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Tuesday, 17 December 1912

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - When proceedings were suspended on Friday I was referring to the Arbitration Court, its atmosphere of suspicion and antagonism, and the industrial unrest caused by its failure to recognise any mutual consideration or community of interest between capital and labour, employer and employe. I was also referring to the time occupied by cases before the Court, and I mentioned the Tramways case, which has occupied 100 days. That represents practically one-third of the working days of the Court for a whole year.

Senator Millen - I am informed that it represents half a legal year.

Senator Lynch - For which the Constitution is responsible, and honorable senators opposite are not willing to amend it.

Senator VARDON - In my view, the Constitution is in no way responsible for it. It is a question whether the award that has been given will settle the matter, and whether there will not be a reference to another Court to decide whether there was a dispute at all. What may we anticipate from the proposed amendment of the Constitution? It is surely that, instead of the work of the Court being reduced, it will be increased, and, instead of its action being more expeditious, it will be loaded up with work which it will be unable to perform. I have quoted the number of our industries, and the number of employes engaged in them, with the object of showing that they are all to be handed over to this Court, instead of the work of the Court being limited to disputes extending beyond the limits of one State. I have referred to the failure of Arbitration proceedings in New Zealand and New South Wales, and have indicated my preference for a Wages Board system, with leave, in the case of unfair competition between industries in the different States, to appeal to a Court established for the purpose of dealing with such questions. Such cases will, I believe, be found to be exceptionally few, because each year employers and employes will, to a greater extent, be forced to recognise that the conditions and wages of industry must approximate in all the States. If wages are higher in one State than in another, the tendency will be to level up rather than to level down.

Senator Lynch - We were told in Western Australia by the honorable senator's party that they were going to be levelled down.

Senator VARDON - I do not know what has happened in Western Australia, but, speaking from our general experience, I venture to say that the operation of the Wages Board system since it was initiated has been in the direction of raising wages in every instance, and not in the direction of levelling down.

Senator Needham - Can the honorable senator point to any instance in which the Commonwealth Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration have reduced wages as the result of any of its judgments?

Senator VARDON - No. I say that, no matter what tribunal we establish, whether it be a Wages Board or an Arbitration Court, unless wages are increased all the time the worker will have no use for it. I have said also that, so far, the operation of such Courts has been in the direction of raising wages.

Senator de Largie - That is the honorable senator's objection to them.

Senator VARDON - I beg the honorable senator's pardon. That is a gratuitous statement on his part. I have expressed no objection to them, and if the honorable senator were at all acquainted with the history of the matter, he would be aware that it was largely due to my own influence that Wages Boards were established in South Australia. I wish now to show that Canada has followed upon other lines in the passage of the Industrial investigations Act. Their idea was conciliation and conference. The leading feature of the measure may be expressed in the words. " Come : now, and let us reason together, and see if we cannot arrive at a mutual understanding." The Canadian Act has been very economical in its working. I refer to it because I believe it would be worth the while of. this Parliament to consider the advisability of adopting similar legislation rather than of continuing the expensive system we have established. Under the Canadian Industrial Investigations Act before a strike or lock-out can take place, the matter in dispute must be referred to a Board created under the Act. The Board consists of three persons, one appointed by the employers, the second by the employes, and the third by the first two, or, if they fail to agree upon an appointment, by the Minister administering the Act. Thirty days' notice has to be given before action of this kind can be taken. The mode of reaching the tribunal is as follows : - Application forms are provided and these forms embody -

(a)   The parties to the dispute.

(b)   The nature and cause of the dispute.

(c)   The approximate number of persons; affected by the dispute.

(d)   The efforts made by the parties them selves to settle the dispute.

There must also accompany the application a declaration that, failing adjustment of the dispute, there will be a strike or lock-out in the industry. An application may be made by organized unions or unorganized employes. When the Board is constituted, it is its duty to investigate the whole case. It sits with open doors, and takes sworn evidence. It pays the expenses of witnesses, and imposes penalties if its summonses are disobeyed. The members of the Board, . during the time of sitting, are paid a sum. . of £4 per day. If a settlement is arrived. at, a memorandum is drawn up and signed by both parties to the dispute. This is put in the form of an agreement to last a certain time, and is made binding. If a. settlement is not reached, a full report of the case is made to the Minister, with such recommendations for a settlement of the dispute as may to the members of the Board seem fit. The report is signed by the Registrar and published in the Labour Gazette. That is the end of the matter so far as the Board is concerned, and where an agreement is not reached, a strike or lockout may be resorted to. The great virtue of the Act is that it brings the parties together, permits of a frank discussion of differences, and the publicity of the proceedings usually brings about a settlement as - the result of the pressure of public opinion. So far as I am able to learn, the working of the Act has given general satisfaction. I believe that if we were to pass legislation on such lines, it would be a boon to this community, and would result in a great saving of time, expense, and friction. I ask honorable senators to take note of the results of the operation of this Canadian measure. The number of disputes dealt with in 1907-8 was34 ; in 1908-0, 21;-: in 1909-10, 27; in 1910-11, 24: or a total of 106 cases. The number of cases in which a strike or lock-out was averted in 1907-8 was 32 out of 34; in 1908-9, 19 out of 21; in 1909-10, 25 out of 27 ; in 1910-11, 19 out of 24 ; or a total of 95 out of 106 cases. The number of cases in which a strike or lock-out was not averted was, in 1907-8, 1 ; in 1908-9, 1 ; in 1909- 10, 4; in 1910-11, 4; or a total of 10 such cases. The number of employes estimated to have been affected by the 106 disputes is given at 101,680. I want to compare these results with the results of arbitration proceedings. New South Wales enacted a Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1901. Mr. B. R. Wise, who was the author of the Act, took exceptional pride in it, and looked upon it as an almost perfect piece of legislation. He declared that under it there -was no form of dispute that might not be very quickly settled. But what was the result of its operation? In 1901 there were 2 strikes; in 1902, 12; in 1903,II; in 1904,II; in 1905, 36; in 1906, 29; in 1907, 52 ; and during the first three months of 1908 there were 33 strikes. The result was that the. Court was quite unable to deal with the business brought before it, and declared at that time that it had as much business in front of it as would take it two years to do. The result was that the Act was abolished, and tribunals in the nature of Wages Boards substituted for Arbitration Courts. It appears to me that this goes to show that the system of arbitration is not by any means the best system that could be adopted. Let me give an illustration of the operation of the Canadian Act, which I quote from the Registrar of Boards of Conciliation and Investigation for the years 1910-11 -

