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Friday, 10 November 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - Notwithstanding the complaint that he had not had an opportunity to go fully into this question, Senator Millen has managed to occupy a fair amount of time in discussing the Bill, with' some liberal assistance from honorable senators on this side. I shall not take up much time in dealing with the measure, but one or two statements made by Senator Millen should not, I think, be allowed to go forth without an absolute contradiction, because the facts are against them. He says that there is no loyalty to the decisions of the Arbitration Court.

Senator Chataway - That is not exactly what he said.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, it is. I took it down as he said it. As a matter of fact, up to September last no strike had occurred in regard to any of the awards of the Federal Arbitration Court.

Senator Millen - I was dealing with arbitration generally.

Senator PEARCE - So am I, but I shall take one thing at a time; and shall deal first of all with what this Bill deals with, and that is the Federal Arbitration Court. The strike to which I refer was only a very small matter, involving a very small number of people, and the difficulty was speedily overcome. The incident was so unimportant that I am practically correct in saying that no strike has ever occurred against a Federal Arbitration Court award. Let me give honorable senators the numbers of men working under awards of the Court. Many of the members of the unions to which I shall refer have been working under awards of the Court for several years. There is the Seamen's Union, comprising sailors and firemen, and numbering 7,000; the Merchant Service Guild, comprising captains and officers, and numbering 1,800; Stewards and Pantrymen, 1,465; Cooks, Butchers. and Bakers, 200; Australian Workers Union, 48,000; Institute of Marine Engineers, 2,000; Barrier Branch of Amalgamated Miners Association, 1,000 ; Engine-drivers and Firemen, 4,000; Boot Trade Employes, 6,500; or a total of no less than 71,965. Many of these men have been working under awards of the Federal Arbitration Court for years, and there has never been a single strike against them. Yet Senator Millen says there is no loyalty to Arbitration Court awards. These awards have been in operation concurrently with tremendous increases in the cost of living, the general prosperity of the country, and with a general rise in wages. Yet they have been honestly and loyally obeyed. Let me say further that a number of unions cannot secure the benefit of a Federal award, because under sections of the existing Act, which we are now proposing to amend, the High Court has decided that they cannot appear before the Federal Arbitration Court. I propose now to divide the labour of Australia into three classes, because I wish to analyze this charge. There are those under Federal awards, the numbers of whom I have indicated, and amongst them there has been no strike. There are those who are working under awards of State Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards. I may mention here that in my own State of Western Australia the whole of the mining industry has been working under awards of a State Court since the establishment of the Federal Parliament, and without a solitary strike.

Senator Millen - There were strikes in Western Australia under a State Court award.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, but not in the mining industry. Then there are those who, because of the opposition of our honorable friends on the other side, cannot secure the benefit of any award, Federal or State.

Senator Millen - What does the honorable senator mean by that? How can our opposition prevent men obtaining awards under a State Act ?

Senator PEARCE - Because in the Federal arena honorable senators opposite have bitterly opposed every effort made to liberalize the Conciliation and Arbitration Acts, just as they are opposing this Bill; and in the State arena they oppose every extension of Wages Boards, as they are doing in Victoria to-day. And when legislation for the extension of Wages Boards is proposed, the Legislative Councils, who are the backbone of the party opposite in the States, do all they possibly can to hamper it with conditions that will make it unworkable.

Senator Chataway - That is a most unfair statement.

Senator PEARCE - The members of the Legislative Councils who do these things are leading men in the organizations to which honorable senators opposite belong, and every one of them are supported by their party organization. I am going to consider now what are the causes of the strikes that do occur. In New South Wales there is an industrial tribunal which covers the whole of the State. We all know that the State law there is not satisfactory, and that the present State Government is pledged, as soon as the opportunity offers, to amend it so as to make it workable. Many of the strikes which have occurred in New South Wales have been due to the fact that the State arbitration law is unworkable and harsh.

Senator Sayers - What about the strikes in South Australia?

