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Tuesday, 13 August 1974
Page: 792

The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted?

Senator Townley - No.

Senator BISHOP -The present Bill marks the third occasion on which this Government has advanced amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act designed to facilitate the amalgamation of organisations. Within the current economic climate, the need for procedures enabling amalgamations is imperative: I shall return to this later, but at the outset I would indicate to the chamber that rejection of this measure will be attended by grave economic consequencesthe persistent pursuit, by a multiplicity of unions, of spiralling wage claims. Both this measure and another I am shortly to introduce are concerned with moderation of wage demands. Each is a detailed and self-contained code, this measure dealing with amalgamation and the other, industrial agreements. Taken together, they will, if acceded to, assist in achieving 2 major objectives of this Government: rationalisation of our industrial relations system and a dampening of inflation. The Opposition will, if it is genuine in its concern to contain inflation, enable the Government to take action designed to achieve some moderation in inflationary wage claims.

The Government and Opposition would not seem to be divided in relation to the need for amalgamation. The policy of the Liberal Party itself admonishes the industrial partners in the following terms: 'Consultation, negotiation, cooperation between employees and employers would be assisted by a structure of industry unions'. The Liberal Party would 'seek to work with the Australian Council of Trade Unions in encouraging industry-based unions'. The provisions of this Bill enable unions to obtain such a structure. The trade union movement will be placed in a position whereby it may rationalise its structure. The need for such a rationalisation can be seen from the number and overlapping organisation of trade unions in this country, and the consequential unorderly operation of awards and agreements.

At the end of 1973 there were 294 separate unions in Australia, 226 of which had a membership of fewer than 5,000 members and of these 103 had fewer than 500 members. At the same time, there is a significant degree of overlapping coverage by trade unions. There are, for example, at least 6 unions registered under the Act which have coverage of fitters. This fragmentation gives rise to duplication of effort and a waste of human and other resources while, at the same time, generating demarcation disputes between trade unions as to their coverage of both work and members. Amalgamation of organisations will make for more efficient and more responsible unions because of their increased ability to attract officials and staff of high calibre. Unions will be better placed to obtain improved research facilities which may lead them to an increased understanding of the complex relationship between wage increases, productivity and inflation. It could reasonably be expected that unions themselves would then pay more attention to the question of productivity and perceive the need for some co-ordination in the presentation of their wage claims.

The fragmented nature of the trade union movement has been reflected in an unorderly operation of industrial regulation. It is not uncommon for several unions to be party to a single award or agreement, as is the case in the metal industry award, or for a multiplicity of separate awards and agreements which are to operate in single establishments and which therefore have to be observed by the employers concerned. Amalgamation of organisations will operate in this situation not only by reducing the number of unions party to single awards and agreements but also by limiting the number of awards and agreements applying within single establishments. Significantly, amalgamation will also facilitate negotiations on industrial matters and the reaching of agreement because the employer will deal with one organisation instead of a number which are operating under different rules and procedures and are not necessarily pursuing common policies. The Liberal Party itself recognises that 'the multiplicity of unions and the spread of certain unions through many industries makes the task of consultation and negotiations more difficult with problems of one industry unnecessarily flowing to others'. The successful negotiation and operation of industrial agreements is crucial for the survival of our industrial relations system and I will deal with this in the presentation of the second Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. My present purpose is to indicate to honourable senators the inter-relation of these diverse industrial relations matters. In responding to this inter-relation, the Government has formulated a comprehensive and integrated industrial relations policy which has consistency throughout in adapting our industrial arrangements to current needs. I can further instance its wages policy, trade union education policy and so on.

I have explained above how amalgamation will achieve a rationalisation of our industrial relations system. I turn now to the issue of amalgamation in the context of inflation. Amalgamation of organisations provides one means of easing run-away wage demands. The present fragmentation of the trade union movement can only result in unco-ordinated wage claims being pursued by 300-odd unions, each operating as a separate independent unit. A wage increase obtained in one area is not however contained to that area. It provides impetus for fresh claims elsewhere and hence we witness a leap-frogging of wage increases from one area to another as unions outbid each other in an endeavour to protect themselves against an erosion of the purchasing power of the wages of their members. This issue has been the subject of separate detailed consideration by the Government which will place proposals before the conference called by Mr Justice Moore, President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, on wage fixation methods and indexation.

Within this context, the amalgamation of organisations will operate to produce 3 significant hedges to inflation. It will limit the area available for leap-frogging of wage increases. It will, in the long term, pave the way for some co-ordination in the presentation of union wage demands. This is almost impossible to achieve with the large number of existing unions and the unordered nature of existing arbitral arrangements. Finally, amalgamation will remove obstacles to agreement being reached between unions and employers and so operate to produce more stability in industrial relationships. The Opposition must bear a heavy responsibility for rejection of a measure so obviously in the interests of wage moderation and the orderly operation of our industrial arrangements.

The restrictive amalgamation provisions adopted in 1972 by the former Government have effectively prevented the amalgamation of organisations. These provisions were apparently prompted by a fear of big powerful unions. The whole argument as to big powerful unions is misplaced. It ignores the fact that if unions desire to amalgamate and if the statutory procedures do not enable this or if they impede it, de facto amalgamation can be achieved outside the existing arbitral machinery. The existing statutory procedures can be circumvented by unions establishing controlling councils to direct their affairs and operations. Unions can establish common memberships with common officials so that there is a de facto amalgamation, though not legally. Unions can withdraw from the system and operate as unregistered associations.

