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
Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 2448


Mr BENNETT (Swan) - The honourable member for Mcpherson (Mr Barnes) spoke of the interests of the community, but he failed to realise that unionists are the community - that returned soldiers, post-war school graduates and migrants are all workers, and that they are the very people about whom he complains. Being a Country Party member, he made no reference to the cost to the community of Australia of rural subsidies, for which the community pays; yet he complains bitterly about some of the costs of strikes. It is time that he appreciated that both are necessary and can be minimised only by better government management. His application to communist literature is amazing; it is almost obsessive. He gives publicity to the communists, and makes them national figures that they would never be without the help given by Government supporters. He highlighted the Government's failure to control inflation since the Labor Party was last in office and price control existed. At that time prices and wages were not in any sense inflationary but related to living costs.


Mr Lynch - Price control was a failure.


Mr Garrick - So is the Liberal Government.


Mr Lynch - What is his answer to that? Price control was a failure.


Mr BENNETT - We will deal with that later. Again we are faced with a piece of political legislation aimed at the working man. For a long time we have seen a concerted lobbying by employer organisations for the Government to do something to take the heat off the disclosure of their excessive profits. They are supporting moves to manipulate figures to show a loss factor to avoid taxation payments on the real profits. In fact, the practice is so common that Australia has become the land of overseas takeover and investment. So the spurious arguments which have been advanced in support of this amendment to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act claiming that it is a move to control inflation have been exposed and can be completely rejected.

If there had been any doubt in any worker's mind as to whom the Government is representing, it has been completely removed by this debate, in which it has been exposed that this amendment is being made at the behest of the larger investment groups, who are no doubt paying heavily for the support they are receiving. All members of this House will have been lobbied with mail from the employer groups, and they will have seen copies of very expensive advertisements by the same groups in the Press. There can be no doubts in anyone's mind that this legislation is designed to control and suppress wage increases and to force wage fixing on the working man through the courts without introducing price or profit controls, lt is blatant politics at their worst. The best that could be said is that the Government does not really understand what it is doing. I take note of the interjection of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) in relation to price fixing and his reluctance to support in any way its introduction. He said that price control is a failure, as of course is this Bill.

This legislation will make the militant unions more militant and more inclined to demand action outside the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The weaker unions will be forced to follow suit, because the desperate, despairing rank and file membership will demand action. But because of the legislative mumbo jumbo that is being imposed by this Government on the unions it will be impossible for unions to take the action demanded by its members. More work will be created for the overworked union officials, who very often work twice the hours that the members who they represent do, and for less pay. Their only satisfaction is the work that they do for the cause in which they believe. Their problems are being compounded by this legislation, which makes amalgamation of unions even more difficult. Its aim appears to be to ensure that the system of a multitude of minor, understaffed and undercapitalised unions continues to exist, thus ensuring that the constantly festering sore of constant industrial disputation continues to divert attention from the Government's own failure to control the economy.

In the light of the excessive profits of some companies, it is strange indeed that restrictive legislation is being imposed on the people who physically make the effort to manufacture the goods which are sold for profit but that no control is being imposed on the shareholders, the profit takers. An appalling double standard is being perpetrated ad infinitum by this Government. There is truly one rule for the rich and another for the poor. But the supreme hypocrisy of the situation is shown by the Bill's utter contempt for this Parliament. Late last year the Australian Labor Party politicians, in a sincere attempt to rationalise inflation, refused a pay rise of some $3,000, forcing the Parliament to abandon the legislation giving a pay rise to members of the Parliament, at the same time rejecting increases of anything up to several thousand dollars a year for public servants, including conciliation commissioners. Let us remember that at that time this Government claimed, as it does even now, that inflation is caused by wage spirals. On these grounds it intervenes in pay claims by public servants before the Public Service Arbitrator, and in national wage case hearings and hearings before other wage fixing tribunals to prevent wage and salary increases.

Almost daily Ministers and other members on the Government side make statements decrying activity by unions to secure for their members just living wages. But what do we find in this Bill? It provides an increase in salary for commissioners of approximately $4,000 per annum. Not only is there an increase, but the increase is to be made retrospective to the date when this Parliament rejected the Bill which originally made provision for the increase to the self same commissioners last year. What supreme contempt of this Parliament to so rapaciously attempt to bring the raise in through the back door after its being rejected in a move which could be said to be in line with what the Government says should apply to the rest of the community. But the worst feature of this is that it tears from the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission what little respect the ordinary trade unionist has for it. If the commissioners do not agree with this back door trickery, let them make a statement to this effect. Let them show the restraint that they are always imploring the workers' advocate to show. Let them follow the practical lead of the politicians. Let them refuse to accept the wage increase completely or. at the very least, refuse to accept any amount over the $2 a week which was said to be a sufficient increase for the ordinary worker. If they refuse to do this, all that can be said will no doubt be expressed by the worker when he expresses his disgust at the paltry national wage increase.

