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Thursday, 7 December 1905
Page: 6508

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) - The men to whom the honorable member for Parramatta referred as having been brought out to look after some coal-cutting machines were men who come under the designation of miners. It is not correct to say that they were brought out with the machines, as though theyhad been engaged by those who sold them. The evidence which I obtained in the district showed that they were brought out by the mining company, and used to compete with Australian workmen in order to bring about a reduction of wages, which actually took place shortly afterwards. They were put on in dry places, and on day work, while their Australian competitors were sent to wet places, and were worked in night shifts. Consequently the Americans turned out a little more coal than the Australians.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are not wages in the coal industry fixed by the Arbitration Court"?

Mr WATKINS - The miners of my district have hot yet been able to bring their case before the Arbitration Court, although thatbody has been in existence for over three years.


Mr WATKINS - Because of the large amount of business before the Court. That case shows that even under the present Act men can be introduced to reduce wages. No one will say that in the present state of the coal trade in New South Wales there is any need for importing labour from America, England, or anywhere else.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not advocate any such importation of labour.

Mr WATKINS - I do not think that at present any miners are working more than half-time ; and the fact that men could be imported to reduce wages is a reason why the Department should be armed with the power to inquire into the circumstances surrounding all contracts. Under the present law it is difficult to ascertain whether men who come here have, or have not, been brought out under contract.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The same difficulty would be experienced under the Bill.

Mr WATKINS - No, because the provision of which the honorable member complains will give the officials an opportunity to ascertain whether there is or is not a contract.

Mr Kelly - I think we should have a quorum. [Quorum formed.]

Mr WATKINS - I would impress upon honorable members the necessity for giving the Minister the fullest power to prevent the introduction of contract immigrants under improper conditions.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member regard the Bill as more restrictivethan the Act?

Mr WATKINS - I hope that it will enable the authorities to prevent the introduction of men under conditions which will prejudice our workmen.

Mr. KNOX(Kooyong). - I desire to make it perfectly clear that we all desire to prevent the introduction of contract immigrants during periods of industrial strife or under conditions which will tend to lower the wages of our workers. The honorable member for Newcastle has directed attention to an instance in which, according to his contention, the Act was evaded, and I trust that the fullest provision will be made for meeting any cases of the kind that may arise in the future. If the honorable member can suggest any reasonable amendment in that direction, I shall certainly support him. I have always opposed the introduction of outsiders into the Broken Hill mines. At one time it was proposed to introduce a number of Cornishmen and at another time the employment of Italians under contract was suggested, but I was strongly averse to any such proceeding. I object to the concluding words of the clause, which provide that the terms of the contract shall be approved by the Minister. I move -

That the words " and its terms are approved by the Minister," be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words " and provided such contract is not in contravention of section 5."

The Minister has no right to interfere with the terms of the contract, or to exercise any control over the employer, except to the extent that may be necessary to carry out the avowed objects of the measure. All that he has to do is to satisfy himself that the interests of local workers will not be prejudiced. For instance, if I were to bring out a manager for a woollen mill, the Minister would have no right to know what the terms of the arrangement were, except to the extent necessary to satisfy himself that the -immigrant was being engaged under conditions similar to those prevailing in the Commonwealth. There is no reason why the whole of the terms of the agreement should be submitted for the approval of the Minister. Whilst I desire to protect the workers of the Commonwealth against unfair competition from outside, I do not think we should go so far as to unduly hamper employers or to prevent the introduction of a desirable class of immigrants.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).The honorable* member for Newcastle has stated a case which a moment's consideration will show cannot possibly be affected by the Bill. The honorable member proved to us, not that these men who came out to work the machines were working for less wages than are Australians, but that they are doing more work. That is a condition of affairs that the Bill will not cure.

Mr Watkins - It might, if the men were brought out under contract. When the honorable member for Parramatta was a miners' secretary, would he have agreed to such a state of things?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; but this Bill will not cure a case of the kind.

Mr Kennedy - There is no evidence that these men were brought out under contract ; and that is the whole point.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If they were here under contract, that fact would not make the slightest difference. If these men are doing more work than they should if is a matter to be settled by the Arbitration Court.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member foi- Parramatta is twisting the words of the honorable member for Newcastle, who did not say that the men are doing too much work.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Newcastle said that these men were doing more work owing to being out into better places - that they were doing more work than were men who were not so favorably placed.

Mr Watkins - My complaint is that it cannot be found out whether these men were brought out under contract, with the object of reducing wage?.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even if the men were brought out under contract, this Bill would afford no remedy, because wages and conditions of employment must be fixed by a local tribunal.

Mr Watkins - But it might be ascertained what the conditions are.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the 'honorable member found out all about the conditions this Bill would not help him. Is the

Honorable member for Newcastle aware that if a contract be voided as soon as an immigrant arrives, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the employer and the employe immediately afterwards renewing the contract on precisely the same terms and conditions. T hope the honorable member will not think that I am justifying what is being done in- the case which he cited; I am merely pointing out that this Bill will not affect such cases. Since the Bill cannot affect conditions of employment or rates nf wages, why trouble about inquiring into the terms of the contract, so long as we penalize any attempt at violating our Australian standards? We should concentrate our attention on that point, instead of shutting the door against all contract immigrants.

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