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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 1090

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) - I rise tonight to give credit to the employer and the employees of an organisation which is very important in our society, but also to give warning that the circumstances under which it has operated in the past may be interfered with by this Government in terms of industrial relations. The Commonwealth Banking Corporation employs a staff of some 28,000 people, over 90 per cent of whom incredibly, are members of their registered union, the Commonwealth Bank Officers Association. Over the years, the Association and the Corporation have established an enviable record in the field of industrial relations. Communication between the management and association officials has been direct and open. Joint Association-Corporation consultative and advisory committees have been a feature of the Corporation 's industrial relations policy. The Association has pursued firm, moderate policies which have resulted in good conditions of service for its members. That this enlightened approach to industrial relations has paid off needs little by way of illustration. The resultant co-operation between staff and management has been a major contributing factor in the growth of the Commonwealth Bank into one of the largest and most highly respected financial institutions not only in Australia but also throughout the international banking world.

In recent times, due to interference from Government agencies, including the Department of Industrial Relations and the Public Service Board, relations between the Corporation and the Association have begun to deteriorate. Association officials, long accustomed to having direct access to Corporation decision makers, now find that decisions relating to industrial matters are subject to investigation and approval or disapproval by public servants employed in government authorities. This interference goes much further than what might be seen as necessary oversight of the activities of a statutory body. A recent application of a 4.8 per cent salary increase awarded to private banks' employees by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was delayed for almost four months while public servants examined in detail a work value exercise almost identical with that which had already been accepted by the Commission. The increase was finally paid only after a threat of industrial action by the CBOA.

It is a subsequent development however, which is now causing most concern to people involved in good undustrial relations in this organisation. Recently the officials of the Association were told that retirement at the age of 55 years would be achieved only if the redeployment provisions of the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act were also applied. This proposal would mean that the Corporation, an expanding organisation, would be called upon to fill vacant positions on its staff with public servants who, in terms of the Act, become eligible for redeployment. Not only would this in practice destroy promotional opportunities for career bank officers, but also it would seriously impair the standing of the Corporation in the banking industry where the bank would be quickly branded as just another government department.

Successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, have in the past been careful not to intrude into the day to day running of the bank. Apart from overviewing Corporation policy through the bank board, governments until now have respected the need for the bank to be independent of control by government agencies. For its part, the bank has excercised its independence with responsibility and with due regard for its charter, as defined in the Act. The redeployment provisions of the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act are absolutely unacceptable to the bank which has a policy calling for reduction of the early retirement age from 60 years to 55 years in the wake of rapid technological change in the bank and in order to make some contribution towards the alleviation of unemployment, particularly for school leavers.

If the Government persists through its agencies in its endeavours to apply the redeployment provision to the Corporation service, it will force a most serious confrontation between the bank and the CBOA neither of which wants to see the Commonwealth Banking Corporation convened to the status of another government department. Application of the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act within the Commonwealth Bank's service can have only a seriously detrimental effect upon the public standing of the bank and upon the morale and loyalty of its employees.

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