the question of the state of the economy will come into it as will also the effect of the Commission's decision. I think that the fact that the Government will be able to intervene will greatly strengthen its hand in appearances before the Commission. I doubt whether this clause is necessary, bearing in mind the decision which was given last Friday in the national wage case. It is obvious that somebody must have been listening to what the Government has been saying about any decision which the Commission gives because the Commission gave only a $2 rise and a rise of $4.75 to a worker in receipt of the minimum wage.

It is quite obvious that the provisions of this clause will be used for political purposes. It would appear that the way in which the whole Act is operating at present will be the way in which it will operate in the future. We on this side cannot see any difference in many of the Commission's functions. The question of inflation will once again be a burden which will be placed on those who are least able to pay. This Bill could lead to an even greater lack of confidence in our present conciliation and arbitration system because it will sap away further public confidence in the system itself.

Provision for the holding of secret ballots is another proposed amendment to the Act. I think it is obvious that the scheme of secret ballots must have some aura that attracts public attention. I would say that anyone who has any practical knowledge of this matter would realise that the operation of secret ballots is a little farcical because it is practically impossible to carry them out. This has already been mentioned by an honourable member who spoke earlier in this debate. Most disputes take place at job level. They take place before a union official knows anything about them. The official finds out when someone rings him up from the job and says: 'The members are out the gate. Will you come out?' The Union official does not know what it is all about until he gets onto the job, so what the devil is he going to do in this sort of situation? I would say that this is the position with 95 per cent of the disputes that take place. Disputes take place for various reasons, including the sacking of a union official or because of unsafe working conditions. Any number of situations could arise which might bring about a dispute and result in a decision by the men to walk out the gate, or they might have a meeting at lunch time and decide not to go back to work. The union official does not find out about it until afterwards.

There is provision in this Bill to give to the Commission power to order the holding of secret ballots. One thing which intrigues me is the assumption that if a secret ballot is held the men will automatically reject strike action. This has not always proved to be correct. I refer to a secret ballot which was carried out among railway men in Queensland a few years ago when the men overwhelmingly decided in favour of strike action. What intrigues me is that if a secret ballot is carried out and the men decide to go out on strike or to take other industrial action, after a while some negotiations will take place, but what action will be taken to get the men back to work? Will a secret ballot be held to get them back to work or will a show of hands be relied on? That is one point that certainly is not covered in this Bill, mainly because in the argument of the Government it is assumed that every time a secret ballot is held the men will reject any suggestion of industrial action.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - What about a postal secret ballot?

Mr WALLIS - Yes, that could be done.

Mr Lynch - If you believe that what are you worried about? If you do not believe the ballot legislation will work, what are you really worried about?

Mr WALLIS - Just give me a minute and I will think about it. One thing which I did notice in that part of the Bill dealing with secret ballots is the list of penalties which may be imposed if a person does not abide by the provisions of the Bill. I thought one of them was pretty strong. It carries a $500 fine or 6 months imprisonment for a person who tries to induce a person not to vote. This seems to me to infringe a little on a person's civil rights. That is my own opinion. Another point which I think infringes on a person's rights is the matter of the bank account which is referred to in this legislation. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) in his second reading speech said that 'union employer bodies exist primarily to protect and advance the interests of their members. It is the members who must determine the affairs of these organisations'. It is a gross interference in the rights of unions if they have to tell the Commission where they keep every cent. This is one of the reasons why we on this side most certainly have decided to oppose this Bill completely. It will certainly make it easier for the Government to pick up the money when a union is fined if it knows where all the money is kept.

Finally I would like to deal with the subject of amalgamation of unions. As I said earlier I am a member of the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society. I am a former official of that union. I was involved for a number of years in discussions that took place at branch level dealing with that union's amalgamation. I know the strong feeling that exists in these unions in regard to what has happened concerning amalgamations.

Firstly, in deciding to amalgamate, the unions were giving effect to the policy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The unions held conferences a number of years ago and altered their rules to ensure that the amalgamations could be made. In doing this they had the advice of prominent counsel and, I understand, the benefit of discussions with the Industrial Registrar. They endeavoured to ensure that they did not run into problems. The matter was given all the publicity in the world by the 3 unions concerned - the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society, the Sheet Metalworkers Union and the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Now people have suddenly decided to challenge the amalgamations, right at the death knock, on the ground that nobody knew what was going on. Their arguments do not hold water. The amalgamation has been given wide publicity, including publicity in the journals of the unions involved.

I have one such publication here for September 1970. The whole scheme was set out in a publication in January 1971 and to say now that nobody knew what had been going on is rubbish. It is obvious that the whole matter had the fullest possible discussion at top level, and by the various State branches. I know from my own experience that from the word go everything that was done was done according to the rules of the union; and it was never challenged. As I have said, the rules were changed to prepare for the amalgamation. The legal steps required under the arbitration system were taken. The Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society and the Sheet Metalworkers Union were to go out of existence, and the rules of the Amalgamated Engineering Union were broadened to cover various new classifications. This, too, was done on legal advice and after discussions with the Industrial Registrar. The unions were advised by the Industrial Registrar that in order to bring about the amalgamation, the two smaller unions, the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society and the Sheet Metalworkers Union, would have to deregister. This, of course, they did.

The only obstacle to amalgamation was the outstanding fines. The unions agreed to pay them. The Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society agreed to pay S17.000 to allow the amalgamation to take place. The unions were advised to act responsibly, in accordance with the law and the arbitration regulations. This they did. Everything was done after taking advice and consulting the Industrial Registrar, and it appeared that all hurdles to amalgamation were overcome. Ballots were held and carried by large majorities. In each of the 3 unions concerned a large majority of those who voted were in favour of the amalgamation. Everything had been done right and it looked as though this proposal was going to go through, until a few weeks ago when there was a bit of a bellow from the Democratic Labor Party about whether the Government would allow the amalgamation to take place. There was talk of pressure being put on the Minister who, apparently, was in favour of the amalgamation. I could quote what he said, but my time is short.

We now have the Government with this Bill pandering to the DLP, which is opposed to amalgamation. Despite what the Minister for Labour and National Service said in a statement on 2nd March, we are now to have a situation where it will be practically impossible to bring about an amalgamation of unions because of the percentage of votes required in favour of such a move. It would be possible in a ballot in which 48 per cent of the membership voted to have 47 per cent in favour and 1 per cent against, but because the number of votes cast was not 50 per cent of the membership, the ballot would be invalid. That is a gross interference with the rights of unions. The ballot in respect of this amalgamation in my own union, the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society, was 3 to 1 in favour of amalgamation.

I would say that there is no need for this legislation. Mainly as a result of interference by the DLP and pressure put on the Government by the DLP over allocation of preferences in the next election, in future it will be very difficult for unions to amalgamate. It is quite obvious that the Government has bowed to the DLP on this matter.

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