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Tuesday, 1 May 1973
Page: 1508

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - The Bill before the House increases the amount of levy that is payable to the waterside workers. This is done for 2 reasons, one of which is to allow the spread of the levy to all ports. I do not think anybody opposes this. The time has come at last when the people of Australia - particularly those who live in the cities - are prepared to pay good money to stop other people joining them in the cities. We are, and I think the Government is, in earnest about the necessity for decentralisation. This is one method of making decentralisation possible. The main part of the levy, as has been mentioned earlier today, goes to waterside workers for the payment of such things as annual leave, sick leave, public holiday pay, long service leave, idle time, pensions to retired waterside workers, transfer of workers to other ports and administrative expenses.

This legislation makes it possible for the levy to rise to $1.50. An analysts of this figure shows that the wage paid for waterside workers is approximately $3 an hour, so $3 an hour in direct payment is going to the waterside worker and a levy of $1.50 is going to him for the other purposes that I have mentioned, lt is important to realise that the $1.50 is borne ultimately by shippers - by people who ship their produce. Why is it done this way? The honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards) mentioned, in an excellent speech this afternoon, that it is done to make permanent employment possible. We all had great hopes that the institution of permanent employment on the waterfront would enable us to have a more contented and a more efficient waterside work force. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The honourable member for Berowra mentioned the escalation of the cost per ton of handling produce across the wharf in Syndey. lt rose from $6.42 in July 1969 to $14.42 in December 1972 - an increase of more than 30 per cent each year in handling costs across the wharf.

Why has the system worked so badly? It started off with the high hope that it would make a big difference to handling costs. An example of why it has worked so badly is brought out in the cost of idle time. In 1968 it was $824,000 but in 1971-72 it had risen to $8m. This cost is borne indirectly by the shipper and it is one of the reasons that has justified the increase of the levy. Let us examine the question of idle time. The reason for it, of course, is the change in the technology of the waterfront, with a large amount of material being handled in bulk and, with the introduction of the container system, this has meant that we have different needs for employees on the waterfront. The honourable member for Berowra mentioned the stark cost of $3,000 a year for every redundant worker on the waterfront.

Honourable members know that under the agreement arrived at last year the cost of the golden handshake, assuming that these redundant workers could be retired, would be approximately the same figure - $3,000 - but that this would be a once and for all payment. As it is now, an annual charge of $3,000 is being paid for the redundant employee on the waterfront. The reason for this can be stated briefly. The Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority has the right to declare an employee to be redundant in the main ports only if it gets the recommendation from either the Waterside Workers Federation or the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour. As the honourable member for Berowra quite rightly pointed out, this step is not likely to be recommended by the Waterside Workers Federation and the real guts of the problem is that the employers of waterfront labour are rather indifferent. Honourable members have heard the story that one can always tell a man who is dining out on an expense account because of the enthusiasm with which he summons the waiter. In this case the employers of waterfront labour are largely indifferent to the costs of their cargo handling. Because of the operation of the conference system the employers are able to recover the costs. So long as this applies to everybody they are largely indifferent to the increased cost because they know that it can be loaded on to the freight costs. This is really the crux of the position. One fundamental reason why there is such a large number of redundant waterside workers on the waterfront is that the Waterside Workers Federation will not apply to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority for them to be made redundant, nor will the employers of waterfront labour. This is one of the hidden costs of the conference system of which I think honourable members should be aware. I hope that honourable members opposite will recognise that the problem of what to do about our shipping policy is one of the fundamental economic problems that will face them and, indeed, will face the country. We are paying the tremendous amount of $8m a year for people who are not required on the waterfront. I quote from an article written by Mr Ramsden in the 'Australian Financial Review'. He has been a most assiduous student of the situation and he says:

The situation is now common in the industry at all major ports of there being an overall shortage of labour on a particular day while, at the same time, through labour being locked up in permanent employment by operational companies and not transferable, an approximate equal number of watersiders are at home receiving idle time payments.

The honourable member for Berowra instanced an occasion on 9th February when there was an overall shortage of waterfront labour in Sydney of 228 men, while 175 people were at home being paid for idle time.

This is the picture of our problem. Paying people for being idle is no way to run a country. I should think that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) will bring his mind to bear on this problem when this legislation, which provides for the way this levy is to be arrived at, is examined later in 'he year. I have enough respect for the Minister to know that he is aware that this is an impossible situation. There cannot be a situation where $8m was paid last year and possibly $9m will be paid this year to enable people to sit at home and do nothing. This is the kind of situation on which I think the Minister for Labour will bring his undoubted negotiating ability to bear. He will have to because this is the kind of burden that no economy can carry. There are solutions. The honourable member for Berowra pointed out today that the short term solution would be to ask the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to have the sole right to declare waterside workers redundant and not to pass the responsibility over to the Waterside Workers Federation or to the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour, for reasons that I have mentioned. Neither of these 2 groups is willing to incur the odium of recommending that people be made redundant. The Association of Employers of Waterside Labour is acutely aware that if there is an industrial stoppage on the waterfront it will have to pay the cost because it is largely the Association's ships that will be held up. But we cannot continue to go on as we are at present, and I ask that the Minister for Labour have a long, cold look at the suggestion that has been brought up that the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority have the responsibility for the declaration of redundancy.

I think I would like to see it taken a stage further so that the Authority has the right to control all the employees on the waterfront instead of their being parcelled up between the various stevedoring organisations as at present. All we can say for certain is that we cannot continue in this way. It is absolutely foolish to expect any economy to carry this kind of increasing burden. Let me give an idea of the size of the burden. It costs a shipper $157.50 for a 35-hour week for every man employed on the waterfront. Ali of this does not go directly to the employees but it goes to them indirectly in the form of sick leave, redundancy payments, the golden handshake and so on. This is the problem that I want the

Minister for Labour to face. I know that he has enough realism beneath his benign exterior to realise that for Australia's sake, not for the sake of any particular sector of it, this problem is the bullet we have to bite on. I understand that he himself is doing some examination of the waterfront position. 1 would very strongly suggest to him 2 things. The first is that he give the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the responsibility to declare workers redundant. Then we would be much more likely to get them declared redundant. They would then get the golden handshake of $3,000. No one could say that they were being victimised. Secondly, 1 hope he will have another long look at whether the Stevedoring Industry Authority should have a greater control of all the people working on the waterfront. Lastly 1 suggest that he must face a crunch point for Australia in future, that is. what should be our policy on the conference system, because there is no doubt that as it operates at the moment the conference system encourages the operation of a cost plus system. No economy can carry that kind of burden.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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