14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) tools the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Motionofcensure - Amendment
Debate resumed from the 6th May (vide page 1331) on motion by Mr. Curtin, as amended -
That this House -
Upon which Mr. Archie Cameron had moved byway of amendment -
That after the word “ House “ the following words he inserted : – “ notes the action taken by the CommonwealthGovernment to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia, in accordance with public opinion of the Commonwealth and with the principle embodied in the Draft Convention, adopted, with the support of the Commonwealth Government delegate, at the1935 session of the International Labour Conference, and commends the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle to Australia and urges the trade union movement to co-operate with the Government to that end.”
– The moving of this motion and the remarks made upon it by honorable members opposite are indicative of an unholy haste to stampede the Government into affirming the principle of a 40-hour week. The attitude of the Opposition was crystallized last night in the speeches of the honorable member for “West Sydney (Mr. Boasley), and the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden), who followed him. Apparently, the Labour party is not prepared to discuss the matter in conference, unless the Government first affirms or ratifies the principle. This unholy haste must give rise to suspicion in the minds of honorable members on this side. One is forced to ask: Of what is the Opposition afraid? Have further facts been brought to light? Is an investigation of the matter being made overseas? Does the Opposition fear the result of an inquiry? In my opinion, such an inquiry could do no harm. No one can be indifferent to the charge that the use of machinery restricts the avenues of employment. There is so much that is obvious in this regard that one may be excused for being somewhat suspicious, and, on that account, I believe that an investigation of it is imperative. From lime to time, honorable members have produced evidence of the rationalization of industry. Only recently this House discussed a motion relating- to the speeding-up methods adopted by a certain industrial undertaking, and this urge for greater efficiency throughout the business world is due mainly to competition and the desire to decrease costs of production. Full advantage is taken of every method that will effect standardization and increase production. Close attention is paid to the study of the human factor, motion study, vocational training, and industrial hygiene, and the maximum use of power in machine production is in turn explored and developed. Rationalism is rapidly becoming the fetish of modern business management. It is asserted that within recent years the use of power has increased to such an extent as to cause considerable concern. A world power conference was held in Berlin in 1930, and inquiries have been conducted in the United States of America, as well as in other countries at different times. The extent to which power is used in Australia is shown in the statistical information which is issued periodically. It shows that in this country the average horsepower an employee has increased from . 67 in 1908 to 2.27 in 1932-33. As the result of the conference in Berlin it was shown that the total annual use of mechanical power from all sources, such as coal-mining, oil, gas, water, &c, was in the vicinity of 1,700,000,000,000 kilowatt hours, or 900 kilowatt hours to each person. It has been stated that this represents nearly ten times as much work as one strong man could do in a year. Very little consideration is needed to give one some idea of the volume of production if this energy were coupled to machinery of the right type. This stupendous increase of the use of power is reflected in the degree of standardization and mass production which has been achieved. The result has been a very definite increase of production not only in Australia, but also throughout the world. I have no doubt that it has also resulted in a measure of temporary unemployment in certain industries. This is so obvious as to shriek for investigation. I was fortunate in that I was asked to compile certain information for the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) before he left for Geneva. In common with the majority of honorable members, I was almost firmly convinced that a shorter working week was not only highly desirable, but also an absolute necessity. But the investigations which I made raised in my mind a certain degree of suspicion, and that suspicion has since been strengthened. Recent investigations, which were made only because of the desire for a shorter working week, have proved that employment throughout the world has increased in greater ratio than has the population. I take for my authority.no less a person than Mr. William Cameron, statistician of the Ford Motor Company, which has been held up time and time again in this House as an example for other employers to follow. In an article written for the Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Cameron states -
While population was increasing118 per cent., the proportion of employed persons in thepopulation increased 191 per cent., and the earlier lower figure included a great deal of child labour from which the latter larger figure is free. In 1870, it required only 324 out of every 1,000 of the population to produce what consumers demanded; in 1930, with the machine predominant, it required 400 persons out of every 1,000.
Investigations have shown that this increase of employment is due to the absorption of workers in new industries such as the automobile, radio, rayon and refrigerating industries, to name only a few, which owe their existence to the development of machinery. It is generally conceded that the change from one class of employment to another is gradual. There is not an immediate change-over throughout the whole industry to the use of automatic or improved appliances, and during the transition period, the displaced workers are absorbed elsewhere. It is evident that unemployment cannot be attributed in any large measure to the introduction of machinery, and this is shown by the experience of industry in Australia. Before 1929, the percentage of unemployed was about 13 per cent., but between then and 1931 it rose to 29 per cent. Machinery cannot be blamed for that increase. I now quote from a report issued by the United State3 Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce as follows : -
Between 1920 mid 1928, factories decreased their employees by more than 900,000 largely owing to rationalization”, but the higher wages earned and the rise in the general standard of living so greatly increased the demand for motor cars and other manufactures and luxury lines, that 1,230,000 more men found employment in driving and repairing cars, 100,000 more men required to attend refrigerators, heaters, and other household aids. Because of the higher wages earned, there were 100,000 more life assurance agents, while a greater desire for education resulted in employing an additional 185,000 teachers.
One can imagine the fillip given to the printing industry by the preparation and distribution of printed matter, &c. The following quotation is from an article written by Mr. Scoville, statistician to the Chrysler organization in the United States of America : - ‘ About 5,000,000 extra jobs were created by the advent of the automobile Mr. Scoville pointed out. “Why was this possible? Because of the labour-saving devices in tins automobile factories, the tire factories, the steel mills and paint factories. Without our labour-saving machines we would be staying at homo cutting wheat with a sickle, threshing it with a flail and grinding it with a mortar. If all our machines were smashed most of us would starve and the few survivors would be fully employed in hunting, fishing and picking wild berries.”
It is not a question of the machine versus man power. Man can never be made obsolete, and no entirely necessary industry can be dispensed with as the result of the introduction of labour-saving machinery. The wave of evolution and progress sweeps everybody forward, and progress absorbs more than it rejects. When the typewriter was introduced, it did not make clerks unnecessary. In fact, where hundreds were employed before, thousands are employed now. It did not even injure the pencil and pen manufacturing industries, but, in the long run, actually stimulated them. It may be true that the introduction of the automobile threw some blacksmiths out of employment, but it opened new avenues of employment for the mechanics. Moreover, a sudden demand sprang up for garages, filling stations, tyre shops, &c, and the volume of employment was increased enormously. Then radio entered the field of essential services, but it has not displaced the telephone, any more than the telephone displaced the telegraph. The secret of making rayon was discovered, but the loom was not superseded, nor has the demand for the product of the loom diminished. The introduction of rayon has provided additional employment over the whole range of activities from the forest, through the lumber mill, down to the textile mill. Honorable members will realize how the introduction of rayon has stimulated employment in the knitting mills engaged, in the production of women’s silk stockings. Women who, in the past, wore cotton or woollen stockings now wear stockings made of rayon, and the industry as a whole has been stimulated. Another example of how mechanical invention has stimulated employment is provided by the printing industry. We know that the scribes of Paris smashed the first primitive hand-printing presses in response te the cry, which honorable members opposite are now raising, that machines lessen employment. It has now for many years been evident that the introduction of printing machinery, resulting in the cheapening of the printed word, has stimulated education, increased the demand for printed matter, and developed the industry as a’ whole to an enormous extent. Another example is provided by the bottle-blowing industry. Formerly, the manufacture of glass bottles was entirely a manual process; then semiautomatic machinery was introduced, and finally machinery that was fully automatic. It is interesting to compare the figures relating to employment in the industry in the old manual days, with those which obtain at the present time. In 1896 a census taken of the number of persons employed in the bottle-blowing industry in the United Kingdom revealed that the number of persons engaged in that industry totalled 6,200. In 189S semi-automatic machinery was introduced, and by 1907 - the latest figures which I have been able to obtain - the number of persons engaged in that industry increased to 10,997, showing that progress from manual labour through semiautomatic .to fully automatic machinery brought about an increased demand for the commodity, by a cheapening of its cost, and a conseqent increase of employment in the industry. It would be interesting to have more up-to-date figures covering that industry. But I have an interesting table showing the annual changes in certain industries indicating that there was a steady rise in employment in some, and a steady but less substantial fall in others. The table is as follows : -
The period covered is, I think honorable members will concede, a fair one. It will be seen that the contracting industries suffered very little from the change, and that those who were thrown out of employment in certain of those industries by the advent of labour-saving machinery were absorbed into Other industries of an expanding nature. These figures are unchallengeable. I ‘ suggest to honorable members that the machine, far from being a curse to the worker, has been a boon; it has taken over all classes of menial -work and has given to the worker a greater choice of occupation formerly denied to him. It has brought about greater efficiency in industry and has undoubtedly lowered the cost of production. Honorable members have only to cast their minds back a few years to realize how the prices of necessary commodities, and even of luxuries, have been reduced by the advent of labour-saving machinery. The effect of this has been to lead up to greater consumption of the output of a multiplicity of industries, major and subsidiary; and statisticians have shown that the trend of this development has been to increase rather than decrease employment.