These are the devices to which unions have been driven by the 1972 provisions introduced by a party which professes a belief in the need to uphold Australia's system of conciliation and arbitration. Not one amalgamation has been achieved in the 2 years since those provisions came into operation. Prior to that time we had witnessed, in the federal sphere, the amalgamation of the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Societies in 1965; the Printing Industry Employees Union of Australia and the Amalgamated Printing Trades Employees Union in 1 966; the Australian Leather and Allied Industry Employees Federation and the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union in 1967; in 1971 the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union and the North Australian Workers Union; and in 1972 the 3 metal trades unions. The Opposition bears a heavy responsibility for the current fragmentation of the trade union movement and for the creature of that fragmentation, spiralling wage demands.

A responsible Government should have been concerned to ensure that industrial organisations might place themselves in a position where they may meet their industrial partners on an equal footing. Industrial and technological development in the twentieth century has been accompanied in highly industrialised countries by the greater concentration of economic power. The 'conglomerates' as they are known are playing an increasingly important role in commerce and industry in Australia. Takeovers and mergers are available as a means of consolidating commercial operations. Corresponding procedures must be attainable by industrial organisations if they are to meet commercial enterprises as their equal partners and perform their proper and profound function of representing the wage and salary earners of this country.

I have described the impact of the 1972 amalgamation provisions in the domestic sphere. Within the international sphere the continuation of the 1 972 amalgamation provisions has meant that Australia is not honouring its international obligations. Australia has ratified International Labour Organisation Convention No. 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, and did so on a commitment to undertake amendments to the amalgamation provisions which infringe that Convention. This, the Government attempted twice in 1973. Opposition rejection of those amendments has meant that Australia is not fulfilling its international obligations.

The Bill provides a self-contained code for amalgamation and, as I have explained above, it emanates from a comprehensive and integrated industrial relations policy. The Bill is based on the fundamental assumption that organisations registered under the Act are voluntary bodies and that the Government should not interfere in their affairs unless attainment of the objectives of the Act is in jeopardy. The procedures for amalgamation are simplified. There will be no mandatory requirement for an officially conducted amalgamation ballot in the case of each organisation concerned in a proposed amalgamation. Nor, for acceptance of the amalgamation, will there be a requirement that SO per cent plus one of the members must vote nor that SO per cent plus one of those voting must favour the proposed amalgamation. A majority of financial members voting formally will be sufficient for acceptance of the amalgamation.

Under the Bill the following steps will be involved in the procedure for amalgamation: the committee of management of each organisation concerned will be required to resolve upon the proposed amalgamation and accept a scheme of amalgamation; publication of the proposed amalgamation in the Press and in journals of the organisation concerned; the scheme of amalgamation will be filed with the Industrial Registrar, the existing procedures in relation to the registration of organisations and the alteration of rules of existing organisations will then apply, and under these, objections may be lodged on specified grounds; the determination by the Registrar of the application following a hearing; conduct of the ballot(s); and, if the proposed amalgamation is to proceed, the carrying out of the necessary formal steps of registration, alteration of rules and deregistration.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator BISHOP - In addition to these procedures, a specified percentage of the members of an organisation will be able to request an officially conducted amalgamation ballot where the committee of management has failed to formulate an amalgamation proposal. Costs of such a ballot would be borne by the Australian Government. This provision was not included in the amendments proposed in 1973. Time did not then permit the effective working out of the proposal. This has now been done. The provision is designed to enable the members to initiate amalgamation. Under the existing procedures, this may be done only by the committee of management. The existing procedures rest upon that committee undertaking certain defined steps. Enabling the members of an organisation to initiate amalgamation provides one means of overcoming a natural reluctance to amalgamate on the part of some union officials. A committee of management of a small union may prefer to preserve the status quo so far as its customary rights and privileges are concerned, even though the preservation of the union as a separate entity may in the long term work against the interests of the members. This provision therefore answers normal disincentives to amalgamation. I will deal with the other provisions of the Bill in detail during the Committee stage.

Procedures facilitating the amalgamation of organisations have the support of employee and employer bodies alike. This was made abundantly clear during the parties' consideration of the whole topic during the tripartite industrial peace conference I called in December last year to examine ways and means of achieving stability in industrial relations in Australia. Representatives of the leading employer organisations in this country are clearly on record supporting amalgamation. The provisions of the Bill apply to employee and employer organisations alike. Honourable senators opposite will be aware that the Metal Trades Industry Association is itself a product of amalgamation and that the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia and the Australian Council of Employers Federations have integrated their industrial relations activities. Rejection of this measure will therefore be contrary to the wishes of the industrial partners who are most intimately concerned in its operation. Rejection will accelerate the pace of inflationary wage demands and at the same time, exacerbate our present unordered industrial relations arrangements. Mr President, I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.

Motion ( by Senator Bishop) proposed:

That the adjourned debate be made an order or the day Tor the next day of sitting.

Senator Greenwood - Before the question is put, I ask the Minister would he indicate in his reply whether it is the intention of the Government that this Bill should be dealt with this week.

Senator Bishop - Yes.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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