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Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 2113

Senator DONALD CAMERON (South Australia) - I join my colleagues on this side of the chamber in opposing the motion for the second reading of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. It is strange to note that each year prior to an election the Government introduces a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. This was done in 1970 in the autumn session of the Parliament and the Bill was rushed through this chamber in the early hours of the morning. As a matter of fact we sat all night to deal with that Bill. That was an election year. We find again this year that prior to a general election we are debating another Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.

In his opening remarks in his second reading speech the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) stated that this Bill contains the most significant amendments of the Act since 1947'. I have perused the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act over the years and I want to point out that in 1956 there were no fewer than 160 amendments to it. So one does not have to read very much of the Minister's second reading speech before finding something that is false. The Minister went on to state:

This Bill is being brought down when our system of conciliation and arbitration has been undergoing severe strain . . .

That definitely is an understatement. Over the last few years the emphasis has been placed more on arbitration than was the case previously. This was never the intention of the founders of this Act. This legislation has been used very effectively by the Government and employer organisations to keep wages at a minimum. When use of the arbitration system does result in the granting of a little more than what is regarded as the minimum, this Government sees fit to tighten the legislation further so that more sanctions will be placed on unions if they do not abide by decisions handed down by the court.

The Minister referred in his second reading speech to a number of salient features of the Bill but I propose to refer to only 2 or 3 of them. There are only 5 or 6 altogether in this Bill which is so important that it has to be rushed through on the eve of an election. In fact there are only 3 or 4 issues that are regarded as very important. The second one is a strengthening of the sanctions provisions of the Act, including a review of all penalties provided in it. At page 47 of the Bill there is a schedule which contains a list of the penalties that are to apply, mainly, to employees and members of unions which the courts decide are in breach of sections of the Act. Some of these penalties have been increased by up to 500 per cent. The monetary penalty for one offence has not only increased by 500 per cent; it will carry a term of imprisonment for 6 months. This is one of the salient points in the features of the Bill referred to by the Minister. The Government intends to increase the penalties that can be imposed for offences against various sections of the Act.

I want to reiterate what probably has been said by other senators about the attitude of the Australian Council of Trade Unions towards penalties. I know that honourable senators on the Government side are well aware of this but if we keep repeating it they may learn something. We do not care how much the Government increases the penalties in the sanctions provisions of the Act because the trade unions have no intention of paying the fines. The Government may increase them to $10,000 and 10 years imprisonment; the unions have no intention of paying fines for breaches of certain sections. I want to read one of the decisions made at the congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions held from 30th August to 3rd September 1971. Dealing with penal provisions, this document states:


The Penal Clauses of the Arbitration system in this country have been strenuously opposed by, the Australian Trade Union Movement from inception as a direct attack on the fundamental right of workers' organisations to use industrial strength in support of legitimate claims.

This 1971 ACTU Congress declares its belief in the right of organised trade unions to strike.

The authority of the organised Trade Union Movement should not be impeded in the performance of responsible traditional functions which must include the right to withhold labor or impose limitation of performance of work - otherwise the minimum wage and conditions of work awarded by tribunals become the maximum and inhibit the possibilities of improvements.

Congress reaffirms its opposition to continuation of penal provisions and demands the repeal of all legislation which protect employers from normal bargaining procedures yet discriminates against the unions.

Congress declares that the amending legislation of 1970 . . .

That was the legislation which this Government put through the Parliament in the dying stages of the 1970 autumn session and prior to the 1970 Senate election. The legislation was not properly considered because the Government gagged debate on every clause in the Committee stage. Divisions were taken on every clause. The decision continued: . . whilst eliminating the Contempt proceedings, nevertheless continued Penal Provisions which can be invoked against the unions, and therefore is unacceptable to the Trade Union Movement whilst these Penal Provisions are retained. Essentially we say that these penalties are Immoral in that they constitute a double standard which operates against wage and salary earners and their unions. Workers and their organisations are concerned with selling labor. The buyers of this labor are employers who must recognise the human dignity, of the worker. As sellers we desire to obtain that price which represents a proper return for skills, talents and energies which we have to sell.