This legislation places the commissioners and the Minister on trial in the eyes of those workers. But no matter what the Government, the Minister or the Commission may say, the very act of bringing forward this Bill discredits for all time the cry that wage and salary increases are the cause of inflationary problems. This Bill increases wages for a select section of our community who will no doubt find the money harder to spend than would those whose wages they seek to freeze by their actions and the intent of this Bill. Apart from being an effort to reward them for services rendered to the Government, is this Bill not a sop to the strong investment lobby, other political groups and all those whose one fanatical desire is to prevent a truly community representative government, a Labor government? Without question, this legislation is. It will be as completely ineffective as the existing Act has been during the last 23 years of Liberal rule.

Everything that is wrong in existing industrial relations has occurred during this long term of Liberal administration, and if industrial relations have become worse it is this Government which must accept responsibility. It is responsible for not initiating earlier action to relieve the situation highlighted by the Moore and Doyle case. The Government should have introduced legislation to overcome the problems exposed by that case instead of having allowed the situation which has existed for years. The solution is known, and in fact has been referred to by the courts themselves. They have referred the matter to the Attorneys-General. The present situation will no doubt continue because this Government has a vested interest in maintaining a situation which divides the workers' organisations. In the case to which I have referred, the costs of bringing the action which divided the State and Federal organisations were no doubt met by government agencies. No ordinary worker could hope to take such extensive legal action at his own expense, so we must assume that government instigation was the fundamental cause of the problem. So the taxpayer pays for the Government's politicking in union affairs. However, here again we have a Bill which will cost the taxpayer further large sums of money. If the union member does not pay as a taxpayer he will pay as a union member.

I refer to the fantastic expenditure involved in postal ballots which must ensue in the case of amalgamation. Somebody must pay the cost of printing, postage and clerical staff. Either the union member or the taxpayer will pick up the bill of many thousands of dollars. If it is just for the Government to impose such conditions of ballot on the public at large, it must be agreed that it is just for this Government in turn to hold a ballot, a referendum, to obtain the same sort of mandate from the people whom this legislation will affect, the general voting public. But, of course, this action is not being taken because it is being imposed at the behest of sectional extreme groups only. The Government is saying: 'We are immune from your judgment; we will make up the rules of your democratic organisation for you. You are not able to decide the method of conduct or management yourselves; we the Government will decide the terms and if you do not agree, if you do not comply, we will fine you, imprison you or disband your organisation and refuse its right to exist'. The Government claims that it is democratic. How ludicrous.

Let us look at the Minister's own statement in relation to amalgamations. He said:

Thus if the eligible membership of an organisation is 1,000, five hundred will be required to cast a vote and, assuming that that SOO vote formally, 2S1 or approximately 25 per cent will be required to vote in favour of amalgamation.

The Minister knows full well that when voting is not compulsory there is no hope that anywhere near that percentage of the Australian public will vote. For instance, we have only to look at the local government body elections throughout Australia. They fully illustrate the point; a 25 per cent vote of the total vote enrolment would be nearer the rule and not the exception. In fact, the Minister illustrated his awareness of the true situation in a speech he gave on 2nd March 1972. He was referring to the recent metal trades amalgamation, of which he quite rightly approved, and said:

The results of the ballots showed that almost 86 per cent of those voting in the AEU ballot favoured amalgamation, 73 per cent in the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society and almost 70 per cent in the Sheet Metal Workers Union. The percentage of total membership of the union of those voting were 9 per cent AEU, 40 per cent Boiler Makers and Blacksmiths and 36 per cent Sheet Metal Workers Union.

Does the Minister for one second imagine that, with the difficulties which will be imposed by this Bill making it almost impossible for the people who took an active and responsible attitude to the organising of the amalgamation, they would have been able to comply with the provisions of the amended Act. Why are these provisions before us now? There is no evidence to substantiate the need for them. The Minister, in referring to the only amalgamation of recent times which has cr-.used any public or political interest said:

Thus, it makes provision for what are commonly called court controlled ballots for office bearers when requested by the committee for management of a union or by a specific number of its members. However, these are not mandatory and the great majority of union elections are conducted by the unions themselves. This is relevant to the suggestion which has been made that there is a history of 'ballot rigging' in these 3 unions. The record does not bear this out and it is supported, 1 believe, by the fact that there has not been a request from the membership of any of the 3 unions for a 'court controlled ballot' for a considerable number of years.

