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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) . - I do not think that the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), when he discussed this proposed clause last night, thoroughly understood the position from the unionists' point of view. I rise now to offer some reply to his remarks, because I have had personal experience in the industry, and know how the proposed new clause would work. I say quite frankly that if the clause is accepted, it will cause a great deal of trouble. We ought to view this question in the same light as it is viewed by Mr. Justice Higgins in a judgment he gave, and see that we do not deprive individual unionists of the advantages of collective bargaining by the unions. On this point I should like to quote Mr. Justice Higgins' remarks in his judgment in the case of The Australian Workers Union; ex parte, Burnet Barnet Allen and others. There was an application for the deregistration of the union because it had issued an instruction to its members not to sign on prior to roll-call. His Honour, in the course of that judgment, after suggesting that the pastoralists and the unionists should meet and consider the matter, said -

It appears that the union wants at all costs to prevent its members from contracting without the collective protection of the union; and, of course, the price at which rations are to be supplied by the station is a matter vitally affecting the real value of the wages paid.

I wish honorable members to appreciate the fact that the price paid for rations vitally affects the real value of the wages paid. His Honour went on to say -

I could not, under these circumstances, fairly treat the rule as being necessarily a " defect " or even impropriety. But I hope there are other means of meeting the legitimate needs of the pastoralists and shearing contractors for definite engagements for definite dates, while preserving to the members of the union the collective shield against individual bargaining. I suggest that an application be made for variation of the award (including perhaps the form of agreement prescribed) in such a way as to allow the prices for rations supplied to be settled by agreement with the union or by the Board of Reference.

That judgment embodies the reason why the Australian Workers Union, and other unions of a similar character, object to members signing agreements prior to the roll-call. This signing of agreements in the way suggested by the clause really does away with the collective bargaining, which unions are formed to further, and which the Arbitration Court has been instituted to assist. In the agreements made, there are several provisions which are part and parcel of the award, but which are not expressed in terms of money. For instance, the employers have to provide sufficient and suitable accommodation, suitable cooking utensils, sufficient water, a paddock for horses, and other items; and it is to prevent imposition on members of the union that they are forbidden to sign before the roll-call. Obviously, a great number of the men engaged can have no idea of the conditions under which they are expected to work until they arrive on the ground. As honorable members know, in every large industrial organization there are men who, in order to secure employment, are prepared to sign any sort of agreement; and contractors have gone so far-

Mr Livingston - The employers are educated and good chaps.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - I know what I am talking about, and if the honorable member interjects I shall bring the facts home to him in a way that may not prove too pleasant.

Mr Livingston - Whatever you have to say you can say right out.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - I do not wish to enter into any controversy with the honorable member; but I have worked under the . conditions that prevail in many cases, and I know what I am talking about. Contractors are prepared to use men who are always at hand to break up unions. Such men are persuaded to sign agreements, and when the legitimate unionists apply they are told that they can be- employed only if they sign the agreement too, prior to the roll-call. This, of course, entirely shuts out the unionists. Let me say that the accommodation provided, in a great many pastoralists' places, is a scandal and a disgrace. The word " hut " is an apt description of the living places provided, and no one could possibly feel proud of them. The example of Queensland ought to be followed in providing independent inspectors, who inspect the accommodation prior to the season commencing, and also when the work is actually in hand. The police ought not to be employed for such a purpose anywhere; they already have enough to do, and in some cases they are the guests of pastoralists, and, as a consequence, are more ready to overlook any shortcomings in complying with the Accommodation Act of that particular State. The inspectors in Queensland are specially appointed, and are provided with motor cars, so as to be independent, and are not allowed to become the guest of any land-holder. It is not true, as has been said, that the great majority of the members of the union object to the rule that no agreement shall be signed prior to the roll-call. I have worked in this industry, and I never waited to be forbidden to sign an agreement before arriving on the ground, but always refused to do so. A great many of the employers are not prepared to give a square deal unless the men are in a position to say that if they do not get what is fair and just they are not prepared to start. Why should any man live like a dingo for six or seven weeks, simply because a vacillating accommodation inspector will not keep an employer up to the collar? It is not, as a rule, the small pastoralist that the men have the trouble with, but the big pastoralist companies, many of the shareholders of which do not live in Australia.

Many companies do not even provide decent drinking water, and men have had the unfortunate experience of living for weeks under conditions that resulted in typhoid fever, to their great personal loss - and inconvenience. As Mr. Justice Higgins pointed out, the price paid for commodities has a big effect upon the subsequent effectiveness of the wage rate decided' upon. There have been increases in wages in practically all industries to-day, but the cost of living has gone up out of all proportion. There was a time when the 'unions did not include in their rules that particular rule which has been designed to prevent men from signing on ; but it was discovered that a section of the pastoralists were not playing fair. I refer particularly to some of the "big " men. They went into Court and swore that they supplied mea't to the shearers at not more than 3d. per lb. Upon that basis Mr. Justice Higgins made his award and granted a certain wage rate. At the opening of the following shearing season, however, the employers jumped up the price of meat to 6d., and even 9d., per lb. When the men " turned up " on the job they found that instead of being required to pay only 3d. per lb. - upon which basis their wages had been fixed - the squatters had raised the price of meat as high as 300 per cent, over the price sworn to in Court. If the men sign up before they get on to the ground they can be robbed, not only with regard to meat, but concerning other necessary commodities also, of which the station owners are the sole purveyors. Further, there is a considerable section of men who need to be protected against themselves. In the cities there are many men who will sign anything in order to secure an engagement; and the result of signing up prior to their getting on the job is that the whole of the great body of unionists is penalized, and the main principle of arbitration is flouted. There is surely a moral obligation on the part of the employer, who has sworn that he charges 3d. per lb. for meat, to continue to supply at that rate. A clause has been embodied in a Queensland award which vitally affects the men to-day. In the agreement, which both parties are required to sign, it is set out that the squatter must provide " good and sufficient accommodation." What is that? Is good and sufficient accommodation furnished by a hut that a man can sling a cat through its cracks ? That kind of accommodation has been our experience. There is a moral, if not a legal, obligation resting upon the employer to continue to supply commodities at the rate upon which he has given sworn evidence in Court, and on which an award has been based. In view of the attitude of the employers, however, it has become necessary to forbid men to sign prior to roll-call. At one place in the Moree district, in 1916, the men, even though they had signed up, refused to go to work. They were subsequently brought before the Court and fined; but they paid rather than submit to the tyrannical conditions sought to be imposed upon them. I warn the Government that if the proposed new clause is embodied in our arbitration legislation it will directly hit at the Australian Workers Union, which comprises more than 100,000 members. I know what the men say and feel; I have been through the mill myself. Trouble will be started. There will probably be the plea that the employers cannot lay out their shearing runs. The singing of agreements prior to rollcall will not assist the owners in making out their runs, and will not give them any better facilities than they possess to-day. The signing of agreements should surely bind both parties. The men, by signing, had to make themselves responsible for being on the ground ready to start; but a provision was added- to the award which absolved the employers from being required to find the requisite number of sheep in the event of drought, flood, or similar disaster. On the one hand, the men were bound to be on the ground ; but, on the other, the employers were not compelled to furnish the necessary tally of sheep. Thus, the award became one-sided, and simply because the men had signed up prior to roll-call. ' Much of the trouble could be done away with if there were proper and efficient policing of the award by the Government, and if the inspection of accommodation were taken out of the hands of the police and placed in those of independent accommodation inspectors, who would be under no obligation to any pastoralist. I trust the Government will not agree to accept the proposed new clause, seeing that it is bound to precipitate trouble.

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