The proposal for the adoption of a 40- hour working week in this country presupposes that the maximum consumption has been reached. With that I disagree. I do not think that we have yet reached saturation point in regard to consumption. Man has not reached his ultimate until everybody has reached his maximum consuming capacity, or until man has greater leisure to enjoy the results of the scientific planning of the human brain. Let us face up to the facts. We have not moved abreast of the times, but have developed on lopsided lines; in the rush of business activity we have forgotten the important factor of finance. There have been taken out of the purchasing pool of the people huge sums of money which have been frozen away in capital purchases- of machinery. The figures concerning the increased value of manufacturing machines and tools illustrate my point. In 1900, manufacturers machines and tools in use in the United States of America were valued at 2,541,000,000 dollars, and in 1922, the value increased to 15,783,000,000 dollars. In 1910, the value of manufacturing plant in Australia was 28,904,000; in 1920, it was £59,999,000, and by 1933-34 it rose to £120,208,000. This proves conclusively that there is an ever-increasing pull upon the purchasing pool of the people diminishing their purchasing power. If that purchasing power were restored to the people, we might have a different tale to tell. A multiplicity of bodies is endeavouring to bring about that restoration, but I suggest -we are tackling this problem in the wrong way. We should increase purchasing power by pumping back into the pool sufficient to make up for the lag, and, when saturation point is reached, the hours problem will solve itself. I agree that a 40-hour working week, on an international basis, is desirable, but to introduce it into Australia without corresponding action being taken by our competing countries would be sheer folly. The problem of employment is a matter, not of sympathetic administration, but of business and finance. Honorable members seem tothink that, because we are brought face to face with the problem of unemployment, we should subvert every commonsense effort at solution to an expression of sympathy. The solution of the unemployment problem is a national matter, and its reaction will naturally have to be considered. This problem should be tackled not only from a sympathetic view-point; it can be overcome only by the proper application of business principles in finance and by devising ways and means of providing work.
-. - Would the honorable member alter the financial system ?
– No individual is greater than the community. Honorable members seem to forget that Australia is a primary-producing country, and that we have to market our surplus products overseas, and accept prices for them determined by the living standards of other countries. That is an important fact that some honorable members overlook. But we cannot afford to disregard the big gap between the hours of labour of the agricultural worker and those of the worker in secondary industries. The alteration of the hours of labour of workers in secondary industries has not been accompanied by a proportionate alteration of the hours of agricultural workers. Seasons and crops, of course, will not wait. Even if the shorter working week were introduced in secondary industries it might not be of very much use to agricultural workers.
Looking at the subject from another aspect, it is obvious that a shorter working week must increase costs to both primary and secondary industries. In the first place, greater expenditure would be incurred in wages for a given working time. This would be followed by an increased cost of raw materials. That, in turn, would react on the costs of production generally, and commodity prices would inevitably advance. To counteract this, in regard to manufactured goods at any rate, honorable gentlemen opposite would endeavour to increase our customs duties. This would adversely affect both primary and secondary workers. The report of the economists on the Australian tariff made it clear that every increase of our customs duties automatically increased costs to the primary producers.
Another important consideration to be borne in mind is transport charges. The cost of getting goods to market is an increasing burden on the primary producer. Transport services throughout the Commonwealth are to-day showing heavy deficits. Surely it would not be (suggested that this unsatisfactory state of affairs would be assisted by the introduction of a 40-hour week! I have heard honorable gentlemen opposite tear the Government to pieces, metaphorically speaking, for providing bounties for the primary producers. They say that the taxpayers’ money should not be used in this way. But the only effective method to overcome increased production costs, caused by the indiscriminate adoption of such measures as a shorter working week, is to increase taxation to enable bounties to be provided for primary producers. That policy, however, is part of a vicious circle that should be avoided.
It is highly necessary that the proposition for a shorter working week should be closely investigated before it is implemented. Otherwise national ruin might follow. I commend the Government for seeking to secure an effective investigation, of this subject, and strongly object to the affirmation of such a principle as a shorter working week until the whole subject has been thoroughly investigated and more exact information obtained in regard to it than that used by the enthusiasts of the principle who have spoken to this debate. We are faced with an international problem, and the Government should be satisfied that the introduction of a 40-Jiour week would be effective before it takes steps to legislate for it. I am glad that there is a definite desire on the part of the Government to investigate this principle before it is reaffirmed. At present the Government seems doubtful about the efficacy of the proposal. I certainly am doubtful about it, and so also are the compilers of the publications issued by the Bureau of Statistics of the United States of America.
– The International Labour Office does not seem doubtful about it.
– No, but I fear that the convention was agreed to, and has been used as a catch-cry before proper statistical information was obtained to ascertain the real effect of it.
– Statistics were submitted to the International Labour Office-.
– Probably they were compiled before the tremendously increased installation of labour-saving machinery in the various industries. I have shown clearly that a continual transfer of employment is going on from one industry to another, due- among other things, to normal progress. For instance, 5,000,000 people are now provided with employment in the automotive industry which did not exist years ago. The introduction of labour-saving machines has undoubtedly caused a re-absorption in new industries of employees, who had lost their employment because certain industries were passing through a transition period. The charts to which I have referred make that abundantly clear. There has been a definite realignment of industries and a considerable re-absorption of employees i n new industries.
– How does the honorable member explain the fact that millions of people -throughout the world are still unemployed?
– I have already dealt with the Australian aspect, which is attributable to the depression, and I suggest that that same argument may be made to apply to world conditions. I listened in silence while the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) was delivering his speech, and I ask that a similar courtesy be extended to me. It seems to me that if an honorable member has the temerity to express an opinion contrary -to some popular idea that is abroad at the moment, he immediately becomes a target for the enthusiasts to shoot at. I did not enter upon the discussion of this subject without having ascertained the facts of the case. Some of these I gathered while I was working in conjunction with the honorable member for Parramatta before he went overseas. At that time I had formed the opinion that tha adoption of labour-saving machinery was a definite cause of unemployment. But even while that conclusion was crystalizing in my mind, certain incongruities of the situation aroused suspicions which led me to make further investigations. At the moment I have an open mind on the subject, but I do not believe that any government should commit itself to the establishment of a 4’0-hour working week in Australia until more extensive inquiries have been made into the subject.
.- I move -
That the words proposed to be inserted be amended by inserting before the word “ notes “ the following: - “ is of opinion that the Draft Convention in respect to the 40-hour week adopted at the 1935 International Labour Conference should be ratified by Australia and “.
One striking fact that has emerged from this debate, is the unwillingness of the Government to declare where it actually stands in regard to the introduction of a 40-hour working week. The Government has also failed lamentably to indicate clearly its present attitude in respect of the convention that resulted from the carrying out of the instruction which it gave to its delegate to the last Geneva International Labour Conference. The House is surely entitled to know exactly the Government’s intention in this connexion. We wish to know whether it proposes to implement the convention. Why is it displaying such reticence? It is incomprehensible to me why the Prime Minister should yesterday have so carefully avoided making a definite declaration of -the attitude of the Government on the proposed 40-hour working week. The Minister for Defence (Mv. Archdale Parkhill), when he rose to speak last night, said that he did not intend to add anything to what the Prime Minister had said on the subject. We can, at least, say that the honorable gentleman kept his word. He did not add anything to the discussion. The people of this country insist on knowing exactly where the Governmentstands on the important matter of providing, by means of a 40-hour week, for a better distribution throughout the community of work, and the proceeds of industry. This is, undoubtedly, a major industrial reform among those that engage the attention of men and women who genuinely desire to save the community from the appalling effects on employment of the mechanization of industry.
