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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1129

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - I indicate that the Australian Democratic Labor Party will support the Bill before the House. In saying that, I suggest that this Bill will not settle, and is not designed to settle, disputes but to intercede when disputes are in process for the purpose of protecting the public purse. Whether it will have that effect fully will not be known until the Bill is in effect and has been tested. It is also a matter of controversy whether this was the right way to do this. My own feeling is that this Bill should really be called the George Slater legislation. I believe that it is because of the activities of Comrade Slater in the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia that we are faced with this proposition that will be binding on many public serv-- ants who have not been associated with the activities that have led to the introduction of the legislation.

As a philosophy I would say that it has been brought about mainly by the unbridled use of the right to strike. I have belonged to a union for many years which always recognised that it did not have the powerful economic punch to win improvements in wages and conditions by the use of the strike weapon because the strikes would last for a period in that industry which inevitably would mean that die workers would be starved back to work. We were always warning those in the trade union movement, who were endeavouring to destroy the processes of conciliation and arbitration which the Labor movement had established in this country in the interests of the unions of that fact. They thought that in the economic circumstances cf today they were in a powerful position to use unbridled the right to strike to improve their own conditions regardless of others.

I think we have a classic example of this is what was referred to by none other than Senator Murphy during the adjournment debate only the other evening. He drew attention to the situation that existed in the transport industry as it related to Qantas Airways Ltd and Qantas pilots. I think we should examine that situation. I think we should also remember that the unbridled use of the right to strike can lead to a situation in which a strike may no longer be a strike but may be industrial blackmail. In the case of Qantas pilots, Senator Murphy was complaining that their current wages were perhaps excessive and that their claims were outrageous. He said that there should be more equality in that industry between the clerks and the others who are on a much lower pay range. How did this situation come about? It came about because the pilots are in a situation to use the right to strike to the extent that it becomes industrial blackmail. Why are they in that situation? It is because the equipment that they use and the planes that they fly cost such an enormous amount that immediately they are immobilised on the ground the profitability of the company is eaten into and disappears almost overnight.

If we believe in the unbridled use of the right to strike, the pilots have never had any responsibility or obligation to the clerks, the sweepers, the cleaners and others in the industry who work for Qantas, who could not ground the aircraft to gain the conditions they may have thought were their just right but who had to put up with a situation in which the great bulk of the profits of the industry and the establishment for which they work, went to the few who were in this powerful industrial position to use unbridled the right to strike to gain only their own ends. Senator Murphy complained about the pilots' wages but gave no explanation of why they were in that situation, or analysed the philosophy that if one believes in the unbridled right to strike there is nothing wrong with what the pilots are receiving today or what they may be able to squeeze out of the industry in the future.

How do we relate this to the situation in in the Public Service? I suggest that in the Public Service the number of employees in particular establishments has now grown to such a tremendous extent because of the needs of this nation that the loss incurred by the department concerned, by the Government and by the taxpayers of this country who pay the salaries of those who are immobilised by a small section which uses the right to strike, that they have as powerful a weapon for industrial blackmail as have the pilots who are able to ground the enormously expensive equipment that is used in their industry. I think that any reasonable person would accept that argument because it is factual. How, then, are we in some way to bridle those who have begun to realise that they have this powerful weapon to use and who are prepared to use it irrespective of the loss to their fellow workers in associated or kindred industries, and who are prepared to use it irrespective of the loss of public moneys which are paid in tax mostly by the people who work in this country - they are the largest taxpayers because of their numbers - if we do not bring in some restraints when we see the irresponsible use of the strike weapon to protect the public purse.

It is on that point that there are divisions In the sentiments of many of us who happen to be unionists but who have also been elected by the people of this country to protect public moneys and the public purse. We have approached this legislation conscious of all our responsibilities. As I said at the outset, we feel that had it not been for the very irresponsible activities of Comrade Slater in the trade union movement, the Public Service would not be faced with this legislation at this moment. Indeed, this Bill should almost be called the Slater Bill.

Senator Bishop - Does the honourable senator think he is doing justice by including everybody else?

Senator LITTLE - I am not suggesting that it is justice. I am suggesting that the responsibility to protect the public purse is ours. I said at the outset that I am not sure that this is the proper way, the right way or the only way to go about this. I will have more to say about that in a moment. But we must try something and the Government has produced legislation. I want to substantiate what I have said about why I believe this Bill is before the House. Let me draw attention to some of the information that I have relating to the strikes that have taken place in the postal industry in recent years. I want everybody to realise that in the Public Service in the past the good conditions that exist were laid down on the basis of a principle that strikes never occur in the Public Service. In the postal industry, this principle has been completely reversed. The record of the postal service unions over the past 10 years, in my view, is what has brought about the introduction of this piece of legislation. We all know and understand the enormous requirement today for a postal service in trade, commerce and defence and the need for that service to be efficiently and regularly run. The telephone service is important also so that the normal requirements of trade in all industries can be properly carried out. No government, whether it be the present Government or a government which may replace it, can afford to ignore those conditions. I predict now that, if a change of government occurred, whichever party replaced the present Government would find the necessity to use the powers of this legislation and similar legislation if the philosophy of the unbridled right to strike continued to be pursued in the manner in which it is being pursued today. Until those who are interested in labour, the Labor movement and the trade unions are prepared to recognise that an abuse of that philosophy must ultimately bring the repercussions that it is bringing now, not only the current Government but also whatever government replaces it will be forced, if it is the government elected by the people for the people, to resort to action to ensure that public moneys are not thrown away because people use what I describe as industrial blackmail.