That position is not only allowed to all other sellers in the Australian market economy: it is the fundamental article of faith of the buyers of our labor in their capacity as sellers of goods and services. The Government shares this article of faith with employers in their capacity as sellers - but does not extend the same right to us. It denies that right by imposing discriminatory penalties upon us. This double standard can have no moral justification and is certainly unacceptable to us.

That was the ACTU speaking on behalf of over 1 million trade unionists whose unions are affiliated with that body. Another point referred to in the second reading speech by the Attorney-General was the amalgamation of organisations. A lot has been said during this debate, particularly by honourable senators on this side of the chamber, in opposition to this provision. The blatant interference by the Government in the internal affairs of trade unions has been referred to. Here again we have a double standard. Would there be any interference by the Government if the South Australian Employers Federation were to amalgamate with the Chamber of Manufactures? Certainly there would not be. If the South Australian Farmer and Grazier wanted to affiliate with the Stockowners Association of South Australia it could do that. No restrictions would be placed on employer organisations if they desired to amalgamate. Looking at the amalgamation procedures which are intended in the Bill, I believe that these were put there only to placate the Australian Democratic Labor Party. That Party made every effort through the National Civic Council to prevent the amalgamation of the 3 major metal trades unions of Australia.

This legislation has been brought down to make certain that the road to amalgamations by the trade unions is going to be pretty hard in future. We know - the employers have admitted this - that demarcation disputes, whether they be between tradesmen, semi-skilled workers or labourers, represent a significant proportion of the time lost through stoppages. I think it is recognised that such stoppages represent about 11 per cent. Surely members of the Government must realise that when there is an amalgamation of unions - previously where there were 2, 3 or 4 organisations they are now speaking with one voice - a lot of these demarcation disputes will be eliminated. In Australia today over 300 unions are registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Of these unions 298 have less than 10,000 members and 198 have less than 2,000 members. So here in Australia, with a population of only 13 million and probably 4.5 million in the workforce, we have over 300 unions representing those workers. There are far too many unions in Australia. The time has come when the smaller unions have seen the wisdom of amalgamation because it will save the unions expenditure in office rentals, union officials, staff and the many other expenses which are incurred by the smaller unions. Also they will be able to give their union members far better service because of amalgamation. Of course this is what the Government does not want. I think it has adopted the attitude that the trade union movements' gains over the last 2 years have to be prevented. It is prepared to take any drastic measures which will prevent further increases in gains which the unions have won over the last 2 to 3 years.

I shall briefly refer to how the Australian Workers Union will fare under the legislation which is proposed in the Bill which we are now discussing. It should not be forgotten that the Australian Workers Union, as it is today, comprises a number of unions which have been incorporated over the years. It was established as the Australian Shearers Union in 1886. It was joined by the GLU and the AWA A Queensland, the Rural Workers Union, the ULU of South Australia, the Railways Workers and General Labourers Association of New South Wales, the FMEA of Australia, the Surveyors Employees Union, the ULU of Victoria, the Factory Employees Union and the ULU in New South Wales. These unions amalgamated and the Australian Workers Union was formed. This would be completely impossible with the restrictions which are contained in the Bill because of the complexities of the industries from which the Australian

Workers Union is formed. The membership is scattered far and wide to the outback areas and it would be completely impossible to conduct a ballot to bring about amalgamation.

I fortify my argument on this matter by quoting from the Hansard of the House of Representatives of Wednesday, 10th May 1972. Mr Clyde Cameron, when speaking to the Bill, had incorporated in Hansard a table relating to ballots conducted by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer and by the Commonwealth Industrial Registrar. I will not quote all the figures in the table. I will refer only to ballots which concerned the Australian Workers Union. These ballots were conducted officially by the Electoral Officer under section 170 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In 1964 there was a ballot of all members of the union to elect a general secretary. Of the ballot papers posted to members of the Union, only 30.87 per cent were returned. Of the ballot papers that were returned, probably about 10 per cent were informal. The figure may have been even higher. In later years ballots were conducted by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in which members elected delegates to attend the annual convention of the Australian Workers Union. In 1966 there was a ballot in South Australia. Only 41.74 per cent of the ballot papers were returned.