No honorable member can fail to appreciate the significance of the positive proposal submitted by the Opposition, in its proposed amendment of the motion before the Chair. All who honorably subscribe to the principle of a 40-hour week must support the amendment. No matter whether the House expresses agreement or disagreement with it, there can be no evasion of the issue. The attitude of the Government delegate to the International Labour Conference at Geneva surely impels this House to ratify the principle to which Australia has already subscribed. To do less than this would be to commit a distinct breach of faith. It would be an unwarrantable repudiation of the obligation implied by the vote which the Government representative gave at the Conference. The Government must have examined this matter before it issued directions to its delegate. This afternoon, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) indicated that he had assisted the honorable (member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) in the investigation of the proposal.
– But not officially.
– I did not employ the term “ officially “. The honorable member must accept responsibility for the statement that he has made. Judging by the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Parramatta, it is evident that the information gleaned must have been most favorable to the adoption of a shorter working week; otherwise, he would not have been asked to speak and vote as he did at the Conference. A. crushing answer to the honorable member for Wentworth, who claims that doubt should be entertained as to the wisdom of adopting the principle, is that, at the Geneva Conference, the representatives included, not only delegates from the countries which comprise the League of Nations, but also representatives of both employers and employees, who were probably supported by statisticians and economic advisers. All of these, no doubt, assisted in reaching the majority decision that it was most desirable and essential that this reform should be given effect at the earliest possible moment.
The honorable member for Wentworth cannot explain away the attitude of the leaders of thought to this major problem by arguments of minor importance, such as he has advanced this afternoon. He desires to prevent the House from signifying its approval of the principle. He dealt with certain aspects of industrial evolution, and referred to the effect of the application of ‘machinery to factory operations; but he avoided mentioning the far-reaching effects of the entirely new methods that have been introduced into industrial life. To give only one instance, let me cite the use of fuel oil for the production of power. We have had eloquent testimony to the disastrous effect of this innovation on the coalmining industry, even in Australia. I think, therefore, that I have shown that the honorable member has failed to deal with the most important aspect of the problem.
-Is the honorable member aware of the fact that in England, at the present time, a transition is taking place, coal-miners being gradually absorbed in other industrial fields?
– I have visited the United Kingdom more recently than has the honorable member, and my inspection of the coal-fields of Wales disclosed quite a different state of affairs. The use of crude oil for the production of motive power has changed the industrial outlook.
The Government must have been fully informed as to the wisdom of the proposal for a 40-hour week. At the International Labour Conference, the various nations represented desired the reform to be brought about at the earliest possible moment. In a speech delivered in Adelaide recently, the Prime Minister told the people of this country that the industrial position and unemployment were approaching again a normal condition - a normal condition when we have 13.4 per cent. of our citizens unemployed !
– That is a conservative estimate.
– As the honorable mem- bere for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) points out, that indeed is a conservative estimate, because it is based on the returns from the trade unions, which relate only to the financial members of those unions, and do not cover by any means the full field of employment.For instance, they do not include the vast number of youths who in the last few years have left school and have made a vain attempt to secure places in industry. In order that these thousands of persons may be absorbed into industry, it is incumbent upon the Government to effect some reform in the nature of a revision of the industrial standards of those who arc employed in industry.
The undesirable effects of unemployment could he dilated upon at great length. Sir Herbert Samuels, when Home Secretary in the British Government, indicated the social degeneration that can come to a community by reason of the appalling result continued unemployment lias on the more youthful members of the community. This Government cannot escape -its direct responsibility, although in this instance it seeks to do so by shifting the onus to someone else - the industrial organizations. Nothing could be more unjustified. If there is one section of the community that has consistently fought for a revision of the hours of labour and sought the introduction of the latest technical devices for the betterment of the conditions of the workers, it is the trade unions. I feel sure that if this Government makes an honest and straightforward effort to cure the unemployment ills of the country by the institution of a 40-hour week, the industrial organizations will give its policy in that regard wholehearted endorsement. But they will not allow themselves to be side-tracked by this proposal to set up a cum’bersome inquiry, not into the manner in which the 40-hour week can be implemented, but into whether it is advisable to adopt it. The trade unions will not accept a circumambulative committee of inquiry clearly designed to delay action. This policy of procrastination is only too well known to honorable members. Honorable members opposite would do well to remember 1928, when the people of Australia became exasperated at the shelving methods of the then Government, and realized that it was about time they transferred power to some other party that was willing to use it! The Government then defeated had so far forgotten its responsibilities that it sought to delegate its powers to a variety of boards and commissions. If the present Government were really anxious to give effect to a 40-hour working week, it surely would by now have convened a conference of Premiers to ascertain the feelings of the State governments on the matter, and how far their industrial tribunals could assist in making the. change. But no such effort has been made. This Government has got no nearer the achievement of a 40- hour week than to suggest a cumbersome inquiry which would so delay matters that no one would be able to say how long it would take before this House would have the advantage of any recommendations it might make.
The policy of the Labour Government of New Zealand is in striking contrast to that of this Government. Honorable members last night sought to challenge statements from this side of the House that New Zealand was actually giving effect to the principle of a 40-hour week. They sought to give the impression that the Dominion Government had taken no action, but I have an authority before me which indicates that the Labour Government of New Zealand, although it only took office in November last, has already brought before the Parliament of the Dominion amendments designed to incorporate in the industrial laws, to the extent which lies within its power, provision for the establishment of a 40-hour working week. Furthermore, it has made agreements with the various organizations that deal with employees in public service te ensure that the 40-hour week is applied. Under the direct supervision of government authority, conferences are being arranged with other bodies not covered by the industrial code, particularly in agricultural areas, with a view to ascertaining how far it is possible to reach agreement on the general adoption of the principle. I draw the attention of this nation to the striking contrast that exists between the attitude of a Labour government in New Zealand and that, of the Commonwealth Government, which, surely, might be expected to bein a better position to understand fully the means whereby this principle could” be implemented, because of the lengthyperiod during which it has held office. “We cannot avoid responsibility by attempting to place it on the States, as the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has suggested. The-
Government has the opportunity to show that it was sincere in the action which it took at Geneva, by ratifying the convention of the International Labour Office. Nothing short of that will justify the attitude of its representative at Geneva. The excuse offered by the Government is as futile as it is unjustified. Ministers must recognize that they have the power to influence the adoption of this essential industrial reform. The will to do so is all that is needed. It may be argued that the fixing of industrial standards is a matter for arbitration courts, wages boards, and other industrial tribunals; but, even so, it is most desirable that, upon such a major issue, this Parliament should indicate to those tribunals its belief that this reform should be adopted as an essential requirement in the rehabilitation in industry of those who have been unemployed for very many years. If the Government and its supporters honestly and genuinely subscribe to the principle of a shorter working week, enunciated by the conference of the International Labour Office, at Geneva, my amendment furnishes them with an opportunity to give effect to it in a straightforward and an honorable manner. This reform is essential to the industrial and economic life of Australia if better conditions are to be enjoyed by the citizens of this country.
.- [ second the amendment of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). As I know that there are still many members who desire to contribute to the debate, I shall not occupy more time than is necessary. I take this opportunity to address the House in order that I may reply to the invitation which the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) yesterday extended to me to confer with him in regard to certain aspects of this matter. I desire to make a positive and an unequivocal intimation to the Government and to the country: provided that the Government is prepared to ratify the 40-hour convention, and intimates that it has decided to take action to promote its application to Australian industries, I shall whole-heartedly cooperate with the Prime Minister in an investigation of the methods whereby the benefits of the convention may be assured to our workpeople. That is a clear and an unequivocal intimation that I and the Opposition party, generally, will give the utmost assistance to the Government in the investigation of methods whereby the 40-hour convention, adopted at Geneva, may be made applicable to the industries of Australia. It would be futile for us to engage in such an investigation, unless, as a matter of definiteness, the Government were prepared to take the necessary steps to ratify the convention. I also wish to say that, if the Government is willing to ratify that convention, the representative trade union organizations of Australia, too, will cooperate whole-heartedly in an investigation of the specific character mentioned.
.- I rise to support the amendment of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). My mind goes back to the inauguration of federation. This debate recalls to me a message which the late Sir Rider Haggard then sent to the young Commonwealth. It was -
The chief aim and object of all highly civilized countries should be, to keep population on the land, to multiply those modest rural homes in which mon and women grow up in health and strength, and become imbued with those noble and enduring qualities which have made the greatness of our nation, and maintain it now.