Senator PEARCE - I am not going to be led away by interjections. In Victoria the Act providing for Wages Boards does not apply over the whole of the State, or to the whole of the industries. Less than two-thirds even of the manufacturing industries of Victoria have yet been able to take advantage of the Wages Board system. Every extension of the law has been bitterly opposed by the Tory organizations of the State, and in many cases the Legislative Council of Victoria has rejected, wholesale, resolutions submitted for bringing trades under the law. During only the last session of the State Parliament of Victoria the political comrades of our friends opposite fought bitterly against the extension of the Wages Board system to the rural industries of the State. Yet the so-called Liberal organizations of Australia are attacking the Labour party because they propose to extend the Wages Board system to the rural industries generally. In South Australia and in Queensland, where State tribunals of a kind are established, there is the same story to tell. In both States these tribunals are only partially open to the workers, and under conditions which lead to discontent and trouble. Referring now to the interjection by Senator Sayers, let me say that the South Australian Labour Government, recognising that whilst the State law remained in its imperfect condition - because it is a copy of the Victorian law - it must be ineffective, attempted to liberalize it, and to bring it more into accord with what we believe an industrial tribunal should be. What was the result ? The Legislative Council of the State, composed of the political comrades of Senator Sayers and our f riends opposite, rejected the proposed amendment, and retained the law in its present form.

Senator Millen - It was not our comrades there who stuffed the rolls. It was the honorable senator's comrades who did that.

Senator PEARCE - I have no doubt at all that Senator Millen would much prefer that I dealt With any. other subject than that with which I am dealing. I now come to Tasmania. There is there a partial System of Wages Boards, and legislation, has, I believe, been passed in this direction during the last session. But we know that it contains all the objectionable features of the Victorian law, and we know also that those features were deliberately inserted by the Legislative Council of Victoria for the express purpose of robbing the workers of any 'chance to obtain justice. The Tasmanian House of Assembly passed a measure without those objectionable features, and we find the Legis lative Council of the State following the example of their comrades over here and inserting them. We have a Federal law working smoothly, with those under it absolutely loyal, and the great mass of the people of Australia are prevented from taking advantage of its provisions, whereas the State laws on the subject are rendered nugatory, or have been so limited in their application by the opposition of the political comrades of honorable senators opposite that a large number of the workers of the Commonwealth can derive no benefit from 'such legislation, Federal or State. Now, what becomes of the statements made by Senator Millen, that there is no loyalty to the principle of arbitration ; and what becomes of the professed desire of honorable senators opposite to see that principle widely extended? The organizations they represent have fought to the very last ditch to prevent arbitration being made possible and to make arbitration measures, where they have been enacted, unworkable and objectionable in every feature. I wish now to deal with' Senator Millen's objection to the Bill on the ground that it recognises crafts. He made the astounding statement that this measure will sound the death knell of collective bargaining. What is collective bargaining but bargaining between employers on the one side and employes on the other ? There is no destruction of collective bargaining contemplated by the Bill, because whether we deal with unions as crafts or as industries, we shall still get a number of employers on the one side and a number of employes on the other. Consequently, there is as much room for collective bargaining under this Bill as there is under any other industrial law.

Senator Sayers - Some of the Minister's own supporters do not agree with him.

Senator PEARCE - Possibly. This Bill does not prevent or hinder the formation and registration of composite unions, nor does it prevent them from bringing their case - if they have one - before the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. It merely seeks to enact that where a body of men decide that they will not join a union representing the industry in which they are engaged, but prefer to become members of a union representing a craft, that fact shall not place them outside the pale of the Court.

Senator Millen - Admitting all that the Minister says, as to the right of men to join any craft union, will good enough to tell me how a body of engine- drivers can form themselves into a composite union for the purpose of collective bargaining ?

Senator PEARCE - The Leader of the Opposition will find that all trades and crafts pay no regard to whether or not a man is a manufacturer - he can still join their organizations. In addition to their composite unions, the employers are wise enough to have a specialized union. For instance, there is the Chamber of Mines, which is an organization representing the mine-owners. There is also the Boot Trade Employers Association, the Saddlery Employers Federation, and the Iron Trade Employers Federation. We know that all these bodies are represented on the Employers Federation.

Senator St Ledger - Not one of them is represented industrially.