In 1967 there was a ballot for the election of delegates to the Australian Workers Union annual convention. I shall give the percentage of ballot papers returned for the various States. In New South Wales it was 27,38, in Queensland it was 24.23, in South Australia it was 29.77, in Western Australia it was 35.22 and in Tasmania it was 25.68; that is, an average of only approximately 25 per cent of members returned their ballot papers. A similar pattern was disclosed at the 1968 elections, at which there was a ballot for similar-, positions. In 1969, 1970 and 1971, although the figures for 1971 are not recorded in the table, similar results were achieved. Under this legislation the Australian Workers Union and a smaller union could never amalgamate because it would be completely impossible to get a 50 per cent return of ballot papers. It is obvious that whoever drafted the legislation knows very little about the ramifications of the trade union movement. The only ones who can be responsible are the Government and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch). No-one would knowingly insert in the Act such a prohibitive provision that would prevent unions from amalgamating. It is obvious that this position will apply not only to the Australian Workers Union but also, equally, to many other unions whose membership is scattered throughout the States. The table to which I have referred shows that there are many other unions in respect of which the percentage of ballot papers returned was less than 20 per cent.

The Bill places a restriction on the trade unions. Surely they have the right to decide their own form of election. If, in accordance with their rules, they decide on amalgamation, that right should not be denied them or taken away from them by legislation introduced in this Parliament. It is strange that just prior to the introduction of the legislation references were made in newspapers to amalgamations. The Australian' of Friday, 25th February, reported:

The Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, has assured his senior Ministers that the Federal Government will not try to stop the formation of the country's biggest industrial union combine.

All I can glean from that statement is that the Prime Minister does not regard the Minister for Labor and National Service as one of his senior Ministers. An article in the 'Australian Financial Review' of the same date reported the employers' attitude. It stated:

Mr F.R. D. Morgan, national president of the Metal Trades Industry Association, said in a statement:

Far from objecting to the amalgamation the Metal Trades Industry Association secs many practical advantages for industrial relations in the metal trades industry . . .'.

There is a complete somersault in the statements made by the employers and the statements made by the Prime Minister. Another salient feature of the legislation is the reference to control over the unions in relation to strikes and secret ballots being conducted where they are considered necessary. I think other senators on this side have adequately exposed that proposal as hypocritical, and at this stage I do not intend to pursue that matter any further.

I now draw the attention of the Senate to the Commonwealth Government submissions that were placed before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission during the 1971-72 national wage case. Those submissions are very lengthy. They number 49 pages, plus tables. Submissions regarding rural industry were made by counsel for the Government. Although I am the second last or third last speaker in the debate, I raise the matter because the speaker who led for the Government, Senator Lillico, made reference to the plight of rural industry, as he usually does during his contributions to debates. He pointed out why special privileges should be given to this sector. At page 21, under the heading 'Rural Industry', the submissions state:

As in. previous major wage cases, the Commonwealth wishes io bring to the attention of the Commission the situation of rural industry in Australia and the importance for it of continuing substantial increases in costs. The rural industries, of course, comprise an important sector of the Australian economy, particularly as regards their contribution to our export performance. Accordingly, the Commonwealth submits that the Commission should as it has done in the past pay due regard to the current economic position of this sector.

Three points were put forward by the Commonwealth at the conclusion of its submissions to the Commission in the national wage case. They were in fact requests by the Commonwealth. They were: Firstly, that the Commission should not award an increase in the total wage; secondly, that the Commonwealth did not oppose some increase in the minimum wage consistent with the submissions it had just made; and, thirdly, that the Commission should reject the claim for cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage in accordance with movements in the consumer price index.