So, by his own logic the Minister proves that in fact there is no need for this aspect of the legislation. In the face of the logic the Minister has made a completely contrary decision and put forward the legislation which includes something that has always been repugnant to workers organisations. 1 now refer to the penalties.

Let me draw the attention of the House to page 46 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which sets out the schedule of amendments to penalties which read like a horror story. It is intended to amend section 5(1.) by increasing the penalty from SI 00 to $400; section 5 (1a.) from $100 to $400; and section 5 (2.) from $50 to $200. Honourable members should remember that these are all penalties which are to be increased. It is intended to amend section 42 by increasing the penalty from $20 to $100; section 125 from $100 to $500 or imprisonment of 6 months; section 138 from $200 to $400; section 143 (3d.) from $100 to $400; sections 152(1.), (2.), (3.) and (4.) from $20 for each week of default to $200 and, in addition, $50 for each week of default; sections 152(5.) and (9d.) from $40 to $200; section 153(4.) from $20 for each week of default to $200 and, in addition, $50 for each week of default; section 154(1.) from $100 to $400; section 158 from $100 to $400; section 160(5.) from $200 or imprisonment for 12 months, or both to $500 or imprisonment for 6 months, or both; section 166(2.) from $200 or imprisonment for 12 months, or both to $500 or imprisonment for 6 months, or both; section 169 from $200 or imprisonment for 12 months, or both to $500 or imprisonment for 6 months, or both; and section 170a (2.) from $200 or imprisonment for 12 months, or both to $500 or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.

So we read in this schedule the periods of imprisonment which can be inflicted on workers for following their consciences. We also see that the increases of penalties, carrying terms of imprisonment, are in the main directed against the worker and not the employer. A fine in terms of money means very little to an employer as there is no price control to prevent him from passing his costs on to the public in the form of increased prices. So much for the

Minister's earlier interjection. But this is not so in the case of the union or employee whose only source of income is restricted. Section 138 (d) of the Act, which carries a fine of $400, has the words:

Advise, encourage or incite such a member to retard, obstruct or limit the progress of work to which the award applies by 'go slow' methods; or

Section 138(e) has the words:

Advise, encourage or incite such a member -

(i)   To perform work to which the award applies in a manner different from that customarily applicable to that work; or

(ii)   To adopt a practice in relation to that work.

When read together, one can see the intent of the Minister's recent statement on productivity. Who will decide what are production norms? Will it be the production manager or the time and motion study officer? This is in keeping with what has been imposed on the Public Service. It makes no provision whatsoever for the agreement of the shop committee which decides on the safe and fair way of performing its duties. This course of action is completely provocative. The system is open to abuse by the unscrupulous employer who unfortunately still exists today. Not all employers are as enlightened as the honourable floor-sweeping member who spoke in this debate this afternoon. The situation will continue to exist while we have a Government which continues to attack the reputation of trade unions and their members. It is far past the time for proper recognition to be given to the part which unions play in the economic community. The trade unions should be able to take their place and participate in advisory and consultative areas of management. The gap between employer and employee should not be further widened. However, this is what is happening mainly because of Government intervention.

One of the worst features of this legislation is that it discriminates against the smaller weaker union which does not have the background to support itself against the provisions of the Bill. Let us face the facts: The more difficult the Act, the greater is the collusion to defeat its provisions between the larger unions in the interests of their members and the employers with whom they are dealing, who co-operate in the interests of common sense and the welfare of their employees, who are associated with the unions.

The Government claims that it wants strong unions, yet it is doing all that is possible to defeat this. The sooner it is realised that strike decisions are made not by the union officials but by workers frustrated at the lack of results, the sooner we will be able to do something to genuinely speed up the processes of conciliation by workers real representation at workshop level. The Government should take steps to ensure that all employers in competition have the same basic labour costs. To do so the Government should take action to control contract labour which is in the hands of what are in fact employment and material handling brokers. They care nothing for the effect of their acts on the community and the bankruptcy that overtakes contractors, particularly in the building and transport industries. This position causes the more reputable firm more concern as it competes against them. But the overall costs of non-payment of wages and debts must be borne by the community - the taxpayer. For instance the majority of unpaid road taxes is owed by the small operator who, due to unsatisfactory prices passed on to the smaller operator by the major contractor-







Suggest corrections