He expressed his conviction more briefly in the following terms : -
Prosperity will follow the. feet that tread the fields, rather than those that trip along tlie pavements.
The people of Australia have- disregarded this wonderful message of that great agriculturist and writer. The tendency of governments in this country has been, to bend their energies rather to the development of industries in the cities. I compliment the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) for his sane .speech. He recognizes the great importance of our primary industries to the well-being of Australia. If this proposal for the establishment of a 40-hour working week is adopted without similar action being taken in other countries, an additional hardship will be imposed upon the great rural industries of Australia, and their progress will be retarded. I endorse the remark of the honorable member for Wentworth, that Australia is essentially a primary producing country, and that, without primary production, no other industry could be carried on. The majority of honorable members listened the other day to an address which was given in the Senate Club Room by Mr. A. A. Caldwell, of the International Labour Office. I followed him very closely. He seemed to have complete knowledge, and to give an unbiassed address. He made it very clear, however, that the subject of a 40-hour working week had been taken up by the International Labour Office merely as an objective. He mentioned the number of nations affected, and pointed out how desirable it was that this reform should be effected. But the idea is to bring the backward nations up to the standard of the higher nations. That, he said, had been the problem up to date. If the forward nations were to take a still higher step, they would certainly widen the gulf that now exists between themselves and the backward nations. Would it not be infinitely better to raise those backward nations to a basis- of uniformity? I am reminded of the incident in the American Civil War, of a standard bearer who had carried the standard to a very important and advanced post. The cry went up “Bring the standard back to the men “. The rejoinder was “Rather, bring the men up to the standard “. One needs to know what would be the effect upon our industries of the adoption of a 40-hour week. I am not whole-heartedly in agreement with the principle. I consider that the closest examination should be made, to ascertain the probable effect of it upon the people of Australia as a whole.
It is all very well to say that more work would be provided. I assume that honorable members would advocate for the fewer hours of work the wage that is now paid. This is essentially an economic question. In the circumstances, would the cost of production be increased, or cheapened? If it were increased, Australia would be placed in a more insular position in competition with other countries than that which it occupies to-day. Similar considerations arose when we were assured by a government controlled by the Labour party that the imposition of embargoes and higher tariffs would provide more employment. That was not the result. One section of the community was allowed to maintain its high costs, while the great rural section had its purchasing power reduced by £100,000,000 per annum. They could not buy. They could not spend money on their farms, because they did not have it. They were unable to employ labour, with the result that the displaced workers joined the army of unemployed. That is why there were nearly 400,000 persons unemployed at that time. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) said that the people needed more leisure. During the regime of the Labour Government, there were 400,000 people in this country who had complete leisure. Under the administration of the present Government, whatever its faults may be, that army of 400,000 unemployed has been reduced by 50 per cent. I mention these things to show how easy it would be, with the best of intentions, to work real harm upon the community by hastily adopting a 40-hour week. We should take no step in this direction without the most careful consideration, and until similar action has been taken by the other producing countries. To do so, without the cooperation of other nations, would be to place on this country a handicap greater even than that from which it suffers now. I refuse to support any such proposal.
Mechanization of industry, superficially, does seem to displace workers, but this is a matter which should be viewed in all its aspects. Honorable members must know that, notwithstanding the increased use of machinery which enables one man and one machine to do the same work in the same time that it formerly took hundreds of men to do, the consumers, as a whole, have not benefited to any extent. Commodities have not become cheaper. As the honorable member for Wentworth has already pointed out that the workers displaced in one industry found employment in another, it is not necessary to pursue that further; but the fact remains that, in the long run, a balance is struck between mechanization on the one hand, and employment on the other. I am not at all convinced that the mechanization of industry really is responsible for increasing the total number of unemployed. These are matters -which must be closely examined before a decision is reached. I am one of those who think that the Government was too generous to the employers and the employees in the proposed constitution of the committee of inquiry to investigate working hours. The personal and sectional interests of such representatives might prejudice them in reaching a sound, economic conclusion.
The Leader of the Opposition reminded us of the existence of labour problems in far off times, and everything he said merely reminded us that changes in matters of this kind . are necessarily evolutionary, and cannot be unduly hastened. One might form the impression from the speeches of some honorable members that mankind would be better off if it enjoyed complete leisure. That is contrary to fact. . When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, the Divineinjunction to them was -
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.
I should like honorable members to read what was said on this subject by Count Leo Tolstoi, who cannot be regarded as having been a capitalist. My own experience is that men would be better and happier if employed as Tolstoi suggested they should be. His ideal was that every man should be working for himself, and that the more muscular work a man had to do the better it would be for him.
– Why does not the honorable member practise that doctrine ?
– In making that interjection, the honorable member must surely be sneaking in ignorance. There is no other man in this House who can have worked harder than I did for a good many years of my life. I was one of a family of fourteen, whose father went into a country district of New South Wales and blazed the track for settlement to follow. I can understand from my own experiences what the author of On Our Selection had to say of conditions in the Australian rural districts. I know what it was to have to milk a number of cows on mornings when the frost was heavier than it was this morning, then walk five miles to school and be caned for coming late. Those were the conditions under which I was reared, and I do not think the experience was detrimental to me.
– But the honorable member would not wish to pass on those conditions to those who come after him?
– I do not know that it would be at all harmful to those who come after me if I did. I do not believe that our young men should be sheltered from all the struggles and hardships of life. The very trees in the forest grow the stronger and more sturdy because they are exposed to the blasts of the tempest. The stuggles and the hardships which our family endured did us little harm; the whole fourteen are still alive. On the other hand, if we turn to the cities, where the 40-hour working week is already in operation in some industries, we see that many of the children arc undersized and in ill-health, though they have cheek enough, of course. Sir Rider Haggard was right when he said that the chief aim of all civilized countries should be ,to keep the population on the land, where men and women would grow up imbued with those noble and enduring qualities which have made the greatness of our nation, and maintain it now. The yeomanry of every country is its strongest bulwark.
I do not for a moment question the sincerity of the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), who sponsors the introduction of a 40- hour week throughout Australia, but I do not think that he has examined the problem from all points of view. He thinks that the introduction of the system will bring about a sort of Utopia, just as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), when Minister for Trade and Customs, thought that, by imposing duties and embargoes, he would provide employment for everyone. Mr. Walter Leaf, addressing the Council of the League of Nations on the 1st March, 1926, said -
The capacity for production exists, and is generally much larger than in pre-war times; but the products are stagnating because they are refused, or at least hampered by foreign tariffs and trade barriers. Hence unemployment, stagnation of industry, and a lamentable waste of potential human energy. The whole standard of living is lowered by the artificial restrictions on human efficacy. A European trade lead would have open markets on at least the same scale as those of the United States, and would thus bo able to compete in production on equal terms with that vast area of freetrade intercourse. National jealousies force us here to employ in suicidal trade struggles the efforts which should be concentrated on the general advancement of human well-being. It is for the International Chamber to do its best to educate the world to this wider outlook.
Monsieur Etienne Clementel, the French representative, concurred in those opinions. The trade policy of Australia has played a considerable part in the creation of unemployment, and a general reduction of the number of working hours would make the position still worse. The effect of our fiscal policy has been that we are unable to. sell abroad anything we manufacture in Australia. What a splendid thing it would be if we could employ thousands of people in our Australian factories on the manufacture of goods which we could sell overseas! It would be possible to do this if we concentrated on two or three of our natural secondary industries. At the present time, we are not reaping the full benefit of our natural resources. There is no reason why Australia should not become another Birmingham and another Bradford. At the present time, our secondary industries do not bring one new shilling into the country, because production costs are too high. I ask honorable members whether a so-called reform, which would have the effect of increasing costs, would bring nearer the time when we would be able to sell our manufactured goods abroad. Surely any precipitate or unconsidered action now would make it more difficult for the backward nations to climb up to our standard. We should make it easier for the nations of the world, as a whole, to attain to a common or mean standard. Let the world attain that standard first, and then, if we can, let us advance beyond it. Let us not think that Australia, with a population of a little over 6,000,000, can lead the world in these matters. If we attempt to do so, we shall merely injure ourselves as we have done before.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) is to be commended for having moved his motion of censure, an action which, in my opinion, was very necessary in order to expose a number of Government members who have given lip service in their advocacy of the shorter working week, for the ‘ purpose of gaining certain support in their electorates. At the outset, I propose to analyse the remarks of Government supporters who have spoken in favour of the proposal of the Government to set up a committee of inquiry to go into the question of hours of labour, and determine the best method of handling it. First we have the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), who has been receiving a great amount of publicity outside this Parliament, and has been delivering numerous broadcast addresses and lectures on this question, making a great number of people think that he genuinely believes in introducing into industry throughout Australia generally a 40-hour working week. As a matter of fact, just after the last election, the honorable member was appointed by the Government to the position of Under-Secretary for Employment, and, in order to save itself from embarrassing decisions in this Parliament when questions regarding employment may have been directed to him, the Government sent him abroad. It is worth noting that the honorable member was sent overseas, not only to represent the Commonwealth at the conference at Geneva, but also to make inquiries into the methods employed by other nations to solve their unemployment problems. When the honorable member returned to Australia and submitted a report, which lays it down that the Government should accept the introduction of the principle of the shorter working week into Australia, it was naturally expected that the Government would adopt this recommendation.