I believe that the Commonwealth usurped the functions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission by dictating to it the basis upon which its judgment should be given. I say that because the Commission's judgment was precisely in the terms suggested by the Commonwealth in its submissions. Firstly, the Commonwealth submitted that the Commission should not award an increase in the total wage. It would have been too obvious if the Commission had not granted any increase. It could not have granted any less than the amount it did grant in its judgment of $2 a week. The second proposition put forward by the Commonwealth was that it did not oppose some increase in the minimum wage. The Commission awarded some increase in the minimum wage. In other words, it did precisely what the Commonwealth asked it to do. The third proposition put forward by the Commonwealth was that the Commission should reject the claim for cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. That is precisely what the Commission did when it handed down its judgment in the 1971-72 national wage case.

It also should be noted that deliberate delaying tactics were adopted by the employers and the Government so that the judgment would not be handed down until the latest date possible. The application was lodged by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for a review of the national wage in August or September of last year, but a decision was not handed down on that application until April of this year. After the hearing had been completed it took the Commission about 6 weeks to give its judgment. The Commission knew - it was acting under the instructions of the Government - that for every week it delayed increasing the national wage only the $2 a week which is eventually granted - it would save the Government and the employers at least $14m. Is it any wonder that the Government and the employers requested the Commission to delay handing down its decision? Is it any wonder that reference was made by the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) in his second reading speech to the fact that the arbitration system is undergoing some severe strains and that in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which was before the Senate in 1970 there was a reference to the fact that the arbitration system in Australia was at the crossroads? Those are the views of Government spokesmen on the arbitration system and not the Opposition.

It seems to me that the Government and the employers are becoming more and more concerned about the wage increases that the unions have been gaining over the last two or three years. Trenchant attacks have been made in this chamber on many occasions on the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and on officials of the trade unions, particularly those officials who are communists. It is very noticeable from an examination of the figures in a document entitled Table A - Trends in wages, prices and productivity since 1955-56' that was tendered in evidence by the Commonwealth during the national wage case that the average weekly earnings per employed male unit increased by only small amounts between 1955-56 and 1969-70. In 1956-57 they increased by 4.6 per cent and in 1957-58 they increased by 2.8 per cent. The following year they increased by 3 per cent. The average weekly earnings increased by only small amounts right through to the year 1969-70, which is just about the time that there was a change in the leadership of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I am not going to give Bob Hawke all the credit for being personally responsible, following his election as president of the ACTU, for the trade union movement at last getting some semblance of recognition for the work that its members performed. But I would point out that in 1968-69 the increase was 7.5 per cent; that in 1969-70 it was 8.4 per cent; and that In 1970-71 it was 11.3 per cent. That is the last full year for which figures appear in the schedule. But it is noticeable that the September quarter for 1971-72 showed an increase of 11.5 per cent and the December quarter for the same year showed an increase of 11 per cent.

During the last two or three years the unions have, through their efforts and submissions to the industrial tribunals and some prior activity on the job, gained increases but they have been only in keeping with cost of living increases. I say that because between the decision being handed down in the 1970 national wage case, which was given effect to in January Of last year, and the decision being handed down in the 1971-72 national wage case, the cost of living has increased by 10 per cent. To offset the cost of living increases during that period the Commission granted an increase of exactly 2 per cent in the salary of a wage earner on $100 a week. The Government now thinks that it is necessary to introduce some legislation that will prevent this type of increase being continually granted, The Government never bothers to introduce any measures to prevent cost of living rises. It never said anything on either occasion on which the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd increased the price of steel in the last 2 years. It is the unions and their members who have '.o bear the burden when the cost of living increases are out of all proportion and inflation runs rife. During this period the unemployment figures have increased.

Although it has tempted the public by small handouts to pensioners and small handouts in the form of unemployment benefit the popularity of the Government, according to public opinion polls, is lower now than it has been since public opinion polls have been taken. As a matter of fact there was only 22 per cent support for the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in the latest public opinion poll. It is obvious that the Government is getting desperate. It has introduced other measures in an endeavour to get some support from the public on the eve of an election. It has increased pensions and so on. Apparently the Government now thinks - as it did in 1970 - that the best weapon it has to fool the people on the eve of an election is legislation to alter the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I do not know why it decided that. Apparently it did not pay much attention to the figures of the 1970 election when the Government's numbers in this chamber were reduced.

