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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2130

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - On 1st May of this year the House debated a companion Bill to this BUI, namely, the Stevedoring Industry Charge Bill in which the levy for employment on the waterfront was increased from Si to $1.50 an hour. This Bill seeks to continue for another year the arrangements under which the levy is collected and the way in which it is to be used. As has been pointed out on a previous occasion, the levy is to pay for annual leave, idle time, sick leave, public holidays, long service leave and so on. This levy was first imposed in 1967, which is when the Government of the day instituted the practice of employing permanent labour on the waterfront. It was hoped that the introduction of permanent employment would lead to a better use of labour on the waterfront and a more responsible labour force. This Bill seeks the permission of the House to continue the previous arrangements until the end of June 1974.

I am not going to be critical of the Government for seeking this extension of time. We have had the problem on our plate since 1967 but, to be quite frank, we have not been able to solve it. When we on this side of the House were in Government we instituted the levy and devised the way in which it is collected. That system has not worked effectively. We have not come up with a solution to our problem. I am being quite frank about this matter. I am not going to be critical of the Government for taking time to have a look at this very difficult problem, lt is indeed a very difficult problem. An examination of the increase in costs on the waterfront will reveal the degree of failure of the system that the government of which I was a supporter brought in. That system was introduced with the best of good will in the world and with a determination to give the idea of permanent employment on the waterfront a fair trial. Nevertheless it has not worked.

Any honourable member who wants a measure of the failure of the system has only to look at the cost per ton of handling goods on the Sydney waterfront. For the figures I am about to quote I pay a tribute to Mr J. Ramsden of the 'Australian Financial Review'. He is a very perceptive journalist who writes for a very respected journal. He has spelt out some of the fundamental facts about and the problems of this industry. I believe that the measure of the failure is the cost per ton of handling cargoes on the waterfront in Sydney. In July 1969 it was $6.42 a ton. By December 1972 it had risen to $14.42 a ton, which represented an annual increase in handling costs of 30 per cent. That is a measure of the failure of the system which is now in operation and which I hope the Government will be looking at with a very anxious and critical eye. Between 1969- 70 and 1970-71 there was a 13.2 per cent increase in the average weekly wage and a 20.85 per cent decrease in the number of hours worked. So it can be seen that a pretty comfortable featherbed is in operation.

Let us have a look at the reasons for this featherbedding. One of the reasons why an increase is sought in the levy is to pay for idle time. Payments for idle time on the waterfront have risen from $824,000 in 1967- 68 to $8. 2m last year and are running at the rate of well over $9m this year. That amount is required to pay people to do nothing. The reason why there is a decreased labour requirement on the waterfront is quite clear. lt is due, firstly, to containerisation and, secondly, to an increase in bulk handling. There is less need for men on the waterfront than there was before. Why do we keep them on permanent employment if we do not need them? We give them a golden handshake in one way or another amounting to an average of ยง3,263, according to the latest report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. This is what the industry pays them to retire from the industry. One would think or expect that there would be a requirement by or a pressure from the employers for these unneeded men to leave the industry. Under the present arrangements only the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority can declare an employee redundant. However this step can be taken only on the recommendation of the Waterside Workers Federation or the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour. One cannot expect the Federation to take the step of asking for its members to be declared redundant for, after all, their unemployed members are being paid at the rate of approximately $3,000 a year to remain in the industry. They are being paid, and this is an annual charge. They would be paid 83,263 for the golden handshake to get out, but that is a once and for all payment. On the other hand they get, as an average payment, about $3,000 a year to stop in the industry knowing that they are redundant. One cannot expect the Waterside Workers Federation to ask for its members to be declared redundant when they are enjoying these remarkably favourable conditions.

However, one would expect the AEWL to take the step of saying: 'We do not need these people. To keep them on means an increase in the amount of idle time and we will have to increase the levy. Let us ask the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to declare them redundant.' The trouble is that the AEWL is dominated mainly by overseas shipowners and the decision it faces is whether to risk industrial strife or to give in. Under the conference system it is easy for it to say: 'Let us give in'. As I have said in this House on other occasions, one can always tell the man who is dining out on an expense account by the enthusiasm with which he summons the waiter. If the industry knows that it can meet its increased charges by increased freights, as it can under the conference system, it is all too easy for these unwanted employees to be kept on the books. I have on another occasion quoted from an article by Mr Ramsden. He wrote:

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.