The only way in which the honorable member could have enforced its acceptance, would have been by his vote in favour of the censure motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition, but the honorable member declined to avail himself of that opportunity. It is evident that there are honorable members on the Government side who, because of the constitution of their electorates, have used this question in an attempt to win for themselves the support of certain industrial sections.
– I ask the honorable member to debate the question without reflecting upon other honorable members.
– Surely, in combating reflections east upon the Labour party by honorable members opposite, I can at least say that some honorable members have been inconsistent in their advocacy of this necessary reform. Honorable members on the Government side have said that the Labour party was doing what they believed would delay the introduction of the 40-hour working week, and that I regard as a direct reflection on the members of the party to which I belong. But I am not at all surprised that the Government has not seen fit to introduce the 40-hour working week into industry generally. As parliaments are run to-day, members are not the freelances that some of them would have us believe they are. Nor can they expect us to believe that, when they come into Parliament and discuss certain questions, they record their votes according to the logic introduced into the debate. Outside organizations send them here to represent their particular interests, and the organizations which support the Government, the Employers Federation, the graziers’ organization, and other sweating organizations throughout the country, are opposed to the adoption of the principle of the shorter working week. Could it be expected, therefore, that these interests, which make possible the very existence of this Government, would countenance an effort on its part to introduce a shorter working week, which would be of material benefit to the workers engaged in industry, and bring about the absorption into industry of a great number of the unemployed ?
Let us examine the claim of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), that the failure of the Labour party to accept the Government’s proposal for the appointment of a committee of inquiry had delayed the introduction of the 40-hour working week. During the last election campaign it was stated by honorable members opposite that, if the United Australia party government were returned, it would immediately appoint a full-time Minister to deal with the problem of unemployment, and inquire fully into any proposals put forward for the purpose of alleviating the position. But inquiries in regard to unemployment had already been conducted, not only in this country, but also in every other country in the world, and there was no necessity for any further inquiry, except in the case of the Government for the purpose of delaying a decision on the question of a shorter working week until .after the next election. The Government is now endeavouring to thrust upon the Opposition some of the responsibility for the delay. It first suggested a round-table conference, and that certain representatives should be appointed to discuss the effect of this particular reform upon the various industries of Australia and its general effect upon the economic structure of the nation. Let us examine the personnel of the proposed committee, and see whether this inquiry was, as has been suggested, to be a strictly impartial one, conducted by persons anxious to examine this question to see if it were possible to introduce the principle of the shorter working week into the industries of this country. It was proposed to appoint six employers’ representatives, six representatives of organized labour, an economist, a medical man, a woman representing consuming interests, a Commonwealth Treasury officer, and a Customs officer, and the committee was to be presided over by Chief Judge Dethridge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Let us see whether, as has been stated by honorable members on this side, out of the fifteen persons entitled to record votes in making decisions of the committee, the result would not have been that six would have voted for the introduction of the 40-hour working week, and including the chairman, nine would have opposed it. As a matter of fact, to show that even the representatives of labour organizations were to be specially hand-picked, we find the following paragraph in the correspondence in connexion with this’ matter forwarded to the unions: -
I am desired by the Prime Minister to invite your council to be good enough to nominate a panel of eight persons, from which it is proposed that four shall be selected for inclusion in the personnel of the conference.
That shows that the unions were not even to have the right to select their direct representatives on this committee. On the contrary, the final selection was to rest with the Government, and knowing the calibre of the Government, we can quite imagine that it would not be likely to agree to the appointment of the four the unions regarded as the best able to represent their interests. It was proposed to appoint an economist, but all honorable members know that these alleged economists, who generally secure positions as efficiency officers with the large employers of labour, have definite views in regard to this question. All those gentlemen who live on unearned increment and participate in the spoils gathered from the labour of others have very decided views inimical to the interests of the workers. An economist specially selected by the Government would be expected to use his opinions and influence to bring about the acceptance of decisions not in the interests of the workers generally. A woman was to be appointed to represent consuming interests. I believe that the woman proposed to be appointed, Mrs. Couchman, was, at one time, actively connected with the National Women’s Association. The Prime Minister said, and I think it was repeated by another Minister, that this lady, since her appointment to a certain position, had entirely freed herself from party political prejudice; but as a member of the Labour party, I am not prepared to admit that one who was such a prominent member of the National Women’s Organization as Mrs. Couchman was, would be strictly impartial. I believe that when a vote was taken she would be ranged with the employers’ representatives against the interests of the workers. We have been told that the Cb ief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was to be chairman of the committee. The learned gentleman, as is well-known, is an opponent of improved conditions in industry. Before he was elevated to the position on the Commonwealth Arbitration bench, he was an advocate for the employers and was skilled in the advocacy of the employers’ side of every question. He was active in opposing every reform proposed by the workers when they approached the various courts.
Chief Judge Dethridge was one of those who sat on the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and decided to smash all Commonwealth awards, and make a 10 per cent, arbitrary reduction of workers’ wages throughout Australia without inquiry.
– And he refused to permit a reduction of his own salary.
– That is so; when asked to accept a reduction in accordance with the views which he himself had expressed on the bench, he absolutely declined to do so. Yet we were given to understand that he was to preside over this committee, and was supposed to deal impartially with any matters submitted for his decision. In order to prove my assertion that Chief Judge Dethridge would have fixed opinions in regard to this question-
– Is the honorable member in order in referring in a detrimental way to the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court?
I understand the honorable member is referring to the attitude of the Chief Judge towards hours of labour.
– The honorable member was questioning the unbiassed attitude of the Chief Judge.
– In support of his party’s contention that the Chief Judge is unsuited to be chairman of a committee of inquiry upon the question of working hours, the honorable member for East Sydney may proceed.
– In order to prove my assertion that Chief Judge Dethridge has fixed opinions in regard to the betterment of the workers’ conditions in industry, I refer honorable members to a report which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 24th February, 1931. Chief Judge Dethridge was then dealing with an application by the Storemen and Packers Union in New South Wales, that its members be eliminated from the operation of a federal award. The purpose of the union was to have its members so eliminated, because at that time the State government - a. Labour Government - had introduced a 44-hour week, whereas the federal award provided for a working week of 48-honrs. Those employees who were covered by the federal award were thus compelled to work longer hours than those who came under the State award. The union asked that its members be placed outside the scope of the federal award so that they could enjoy the benefit of the humane legislation passed by the Labour Government in New South Wales. The Chief Judge, Chief Judge Dethridge said -
We have the State legislature granting benefits to the union which tend to destroy it. They should go to the legislature and say : “ Please withhold these benefits as they tend to destroy us “. The position, of course, is absurd. The competition makes the effect on industries farcical. The court should be killed or ths legislature should be killed.
Those views show clearly that even after his elevation to the Arbitration Courtbench Chief Judge Dethridge had expressed himself in no uncertain terms in regard to reforms designed to better the conditions of the workers in industry. In these circumstances it can be said without reservation that the Government acted unwisely in even suggesting the appointment of such a person to its proposed investigating body. The object of the Government was, undoubtedly, to delay investigation into this subject, so that when honorable members opposite next appeared on the hustings, they could say in every part of Australia: “ We still believe in a shorter working week and in improved conditions for the workers in industry. The Government is making an inquiry into this subject, but the decision has not yet been reached. The Labour party has not challenged this attitude, for Labour organizations are represented on the investigating body.” I am, therefore, very pleased that the Labour organizations and also the political Labour party saw that a trap was being set for them, and were wise enough to reject the Government’s invitation.