It is obvious that the same thing will happen at the next election. Because the Government has no effective control of prices and has failed to do anything to stop inflation it has come to the conclusion that the only remedy available is to reduce wages. Honourable senators opposite have repeated that wage increases are the major component in inflation. Inflation is a problem not only of Australia. It is a problem of all capitalist countries. We have not got it on our own and there is nothing that the Government can do about it. Why does it not admit that there is absolutely nothing it can do to prevent inflation? The big primary and secondary industries, mineral resources, banking and insurance houses and wealth of the country are in the hands of private enterprise which dictates the terms on prices. They are uncontrolled by the Government and there is nothing at all that the Government can do to prevent price increases or inflation.

I listened to Senator Lillico in this debate. Whether knowingly or not, he gave us something to rely on as to the Government's intentions about prices. He referred to New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He said how the Government over there has introduced legislation pegging wage increases at a maximum of 7 per cent. He thinks that that is a terrific idea but he did not mention what should be done about the other component in productivity. Honourable senators can rest assured that while prices keep rising and the unions have to fight their claims in the arena of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission there will always be conflict and agitation by the workers trying to gain an increased percentage for their labour. The employers will always be in the opposite corner trying to maintain higher dividends for their shareholders and the companies they represent.

The Commonwealth intervened in the last national wage case and got the decision that it wanted. It also gained another decision in respect of the rural industry. In 1970 workers covered by section 2 of the Federal Pastoral Industry Award, which covers station hands, were the only ones excluded from the flow-on of the 6 per cent increase granted by the Arbitration Commission. In the last national wage case the Commission went even further at the request of the Government and excluded not only station hands working under section 2 of the Federal Pastoral Industry Award but also all employees covered by the award. They were all excluded from the flow-on of the increase granted in the 1971-72 national wage case.

It is obvious that the Arbitration Commission is meeting the wishes of the Government and employer representatives by keeping rates of pay at a minimum. Of course, the minimum is well below what is recognised as the poverty line. Of all federal awards registered with the Arbitration Commission only the Federal Pastoral Industry Award was singled out to be excluded. Each of the 41 other awards covering members of the Australian Workers' Union received the benefit of the 1970 increase and the increase, small as it is, from the last national wage case. This prompted an article in the 'Australian Worker', the official journal of the Aus tralian Workers' Union. It appeared in the edition of Wednesday 1st March 1972 under the heading 'Station Hand Is Better Off On The Dole'. I will read the article because I think some honourable senators will be surprised that in a society regarded by the more fortunate as affluent some workers are living on an income which places them below what is accepted as the poverty line. The article states:

An unemployed, married stationhand with five children will be better off financially living off unemployment benefits while sitting at home doing nothing, than working long hours under archaic, court-prescribed Award conditions, AWU General Secretary, Tom Dougherty, said last week.

Mr Doughertysaid he had reached that conclusion after examining the new unemployment benefits announced by Prime Minister McMahon recently.

Mr Doughertysaid large families were not uncommon in rural areas.

Even a Stationhand with three or four children certainly would not be much, if any, worse off taking into consideration the Award rates and the various deductions.

He said, 'Certainly I am not saying that the new unemployment rates are- adequate for a family to live on. They are obviously an improvement on the old rates, but at least another $10 a week is needed to support a family in reasonable comfort.

The point I am making is that the new unemployment benefit rates show how badly Stationhands have been treated by the Court in the making of the present Award,' he said.

The Commonwealth Industrial Court last year rejected a Head Office application for the inclusion of Stationhands in the six per cent National Wage Case decision which began operating from January 1, 1971.

The Court also rejected a Head Office application for a 40-hour, five-day week for Stationhands to be worked Monday to Friday inclusive and all other time to be paid for at overtime rates.