Application from members of the Toronto Railway Employees Union - No. 113 employed by the Toronto Company - Board established - Unanimous report by Board - Strike averted.

Application received July 5,1910.

Parties concerned - The Toronto Railway Company and employees. Members of the Toronto Railway Employees Union number 113.

Applicants - Employees.

Nature of industry concerned - street railways.

Nature of dispute - concerning demand for new working agreement.

Number of employees affected - 1,300.

Date of constitution of Board - July 16th 1910.

Membership of Board - His Honor Judge John A. Barron, Stratford, Ont, Chairman, appointed on the joint recommendation of the other members of the Board : Mr. J. P. Mullarkey, Montreal, Que., appointed on the recommendation of the employing company; and Mr. J. G. O'Donoghue, Toronto,Ont., appointed on the recommendation of the employees.

Report received - August, 20, 1910.

Result of inquiry - Board presented a unanimous report making certain recommendations for the settlement of the dispute which were accepted by both parties concerned - a strike being thereby averted.

A copy of the schedule was embodied in the Board's report, the same to take effect from the 16th July,1910, and to remain in force for two years from the above-mentioned date.

The new schedule of wages provided for increases from 21 to 24 cents, or nearly is. per hour, to the various men in the employ of the company. It is further stated that -

The Board expressed in its report its appreciation of the spirit of fairness exhibited by the parties to the dispute, and of the deep sense of responsibility which each side felt that it owed to the city of Toronto. It was the opinion of the Board that the final acceptance of the award was due to the large concessions made in the interests of the public by the President and officers of the company on the one side and their employees on the other. Referring to a critical period in the inquiry the Board also stated : - " It was then that the respective sides began preparations, one to order a strike, the other to meet it. In fact, both sides at this point kept calling for the award, eager to quickly meet the consequences which were then believed to be inevitable. It was at this critical moment that the splendid advantages of conciliation were most apparent."

That shows, I think, a very satisfactory state of things. Let me now compare the cost of the Canadian method with the cost of arbitration in Australia. I hold in my hand a letter whichis signed by Mr. F. A. Acland, Deputy Minister of Labour in Canada, and reads as follows; -

I would state that the cost of administering the Act has averaged about $25,000 each year since the Act was enacted. The Boards have averaged annually about twenty-five in number, so that it may be said generally that an inquiry under the Act costs about $1,000; needless to say, some disputes reach a far higher cost than this figure, but the average is reached because of other inquiries being conducted at slight cost. This expenditure covers payments of members of the Board, charges of witnesses called by the Board, all travelling expenses of members, witnesses, &c, and occasional travelling expenses of an officer of the Department. The figure named ($25,000) does not include expenses other than occasional travelling and printing incurred in the Department, nor were any officers of the Department appointed expressly for the purposes of the Act, though naturally clerical assistance has been somewhat increased by the duties of administration.

The letter reveals that the administration of the Industrial Investigations Act costs about £5,000 a year, and that the actual cost of settling a dispute averages200. I ask the Senate to contrast the working of the Canadian Act with the working of our Arbitration Act, to note its expedition, and to see whether Canada does not com- pare very favorably with Australia in this regard. That is all that I want to say regarding the question of industrial disputes. I stand now, as I have always stood, for the recognition of the fact that there is a community of interest between capital and labour, that they are dependent one upon the other, and that there should be mutual consideration one for the other, with the desire on both sides to do justice. I feel sure in my own mind that the taking of parties before the Court, one being the Complainant and the other defendant, breeds a spirit of antagonism, and instead of bringing the parties together pushes them further apart. Personally, I would sweep the Arbitration Court out of existence, and establish something a good deal better in its stead.

Regarding the other proposals to amend the Constitution, I desire to say a few words. It is proposed to insert in section 51 the following new paragraph -

Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes in relation to employment in the railway service of a State.

I object strongly to any other body interfering between a State and its employes. Each State has its own Parliament; everv railway employe has the right to appeal to the members of that Parliament, and so far as I know the men have usually obtained justice from their own Parliament. I have spoken to a number of the railway employes of South Australia, and found that a great many of them do not want this Federal interference, but would much prefer to remain as they are, and to be able to settle their affairs with their own Parliament. I am very glad that that is the case.

Senator McGregor - They will still be free to do that.

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