Senator PEARCE - The Leader of the Opposition is a very astute member of this Chamber, and we all recognise that a man will frequently say things on the public platform which go down there, but which he will hesitate to say in a deliberative assembly. But, clever as the honorable senator undoubtedly is, he had the audacity to-day to trot out the old political platitude which has been hawked about Australia during the past year in reference to a one-man Court, and to endeavour to make the public believe that there is something novel in the idea of one man adjudicating upon an industrial award. Yet my honorable friend and his colleagues frequently emphasize their love and admiration of Wages Boards. In so far as there is an agreement between the parties the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court does not adjudicate in any industrial dispute at all. He merely adjudicates upon the points which are in dispute. What happens in the case of a Wages Board? The employers have their representative upon it, so have the employes, and the chairman does not enter into the dispute except in regard to the matters upon which the parties cannot agree. So that every Wages Board decision throughout Australia - if there be a disagreement upon any point - is a one-man decision. Yet my honorable friends opposite do not voice any objection to that system. They profess a wonderful admiration and appreciation of Wages Boards, but are terribly apprehensive of the results which will follow from a one-man Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

Senator Millen - But under the Wages Board system we have one Board for one industry.

Senator PEARCE - Is that the objection?

Senator Millen - Yes, as the Minister knew perfectly well when he spoke.

Senator PEARCE - The Leader of the Opposition is just as much astray now as he was previously, because, as a matter of fact, where there is an agreement between the parties upon certain points, that agreement is not arrived at by the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, but by the representatives of the employers and employes of the industry concerned.

Senator Millen - That is not my point.

Senator PEARCE - I know, but it is my point. Just as the representatives of the employers and employes meet at the table of a Wages Board, and arrive at an agreement upon certain questions, so in regard to every question which is to come before the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, the representatives of employers and employes meet for the purpose of deciding what points are in dispute. If confirmation of my statement were needed, I have only to point to the latest award of that tribunal. In that case the representatives of the pastoralists and of the Australian Workers Union were in conference for weeks, and only took to the Court the matters upon which they could not agree.

Senator Millen - My objection was the impossibility of any one man or any one Court efficiently handling all the matters which are handled by a multiplicity of Wages Boards.

Senator PEARCE - Does my honorable friend know that it frequently happens that a man is chairman of more than one Wages Board ?

Senator Millen - To a very limited extent.

Senator PEARCE - Then it is only a question of degree? The Leader of the Opposition declared that his objection was that the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court has to cover a wider field than has the chairman of a Wages Board. He grants the capacity of the chairmen of the latter bodies, but doubts the wisdom of the President of the Federal tribunal, who, by the way, devotes the whole of his time to his subject, and who has had a professional training which enables him to weigh evidence, whereas the chairmen of Wages Boards have had no such training, and have no knowledge of the industries with which they are called upon to deal. Does not Senator Millen know that many of the chairmen of Wages Boards in this State are not connected with the industry with which they deal? Some of them are retired police magistrates, and others are clergymen. I would advise him to look into this system which he admires so much, and he will find that many of the objections which he has urged to the Arbitration Court can, with equal force, be urged against Wages Boards. I trust that the Senate will pass this Bill. We wish to give these organizations an opportunity of coming under awards. I do not believe that the principle of arbitration will usher in the millennium.

Senator Millen - That is a concession.

Senator PEARCE - I never did believe that the Federal arbitration law would do away with discontent. I agree with Senator Rae that it will be a bad day for any country when discontent is done away with, because discontent is the mainspring of progress. We have to remember that some time ago Australia passed through a period of drought, and that during its continuance wages tumbled down to the lowest possible subsistence rate. From that time, however, we have been rapidly recovering - indeed, we have recently been passing through a period of unexampled prosperity. All those who have to earn their living by the sweat of their brow know that while it is easy for wages to tumble down, it is a very difficult matter to get them up again. We all know that, notwithstanding that the employer was reaping the advantages of a glorious and Unexampled prosperity, he made no attempt to raise wages until he was compelled to do so, either by having to compete for labour in the open market, or by reason of the award of an industrial tribunal. As a result, we have had strikes. The picture which has been drawn by Senator Millen of the number of strikes which have occurred during the past few years simply shows that the employes have demanded that they shall share in the general prosperity which has obtained. We believe that it is better to adjust these conditions by means of arbitration. The Federal Arbitration Court, in its awards, has shown that it can do that. It may break down. There may be strikes under it. So far, there has been none, but there may be some in the future. If so, that circumstance will not condemn it. We have to judge it by its general success. Our criminal laws are broken every day, but that does not prove that there should be no criminal law. This Bill is an attempt to adjust economic conditions as between employers and employes on the basis of justice. We want to make the law on this subject perfect. We find that it is imperfect to-day, and hence this measure.

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