If honourable members want a specific example of this situation I need only mention that during the week ending 9th February of this year there was an overall shortage of 228 waterside workers needed in Sydney while 175 men were at home being paid for idle time. This is a measure of the problem. The costs are borne in the long term by the shippers. This is the kind of burden no economy can carry. There are solutions to it. I do not speak as an expert or as one who has the kind of intimate knowledge of the industry that other honourable members would have but there are 2 steps one can immediately suggest. The first is that the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority should have the authority of declaring people to be redundant without the advice of the Waterside Workers Federation or the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour. Under the present situation one cannot expect either of these 2 bodies to declare that men are redundant. Obviously the Federation will not do so for reasons that one can understand. I can understand why, under the conference system, the stevedoring industry companies, which are dominated by overseas shipping interests, will not ask for men to be declared redundant. They know that if they do they will face the risk of industrial strife. They know also that if they jack the expenses up they can pass the extra cost on comfortably and easily because of the conference system.

While this matter is receiving consideration 1 would suggest that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) consider giving .he Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the responsibility, on its own, of declaring employees to be redundant. I am not certain about the second alternative, but et sounds reasonable - I can say no more than that - and that is that the Authority has the right to control the pool of labour. The various stevedoring industry organisations could take employees from a common pool. I repeat, I am not an authority on the industry. All I say is that this seems to be a reasonable alternative. Certainly I think the first is the one that should be looked at.

In his second reading speech the Minister said that he is examining the situation. I know that he will do so. He said, rather optimistically I think, that he is expecting useful advice from the. Stevedoring Industry Council. This is composed essentially of the Waterside Workers Federation and the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour, so it will be somewhat like Caesar appealing to Caesar. This is the present system under which these 2 bodies are working comfortably together, so I should think that the Minister is unlikely to get any clear and wise lines of guidance from the Stevedoring Industry Council. The Minister also mentioned that he has asked Mr Norman Foster to help him in this project. Mr Norman Foster adorned this House for some time as the honourable member for Sturt. I should have thought that he was more noted for the strength of his voice than the strength of his intellect. He may have qualities about which we do not know. It may be that there is wisdom hidden beneath his rough exterior. I hope so, because if the Minister is to depend on the Norman Foster whom we knew he will get a rather rough kind of guidance.

Mr McVeigh - His constituents threw him out too, did they not?

Mr KELLY - I understand that that is so.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order!I am sure that the honourable member for Wakefield can continue his speech without assistance from the honourable member who interjected.

Mr KELLY - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not attacking this problem from the point of view of class prejudice. I am spelling out what is the problem. I hope that the Minister can find a solution to it because I am quite certain that the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) who, I understand, is to follow me in this debate, will recognise that unless we can get a better system than we have now we can never hope to get a first class productivity performance on the waterfront. I have too much respect for him to expect that he will trot out figures to indicate that productivity has increased. Of course throughput has increased, but this has been due mainly to mechanisation, containerisation and the increase in bulk handling on the waterfront. I am glad to see the Minister in the House and I pose that problem to him. I admit that my side of politics could find no easy solution to the problem. Indeed, there is no easy solution. I have enough respect for the Minister for Labour to know that he will be looking hard at the problem. These are the kinds of problems we have to solve if we are to have a more viable economy and a greater increase in productivity which will allow for the economic cake to be cut up into whatever size slices are required.

I hope the Minister will not depend on receiving the kind of objective advice from the Australian Waterside Workers Federation that he would hope to get. It can be understood why the Federation is hoping to continue with the present situation. It knows from past experience that any time it can get the employers of waterfront labour into the bails it can get milk out of them. Usually, the bucket only has to be rattled and the milk comes out. If the money cannot be obtained in that way the Federation aims a few carefully located kicks in the stomach and that usually induces the employers to give the waterside workers what they want. We have the problem of a cost plus system on the waterfront and the Minister for Labour is enough of a realist to know that this position cannot continue for one reason or another.

I am not being critical of past Ministers on my side of the chamber who tried to do the best they could. A new system was introduced in 1967 to try to alleviate the situation, lt is quite clear that that system has not worked. There is not one person who, after looking at the increases in the cost of handling goods and in the idle time the cost of which has increased from $800,000 to between $8m and $9m this year, would not recognise that mistakes have been made. I am asking the Minister for Labour to have a careful and clear look at the problem. I recognise that there is strength beneath his benign exterior. The cost plus system cannot continue always. We have had it for too long. I give the Minister for Labour the assurance that if he will look at the question with courage and coolness he will have my interest and support.

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