We have been told that constitutional difficulties make it impossible for the Government to ratify this convention, and implement it effectively throughout the Commonwealth; but at least the Government could have displayed its sincerity by setting an example to the various State governments - particularly those of the same political faith as itself - by approving the adoption of the convention, and applying the reform to the Commonwealth Public Service and Commonwealth employees generally. All that the Government is doing is to hide behind the Constitution, as it has done on many other occasions. Its apology for inactivity on the ground of constitutional difficulties will not get it anywhere. It i3 extraordinary that whenever the workers adopt their own methods to improve their working conditions, the Government can see no constitutional difficulties to hinder it resisting the workers.
Everybody knows that the workers in industry are to-day obliged to draw on all their physical resources. It is true that they may be surrounded by an improved environment, but the introduction of machinery has speeded up work. To-day the pace of the worker is regulated by the machine. The diligence of the worker is no longer a matter of his own concern. Machinery places him under a greater strain than ever before. To-day the machine is definitely the master. In these circumstances the workers have again and again been forced to adopt their own methods to meet the inhuman conditions that face them. They have tried arbitration court methods, when they have been able to obtain access to the court. They also have tried parliamentary procedure, when they have been able to have their complaints ventilated in Parliament. But these methods have proved ineffective. Sometimes, in utter desperation, the workers have left their employment as a protest against the conditions under which they are obliged to work. Does the Government in such circumstances ever say: “This is a matter between the employers and the employees, and we will not interfere “ ? Certainly not ! AntiLabour governments are always able to discover some way to hoodwink and defeat the workers.
– The honorable member’s remarks are irrelevant.
– I am discussing the argument advanced by honorable members opposite that constitutional difficulties make it impossible for the Government to implement the proposal for a 40-hour working week. If the Government has power to act against the workers, it surely has power to act for them if it so desired. Some supporters of the . Government have said that, although they approve of the theory of a 40-hour working week, they cannot see how it can be put into practice. If they can think of no methods to attain the end desired they ought not to object to any steps which the workers take to put the principle into operation. One means that has been adopted in the past to this end is the cessation of work by employees in various industries. As a protest against the speeding-up methods introduced by some employers, the workers in certain industries have decided to “ go slow “ to regulate output and prevent the displacement of their workmates.
We have been told that the Government desires to examine the whole subject. The workers wish for more effective action than that to be taken. When they leave their employment as a protest against the conditions forced upon them they are immediately denied the right to live and cannot obtain even the miserable allowance made available to workless citizens of this country. Some State governments also refuse the social services of the nation to the wives and children of men who have ceased work under such conditions. On occasions the armed forces of the nation have been employed to oblige the workers to return to their employment under any conditions tha*t the employers care to fix. It has been shown, time after time, that the Government can discover power to advance the interests of the employers, but whenever the workers request the exercise of government power in their interests, it is alleged that no such power exists. The old argument of constitutional inability is. however, losing its efficacy.
I propose to examine the remarks of some honorable members opposite on this general subject. During the last election campaign the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. j. Harrison) led the workers in his electorate to believe that he would support any proposition that would lead to the re-employment of the workless, or improve the conditions of those in employment. Yet. to-day the honorable gentleman has told us that the returns compiled by economists and statisticians indicate that employment is increasing in a greater ratio than population.
– I said that that was so up to- 1932.
– If the honorable gentleman’s argument is sound, there should be a shortage of workers. Of course, the reverse is the case. The honorable member said that the arguments advanced by various authorities which he cited has caused a suspicion to arise in his mind that a reduction of the working week would lead to further unemployment. The fact of the matter is that the honorable member confined his citations to the views of advocates of the employers’ cause. It is easy to secure statistics to support an argument on that basis, for the employers are able to pay men to compile such information. The honorable member also said that to-day the workers had a greater choice of occupation than in former times, but as far as I can see the only choice that an unemployed man has is the pick or the shovel. At any rate, that is the only choice that anti-labour governments give the unemployed. The honorable member asked whether the Labour party contended that the maximum point of production had been reached. He must know that only a complete reorganization of society can give the workers any benefit from increased production. Under the capitalistic system the speeding up of the workers has the effect of decreasing the amount of . employment available. The workers are not permitted to enjoy any of the benefits of the increased wealth for which they are responsible. Irrespective of the form of government a country may be under, the fact is that with the single exception of Russia the workers have hitherto been denied any proper participation in the increased wealth they have been able to produce through the adoption of improved methods. In Russia, which is the only country without an unemployment problem - there is a shortage of workers in many industries in Russia- increased production has substantially benefited the workers. Yet the number of hours worked each week by the people of Russia has been so greatly reduced, that to-day the working week is shorter than that of Australia, though it was once much longer. Russia is to-day building up its capital resources, erecting numerous factories, and putting in hand immense undertakings for the benefit of future generations. But although the national wealth is being increased enormously and production expanded to a surprising degree, the workers enjoy a shorter working week than ever before in the history of the nation. The working week of Russia is 42 hours over a spread of seven days, whereas that of Australia is 44 hours over a period of seven days. It is- apparent from the consideration of these facts, that the workers must obtain control of industry and eliminate the drones or put them to work before it can expect any substantial increase in its returns. Those who live on the unearned increment of the nation should be obliged to do their share of the nation’s work. The honorable member for Wentworth quoted certain figures to show that one-third of the population of certain countries produced enough for the whole of the people. If that is true, it must be obvious to everybody that if the other two-thirds of the people were obliged to take their fair share of the work, everyone in the community would be able to enjoy a much greater degree of leisure. Drones and parasites must be eliminated or put to useful employment, and industry must be properly regulated before the workers can reap the benefits they should enjoy. The honorable member for Wentworth contended that the problems of industry could only be solved by the application of sound business and financial principles to them. Unfortunately, Labour has never had political control in Australia. Various Labour governments have been in office in the Commonwealth and in the different States, but although control has been exercised of the political machinery, the judiciary and public instrumentalities have never been under the control of Labour. It has, therefore, never been possible for the Labour party to give full effect to its programme. The gentlemen who, in the mind of the honorable member for Wentworth, could apply sound business and financial principles to our affairs, have had control of Australia since the first colonizing was done in this country, and are still in control of it, but the conditions of the people are becoming worse instead of better.
The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) said clearly that he was (^finitely opposed to the introduction of a shorter working week and also to an inquiry into the subject. The difference between that honorable gentleman and the honorable member for Wentworth, and the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), is that while the two last-mentioned would lead the public to think that they believe in the principle of a 40-hour working week, while in their hearts they do not believe in it, the honorable member for Forrest has made it clear that he is opposed to this proposal. As I listened to the speech of the honorable member for Forrest, I thought that he might conclude his remarks by moving an amendment to bring about the introduction of daylight saving so that the hours of labour could be increased rather than decreased. It is said by the honorable member that if we shorten the hours of labour, we shall increase the cost of the goods which we have to export. This country now produces more than is required to meet the wants of the community. Many thousands of people in the cities are anxious to consume the products of primary industries. These industries have been bolstered up by bounties from Commonwealth revenue. It is stated that only 5 per cent, of the income tax is paid by the primary producers. Seeing that they receive deductible allowances on almost every item of their expenditure, it surprises me that they contribute even that small proportion of the income tax. Yet they take out of revenue many millions contributed by other sections. This is done, we are told, to preserve industries of national importance. Is not practically every other industry of great value to the nation ? It is of vital importance that the workers should strive to obtain real political power in order to regulate economic life, so that their own interests may be advanced and safeguarded.
At a conference held recently between representatives of the Commonwealth and State governments, a discussion took place on the subject of employment. Certain decisions were reached, providing for the elimination of women labour from specified industries, and for the elimination or limitation of child labour. It was also decided that, as far as possible, no overtime should be worked. Recently the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) introduced a debate in this chamber on the conditions existing in the iron and steel industry, over which this Government could exercise some control, because of the heavy protection afforded it under the tariff. He asked the Government to use the powers it already possessed to bring pressure to bear on the iron and steel companies, and see that they gave effect to the decisions of the conference to which I have referred; but the Government rejected the honorable member’s suggestion. We find that the workers are employed for interminably long hours, and under intolerable conditions.