The guerrilla-type operations in the postal service, with short interruptions by small numbers of people causing enormous losses to the taxpayer over the last 10 years, form a particular pattern. I wish to refer to some of them specifically. The unions involved mainly are the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and the Postal Telecommunications and Technicians Association. They cover a great number of persons engaged in the work force in this industry. Since 1969, stoppages within the Post Office have been as follows: In 1969, 10 stoppages occurred. In 1970 there were 63 stoppages. In 1971, 58 stoppages occurred. To 3rd February 1972, 10 stoppages occurred. This is a total of 141 stoppages in that period.

I know that it can be argued, perhaps with some truth, that the general industrial tenor of today has created some of those stoppages. But let us have a look at how those stoppages have worked out in their repercussions on the general community. In 1970, the number of man hours lost in the postal service as the result of strikes was 381,777.

Senator Poke - How many hours were lost through injury?

Senator LITTLE - That may be another issue. The loss of those hours may be, preventable or unpreventable. I am giving to the Senate a list of statistics. If the honourable senator has a list of statistics on the matter he has raised, I have no doubt that he will put it before the Senate. The wages lost by these men in 1970 - and they have every right to lose these wages if they want to- amounted to $528,027. In 1971, 146,954 man hours were lost and the loss of wages was $272,896. Up to 3rd February of this year, 29,228 man hours were lost, while $54,138 was lost in wages. The totals over that period were 557,959 man hours lost and $855,057 lost in wages. This is what strikes cost those workers who went on strike.

What has been the effect on associated people in the postal industry? I wish to quote some of the other aspects of disputes of this character. In September 1971, a dispute occurred at the Redfern Mail Exchange in Sydney. It commenced on 21st September. Four technicians refused, to switch on mail handling plant. All mail processing staff were left idle. Technical staff engaged on maintenance work also were unable to perform their duties. At. 4.30 p.m. that day, all work ground to a: halt. In the dispute, 2,250 man shifts werelost in the mail handling area and 500 man shifts were lost in the technical area. With respect to the 2,750 man shifts affected, 2,750 staff reported for duty but could not effectively perform their duties. Salaries totalling $50,000 were paid for these man shifts with no return in productive effort. This example illustrates the danger of such action. When the refusal of 4 people to carry out their duties creates a situation like this, I believe - and I suggest this to those interested in the trade union movement - that this is where industrial anarchy begins and where industrial blackmail can be so clearly illustrated. When a trade union official can create this sort of' chaos by using only 4 men who are likely to lose wages, we must wonder how much of the public purse would have been plundered during the course of the stoppages that have, taken place already in the postal industry, when 557,959 man hours werelost and $855,057 in wages was lost by the' participants in those strikes. If the same ratio as applied to the 4-man stoppage that I have used as an illustration had applied over the whole of industry - I know that it is an extreme case, but it could happen - how enormously the taxpayers would have1 been penalised because of what could have' been a very small and petty dispute that occasioned 4 people to withhold their labour at a particular time.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the1 honourable senator know why the 4 men went out on strike?

Senator LITTLE - I do not know. As far as the union is concerned, whether it is' justifiable or not - and if it was justifiable' for them to go out--

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Was it a matter of safety that was involved?

Senator LITTLE - I cannot answer the question. I do not propose to. If that were so, I think that it is unreasonable to suggest that a stoppage of work was actually necessary to attain the ends that were required and that it is completely beyond the pale to suggest that it was necessary to incur an enormous loss of public money in paying the rest of the employees who were doing nothing white those 4 technicians were on strike. On both sides-

Senator Cavanagh - It may have saved lives.

Senator LITTLE - This may be purely a matter of opinion. I have not condemned the stoppage itself. What I am condemning is the fact that it was used and took place in the manner in which it did, so depriving the public of value for the expenditure of that enormous amount of wages because these people were idle. There will always be those who will take advantage of circumstances which permit such action. If honourable senators suggest otherwise, they do not face the realities of human nature. If there were not such people, airline pilots would not be receiving the wages that they are receiving and would not be making the extravagant demands that Senator Murphy described to us the other night. The philosophy is exactly the same. It is exactly the same use of the economic power that lies in the hands of a minority of people who can use it to pose the threat of loss to other people so as to obtain their specific demands or the particular objective that they want. I am opposed to it. I believe that the trade union movement, if it is sensible, will use the right to strike in a much more reasonable manner,. I think that it mostly has done so, under the national auspices of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. That body has never made a practice of racing to the strike weapon as the immediate and only solution to an argument about safety or anything else.

Debate interrupted.

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