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Thursday, 7 December 1905
Page: 6523

Mr BATCHELOR (Boothby) - The honorable member for Hindmarsh referred to my own trade of engine-fitter, but I can assure him that I do not know of a single instance in which men in that trade have'' been brought to South Australia under contract.

Mr Hutchison - That does not affect the future.

Mr BATCHELOR - We are now dealing with the present.

Mr Watkins - It is not a fair case to put, anyhow.

Mr BATCHELOR --That case was instanced, not by me, but by the honorable member for Hindmarsh. I can assure that honorable member that, so far as my trade is concerned, it has certainly not been injured bv contract labour.

Mr Hutchison - Men cannot be brought in under contract under the existing Act.

Mr BATCHELOR - My experience dates from a time previous to the operation of that Act. As a matter of fact, engine-fitters are coming, from Scotland particularly, to Australia by almost every boat, and frequently there are more here than can be absorbed, with the result that wages are reduced. The reduction of wages, however, is in no way caused by contract labour, because all these men come in "on their own." There was one case in South Australia in which engineers were brought in on contract, but that was in connexion with the strike; and the attempt to reduce wages and impair the conditions of labour was resisted very strongly. Such cases as that, however, are provided against in the Bill.

Mr Hutchison - Fulton's men were brought in under contract.

Mr BATCHELOR - Those men were brought in on conditions widely different from those prevailing in Australia. Had Fulton's been required to pay Australian rates of wages, they would never have gone to the expense of importing those men from Scotland. Except in connexion with a strike, or an attempt to reduce wages, employers will never go to the expense of bringing men from Great Britain or Canada. I do not believe in imposing one unnecessary restriction in connexion with immigration. There can be no object in an employer going to Europe for men, and paying them the Australian rate of wages, when there are sufficient men available on the spot.

Mr Watkins - I can tell the honorable member that such a thing has been done with the object of ultimately reducing wages.

Mr BATCHELOR - That object could be achieved now without importing men, because the employers are federated, and could shift men about from one place to another. In my opinion, it is sought to impose an unnecessary restriction in order to fight what, after all, is a myth.

Mr Frazer - The honorable member admits that it is much easier to reduce wages when there is surplus labour in a particular industry ?

Mr BATCHELOR - Of course it is. But surplus labour is usually caused, not by men who are brought under contract, but by men who come here on their own account. The few cases in which men would be brought in under contract are not sufficient to justify what appears to be a blow at our British fellow-subjects. The few men who may come under contract can surely be absorbed in a population of 4,000,000. Our best protection, in my opinion, is our distance from Europe. The position of America is different, because for a few dollars men can be conveyed there from the Continent of Europe; and, hence, very stringent contract laws are necessary. If we find, of course, that the opening provided is availed of to the detriment of our own workmen, then will be the time to enact drastic remedial legislation. The proposal in the Bill would serve no good purpose, and the amendment shows, at any rate., a desire on our part to discriminate in favour of British subjects.

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