– The honorable member’s remarks are irrelevant, and moreover, he is discussing a matter which was debated earlier in the session.
– If the Government remedied the evil caused by intolerably long hours of employment, there would be less necessity than there now is for the agitation to force the Government to_ expedite the introduction of a shorter working week. You have reminded me, Mr. ‘Speaker, that I have referred to a matter which was debated at an earlier stage of the session. I may say. that it was extensively .discussed outsi.de this chamber by members of the Government, and they expressed their approval of everything done by the iron and’ steel combine to impose intolerable labour conditions” upon’ its employees.
-The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– The amendment before the Chair suggests that this House should ratify the draft convention for a 40-hour week. I shall examine the matter from the point of view of a layman. We should consider whether the Commonwealth has power to ratify a convention of this kind. Much discussion has occurred, during the last twenty years, as to whether it has power to ratify a convention, agreement, or treaty of such a nature as that under consideration. Many authorities may be cited, some favouring one view and some another. I admit that there is a constitutional doubt on the question. In his book, Commonwealth of Australia, the late- Sir William Harrison Moore, for whom all sections of the Australian Com- munity, I think, had a real- regard, stated - :
A matter in itself purely domestic, and, therefore, within the exclusive power of the States, cannot be drawn within the range of federal power merely because some arrangement has been made for uniform national action. Thus, there is at the present time an international movement for the amelioration of labour conditions, and the International Union has arrived at some agreements for uniformity of legislation. It is submitted that the Commonwealth could not, by adhering to an international agreement for the regulation of factories and workshops, proceed to legislate: upon that subject in supersession of the laws’ of the States’.
In view of the doubt that is entertained as to the legal position, it is of no advantage to canvass the various opinions that have been expressed. But to the layman,. it must appear to be very questionable whether the Commonwealth has power to ratify a convention of this nature. However, be this as it may, I wish very strongly to stress this point that all those who say that it has this power base their argument upon the. power given under the Constitution to deal with external affairs. If it were beyond doubt that under that power the convention could-be ratified, obviously, we should be’ prepared to implement the convention. Otherwise, the ratification would bc merely a hollow gesture. Assuming that we had decided to ratify and implement it, we could only do so by legislation that would undermine the rights that the States now possess. It does not need a great flight of the imagination to carry the matter a few degrees further and say that, if this Parliament proceeded to ratify a convention of the International Labour Conference, or any similar convention, without the consent of the States, it would tear this country in halves. If we cared to use this external affairs power in directions for which it was clearly not intended, we could, if the High Court did not find against us, take to. ourselves almost complete powers, and deprive the States of powers which constitutionally they undoubtedly possess. We could by this improper method achieve unification in Australia by overriding State legislation. This Parliament could achieve this result simply by using its power to deal with external affairs; but is that a solution of this problem? Do we wish to try to establish in that way the ascendancy of this Parliament?
– That is an argument against federation.
– It is quite unthinkable that we should use the external affairs power to ratify this convention.
– But do we want a 40- hour week?
-I hope to answer that and other questions.
The plight of the Commonwealth, when faced with a problem of this kind, was foreseen by those who framed the constitution of the International Labour Office. Paragraph 9 of article 405 of Part XIII. of the Versailles Treaty, which deals with the constitution of the International Labour Organization, provides -
In the case of a federal State, the power of which to enter into conventions on labour matters is subject to limitations, it shall be in the discretion of that government to treat a draft convention to which such limitations apply as a recommendation only, and the provisions of this article with respect to recommendations shall apply in such case.
It is laid down that this shall be a recommendation to the Commonwealth ; nothing more. Of course, a recommendation is not nearly so formal as a convention, and does not call for ratification. If we regard this draft convention in that light; it is a recommendation only.
What is the next step? I suggest that in the case of a convention such as that under consideration, the Commonwealth is under an obligation to refer it to the States, to make them aware of its terms, and to seek their considerationof, and views upon, it. That was done in August, 1935, and the States are now considering the matter. So far we have heard from three States only. All the others are stillconsidering it. As the governments of the other States make up their minds, the Commonwealth will, no doubt, be made aware of their decision. When all the States are in agreement with regard to the convention, the Commonwealth will be in a position to ratify it. That is a matter for the future.
– The Treasurer is explaining how not to do it.
– Exactly, I intend later to deal with the speech delivered by the honorable member. This is no new dis covery. The Government has been aware for a long time of the constitutional aspects of the question. In the undertaking given” on behalf of the Government” by the” honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) at Geneva a year ago, a statement was made exactly in accordance with what I have just referred to as being the only procedure we can possibly follow in practice. Sir Frederick Stewart said -
Owing to constitutional limitations, the Government of theCommonwealth of Australia has not the power to legislate in ratification of. the proposed, convention; but I am authorized” to state that, -should the majority of nations be- in . favour of, and adopt, the 40:hours’ week, the Commonwealth will use its best endeavours to obtain agreement and concurrence on the part of the Australian States, so that the ground may be cleared for ratification by the Commonwealth.
Honorable members listened with great interest as the Leader of the Opposition took them by the hand and led them down through the ages, from the invention of the wheel to the invention of the Caucus - I think that was dealt . with - and finally, . so to speak, to the greatest invention of all, the carrot held in front of the donkey. I do not know whether I am making an over-statement or not, but the impression left in my mind by honorable members opposite was that some doubt was cast onthegenuineness of the Government’s attempt to get some real light thrown on the 40-hour week problem. The Prime Minister and members of the Government side, who, of course, are not merely blind followers, but can and do use their critical faculties, are under no misapprehensions. The Government is trying to discover what the introduction of a 40-hour week in Australia would mean, whether it would mean greater employment or less employment.
– The 40-hour week in the United States of Americahas failed to absorb into industry its 11,000,000 unemployed.
– Exactly. If a 40-hour week means greater production, it would meangreater prosperity and better times for all, but it is not certain that it would do so. It is one of those facile assertions which, on the surface, appears good; but this Government is not going to leap in off the deep end and introduce a radical change without the fullest inquiry. It put forward proposals for a sample round-table conference of qualified men tq go into this matter, and I was privileged to have some hand in the discussions with the various sections which this Government proposed should be represented. I submit that the proposal for the inquiry was torpedoed by the Labour movement.
– That is unworthy of the honorable member.
– I had some little hand in the negotiations and had some discussion with highly placed officials of the Labour movement. I appealed to them to state how the constitution of the proposed committee could be altered to meet with their approval. There was no reply! Even a person with an unsuspicious mind must gain the impression that the Labour movement does not want this Government to have the prestige that would come from the successful issue of such a conference, and from what would follow it. It is impossible to avoid that conclusion. The Labour movement did not want us to do this, because they knew that it would be a feather in the cap for us, and that their chances to obtain power in this Parliament would be further diminished.
– The Treasurer should answer the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition concerning his offer of co-operation.
– I am about to deal with that. I do not think that this is an appropriate time to deal with the pros and cons of a 40-hour week in Australia, but we, at least, are justified in looking a little below the surface in this matter. The Commonwealth Statistician informs me that, apart from the shipping, agricultural and pastoral industries, the average hours of labour in Australia at present are 45J a week. If the term “ 40-hour week “ is. to be taken literally, as I suggest it is to be taken, it would mean, in the average, a reduction by 11 per cent, of the number of hours worked, which would mean, in the ordinary course of events, a reduction of production by Hi per cent.
– Oh, no, it would not!
– Possibly not; I accept the interjection, but I am merely talking in broad terms. He would be a brave man who would say that, by a reduction of working hours by 11½ per cent., we should be able to increase production in Australia. I do not say this in any opposition to reduced working hours, but as indicating that there are big problems to be investigated to see whether,, on the balance, a 40-hour week is going to be good or bad. The honorable member directed attention to the fact that, in recent years, in many countries of the world - he avoided specifying them - there had been large reductions of hours of labour. I should have liked him to go a little further, and tell us whether those reductions of working hours had reduced them below what are worked in Australia to-day. I doubt it. The average hours of labour in Great Britain are - certainly above those of Australia, and in Canada they are still above the average in Australia. Similarly, they are so in France, Japan, Germany and, I believe, Italy. I know of no country, and inquiries of the Commonwealth Statistician and others have not brought to light any country, in which it can be said that working hours are below the Australian average. I concede, however, that that is not a relevant argument. We want to get at the facts, as far as they can be ascertained, and fo ascertain whether a 40-hour week or largely-reduced working hours would be of advantage to this country.