Those two decisions caused enormous unrest within the Stationhand component of the AWU membership and deep concern within the whole Trade Union Movement.

The Prime Minister on February 15 announced new rates of unemployment benefit payments.

Under the new rates an unemployed Stationhand will receive $17 a week unemployment benefit from the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth in addition pays $8 a week for his wife and $4.50 a week for each child.

Therefore, the total weekly entitlement for a married man with five dependent children in future will be $47.50 a week.

Mr Doughertysaid the Award provided a minimum rate of $46.40 a week for Stationhands

From that amount was to be deducted $10.14 a week if the employer provided 'Keep' for the Stationhand

In addition a married man with six dependants (wife and five children) pays $2.75 a week tax.

Thus, the Stationhand had gross deductions of $12.89, leaving him a total of $33.51 a week to send home lo his wife on which she and her children had to scrape by.

Without reading the rest of the statement, let me say that the community should be able to rely on the Commission for satisfactory judgments when matters are properly litigated, whether in the national wage case or in an application for shorter working hours. In 1970, as I said before, the court did not apply the 6 per cent increase to station hands, nor did it apply the increase in the minimum wage granted at that time. Station hands working on pastoral properties were not treated fairly. Many of those properties are owned by wealthy graziers who, in the past 12 months or so, since I have been in this Parliament have been fortunate enough to get handouts of millions of dollars by way of subsidy. Workers covered by the station hands section of the award did not get the minimum wage which was granted to every other worker in Australia on 1st January 1970. They had to wait until July 1970 to get the miserly increase in the minimum wage which all other workers had received 7 months before.

In the recent judgment a similar principle applied. Station hands were again excluded, as were all the shearing personnel in the industry. We all know that the pastoral industry is very important to Australia. Wool has been one of our major exports, and it still brings in a considerable amount of Australia's export earnings. Again, shearers and station hands who are expected to work out in the desert under archaic working conditions and in all kinds of climates, have been excluded.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - Why did they not strike?

Senator CAMERON- Because it is very hard to organise workers at Tibooburra and in outlying parts of Tasmania. Pastoral workers are scattered throughout the Commonwealth and it is impossible to organise them to take strike action. That is a pity. The Australian Workers Union would no doubt like to be able to get the station hands to do what the shearers did in 1956 when they went on strike and Commissioner Donovan increased their rate of pay. Honourable senators on the Government side do not want to be fooled into thinking that members of the Australian Workers Union will not go on strike when the occasion arises. I believe that last Thursday the Commissioner gave some relief to these workers in the industry. However, they have not yet received anything near the amount that similar workers in industry get for the number of hours that they work

Although the Federal pastoral industry award was the only award excluded from the flow-on following the national wage case in 1970 and in 1971-72, another award could be affected in the same way next year. It could be the fruit preservers industry award or the vehicle builders industry award. The Government gives instructions to the Commission that cetain workers under its jurisdiction should not receive the flow-on contemplated by the Commission. I believe this is a dangerous situation. By its submissions to the Commission, the Government is spelling out how the judgments should be written. The Attorney-General could not have done a better job of writing a judgment to comply with the Government's submissions to the Commission than did the Commission. Everything in that submission has been complied with. This is another reason why we oppose any increase in the penalties and sanctions that are already in the Act. We oppose any interference in the amalgamation of unions when the unions themselves consider the amalgamation necessary. The unions have ample provision in their constitutions and rules to cover any amalgamation registered in the Commission. This is proved by the recent biggest amalgamation in the history of arbitration in Australia, namely, the amalgamation of the metal trades unions.

The Bill contains proposals for prvention of amalgamation of unions and for increased penalties on unions that do not comply with decisions of commissioners, though they may be bad decisions. When unions, by negotiation with employers reach agreement on rates of pay, working conditions and other conditions of work, they may be thwarted by the provision that enables the Commission to prvent implementation of such agreements. 1 have outlined the reasons why we are opposing the second reading of this Bill.

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