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Friday, 25 May 1973
Page: 2713

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - by leave - I present the following paper:

Australian Arbitration Inspectorate - Department of Labour - First Annual Report, for 1972

The tabling in the Australian Parliament of this report of the Arbitration Inspectorate for the year ending 3 1 December1972 is a historic event. Although the Australian Government first established an Arbitration Inspectorate in 1934, this is the first occasion on which a report of the Inspectorate has been presented to the Parliament. It is, however, the Government's intention that these reports shall in future be presented on an annual basis. As well as the value of the information contained in reports of labour inspectorates, honourable members will be aware of the role such reports have played in the past elsewhere in the world, and particularly in Britain in the development of advanced social and industrial legislation.

The preparation of this report is a further step towards the Government's objective of early ratification of International Labour Organisation Convention No. 81 of 1947 - Labour Inspection. I am actively pursuing this matter with my State colleagues and there is general agreement with the objective of achieving ratification before the end of this year. Article 20 of that Convention requires that an annual report be made by the central inspection authority of a member country. As far as possible, this report is in the form required by the Convention insofar as the operations of the Arbitration Inspectorate are applicable.

The report presented indicates the substantial volume of work achieved by an inspectorate which is completely inadequate effectively to ensure the proper observance of awards of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. At present, the Inspectorate has a total staff including supervisory officers of only 56. These are required to inspect the establishments of some 182,000 respondents to Federal awards throughout Australia. At the present rate of inspections it takes approximately 6 years to cover every respondent to a Federal award although my ultimate aim is to ensure that the inspections take place at least once every year. The Government does not believe that this is a satisfactory situation. It believes that employees working under Federal awards are entitled to expect that the Australian Government's inspection service will ensure that their employers are observing the conditions of the awards at intervals of much less than 6 years. It is ridiculous to have a 6-year interval between inspections. To ensure this, the Government is proposing a major increase in the size of the Arbitration Inspectorate. With the full authority of the Government, my Department has submitted to the Public Service Board proposals for a trebling of the size of the Inspectorate on a phased recruitment basis over the next 2 years with provision for increased clerical support staff. This substantial increase in the establishment of the Inspectorate should enable an inspection to be carried out of every establishment covered by a Federal award at least once every 2 years, in addition to providing an immediate investigation of every complaint which is received concerning breaches of an award.

While in the past 20 years, the normal source of recruitment for arbitration inspectors has been from within the Third Division of the Commonwealth Public Service, it is the Government's intention that for a number of the new positions, suitable persons outside the Commonwealth Public Service with an appropriate industrial background will be eligible for appointment. It is my intention that such persons would be appointed for terms of 3 years as in the period prior to 1952. The appointments will be made by the Head of my Department and positions will be advertised in newspapers in order to enable people who could offer suitable service the opportunity to apply for such positions. In order to make the Inspectorate more efficient my Department will be arranging for the outposting of inspectors to major rural centres throughout Australia. Members of the Country Party will be pleased with the interest the Government is showing in rural areas by having arbitration inspectors appointed to police properly awards in their areas. More effective training programs will be established for inspectors and my Department is also seeking to obtain from the Public Service Board a number of positions of trainee inspectors. This should enable a much speedier and more effective inspection service.

I have already indicated publicly that the Government will be taking a much stronger line towards the enforcement of awards by employers. While, as in the past, the aim of the Inspectorate will be to ensure voluntary compliance with awards by employers, a much more serious view will be taken of employers who deliberately or continuously breach awards. In such cases, the offending employers will be prosecuted. Future annual reports of the Inspectorate will list the names of employers who are found guilty by the Court of breaches of awards, in the same way as the Commissioner of Taxation publishes each year the names of persons who are guilty of breaches of the taxation law.

In the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill at present before the Parliament, the Government is proposing to give power to inspectors to seek an interpretation of an award. In many cases in the past where there was a difference of view between an inspector and an employer over the meaning of a term of an award which could not be resolved, the only solution often was for proceedings for breach of an award to be taken against the employer to test the position. This is like using a steam hammer to crack a peanut. We ought not to be prosecuting employers just because there is no other way of ascertaining the meaning of an award. So, in future, inspectors and the permanent head of the Department will, when the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill is passed, be able to obviate the need for prosecution by resorting to the simple process of making an application for interpretation to the Industrial Court. The amendment, if adopted by the Parliament, will ensure a very much more sensible approach for dealing with this problem.

In conclusion, I stress that the report that has been tabled today must be regarded as very much a pilot exercise. In the next few months we will be revising our statistical information to ensure that the fullest possible set of statistics relating to labour inspection is contained in future reports. It is also our intention to make the report one for the financial year rather than for the calendar year. Therefore, the next report will cover the period from 1 January 1973 to 30 June 1974. I thank the House for giving me leave to make the statement.

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