– Did not the Government know that before it instructed its delegate ?
– The honorable member knows, well that there has been no intensive investigation of this matter. The Government did say that if the majority of the nations adopted the principle the Commonwealth would adopt it. If other countries of the world adopted the 40- hour week, particularly countries that compete with us, domestically it would not matter if this country followed suit; if the countries with which we compete had the same thing, investigation would not be so necessary; .but, if Australia is to make this change, as it is suggested it should, irrespective of what the other nations do, the proposal certainly needs investigation. This Government still wishes to have that investigation made, and the Prime Minister has offered to co-operate with the Leader of the Opposition.
– And the Leader of the Opposition answered that offer.
– The Leader of the Opposition said that he would co-operate with the Prime Minister in an endeavour to see how we could ratify - which is a vastly different thing. The question as to how far we can ratify is a question for lawyers.
– The Leader of the Opposition asked for a demonstration of the Government’s good faith.
– I do not think that the honorable gentleman was in the House when I attempted to traverse, as best I could, how we could ratify. That is not a question on which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition need to get together. If any one is to decide that point it should be the High Court or some person of legal consequence. The point is, what effect reduced hours of labour would have on Australian economy? And that is the point on which the Prime Minister desires the Leader of the Opposition to co-operate with him. Of all things it was an earnest of the Prime Minister’s genuine attitude in this matter when he invited the honorable gentleman and repeated the invitation to co-operate with him. Honorable members on this side of the House will be most interested to see whether the honorable gentleman opposite will accept this wholehearted invitation and attempt to get the Labour organizations to concur.
– The Minister has not yet replied to the offer made by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I hoped that I would not be drawn into saying that that offer was a specious offer. So one wants to know if we have the power to ratify. If the States are willing to reduce hours of labour by legislation - they are the only persons who can do it - and if they ask the Commonwealth to take action to ratify the convention of the International Labour Conference, we shall do so. But to follow blindly the course suggested by the Opposition would be a blatant invasion of State rights, and would tear the Commonwealth asunder. The Leader of the Opposition has either to accept the Prime Minister’s proposition or to explain to the people of Australia why he refuses.
.-The amendment moved by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) proposes that this House declare that the Government should ratify the convention arrived at at Geneva, thus applying the 40-hour working week to Australia. I have no hesitation in saying that I am not. prepared to support an amendment which proposes that we should blindly commit Australia to a 40-hour week without first having had explained to this Parliament, and to the people of Australia, the effect its adoption would have on the whole of our industry and the whole of our economic structure. Although I ain hot prepared to vote in this House to-day that Australia should adopt a 40-hour working week, by no means am I saying that I am against a 40-hour week; I merely wish to intimate that I am in opposition only to the course suggested by the Opposition. I think most of the people are unaware of the ultimate effect which the adoption of a 40-hour week would have upon our industries, particularly upon our most important export industries, and consequently upon the whole of the financial structure. I have been influenced to a certain extent by the statements of members of the Opposition, particularly those of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), as to why the trade unions are opposed to the constitution of the proposed committee of inquiry. It appears to me that there is some foundation for opposition to the proposed personnel, but, having opposed the proposal made by the Government, there is an obligation on those who are acquainted with industrial affairs to put forward some alternative. Failing that, those honorable members who advocate the adoption of a 40-hours’ week have placed upon them the inescapable obligation to recount the effects which, in their opinion, its adoption would have upon the whole of the industries of this country. I have patiently awaited an analysis of those effects by a member of the Opposition. I have wondered what the extent is to which advocates of the- proposal are influenced by purely humane motives - a desire to shorten the hours of labour solely with a view to affording relief from the arduous nature of the work performed, particularly by manual workers. If we had placed before us evidence as to the need for fewer hours to achieve such a result, little difficulty would be experienced in securing a decision favorable to reduction. But there has been no advocacy of the reduction of hours from humane motives. Indeed, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports went out of his way to explain that the present proposal has an entirely economic foundation. “We have been reminded that the workers of Australia have the right to appear before arbitration courts and wages boards to advance claims for the reduction of hours in specified industries. Those claims have been made, and in certain industries have been acceded to. . These facilities still exist.
– They existed before the Government sent the honorable member for Parramatta to Geneva.
– That has very little bearing upon the position. If we are to accept the statement that this proposal is advanced purely on economic grounds, to do away with the unemployment that exists to-day, in the absence of any analysis of its ultimate results by honorable members who advocate it I should endeavour, to the best of my ability, to examine the effects of its adoption upon the only industries with respect to which I feel competent to pronounce judgment - the rural industries.
– Has the honorable member read the report of the select committee which investigated the subject in Victoria ?
– I have perused the recommendation of that select committee. It is most unsatisfactory, because it i3 merely a majority decision, and many of the proposals were agreed to only on the casting vote of the chairman.
– That is what happens when’ a claim for fewer hours is made in the arbitration court - the presiding judge decides either for or against the applicant.
– All that I want to know is, whether honorable’ members opposite regard the adop’tion;’of a shorter working week as a means whereby unem ployment will be for ever eliminated, or merely As the most -convenient short cut through the impasse which confronts us to-day. There is an inescapable obligation upon honorable members, particularly those who have devoted their lives to the study of industrial problems, to explain their views on these points to the House. If we are to regard this proposal as one which, in the opinion of its advocates, will completely remove unemployment, I take it that they believe that the mechanization of industry, having necessitated a shorter working week, will not progress beyond the stage it has already reached, or, alternatively, that, as the mechanization of industry advances, and man power is further displaced, there must be a progressive shortening of working hours unaccompanied, as in the present proposal, by any other attempt to improve the standard of the workers engaged in industry.
– Both could proceed simultaneously.
– I invite the honorable member to give to the House the benefit of his views upon the matter. My mind is receptive to anything which the honorable member is able to advance on this subject. I awaited his speech particularly, in the expectation that it would probably be the best-informed speech made on the subject, but the honorable member refrained from tracing the effect of the proposal upon our export industries. Surely no proposal can be adopted as a part of our national policy which is completely regardless of the effect upon our foundation industries. I can appreciate the possibility of applying the principle to certain industries in which the cost of wages is relatively unimportant in comparison with the price of the product, and to employees of governments, the wage fund for whom is contributed to by the whole of the people. But what I am particularly concerned about is the effect upon the export industries of Australia. It seems to me that we are attempting to perfect the superstructure before we have established a solid foundation. I am not prepared to associate myself with any proposal which is so widespread in its effects upon Australian conditions and so regardless of possible injury to our export industries without having before me the findings of a committee of investigation. I should say that it is quite impossible to apply a shorter working week to industries which export and sell in competition with the rest of the world.
– Not even if the other countries act in the same way?
– In such circumstances I should certainly qualify my statement. But we have no evidence of the preparedness of other countries to act in that way. As a matter of fact, the Leader of the Opposition has shown clearly the reluctance of other countries, and even of other British dominions to do so. According to what he has told us, the Dominion of Canada ratified only a few months ago an agreement which provides for a 4S-hour week. This is an international agreement which has been awaiting ratification by Canada for many years. There is something very attractive and glorious in advocating that Australia should lead the world in the adoption of such reforms. I notice, however, that those gentlemen who are so keen in their desire that Australia should give a lead in regard to this proposal, were most reluctant to adopt that attitude with respect to another even more important matter which was also a League of Nations decision. This inconsistency demands some explanation.
– I believe that we were right on that occasion also. The results are now before us.
– That result has no bearing upon this particular matter. If we are to adopt the proposal piecemeal, and that is the only method which we can contemplate, surely it will not be contended that there is equity and justice in giving privileges to certain secondary industries, and, concurrently, as an unavoidable corollary, imposing an equivalent penalty upon our export industries. Under our intricate system of tariffs and Arbitration Court awards, increased costs are passed on to our primary industries. If we have any sense of equity and fairness, surely we must compensate them for those increased costs. That is the morass in which Australia now finds itself. Last year the complaint was general in this
House regarding the expenditure of time and money upon our export industries, in a vain endeavour to compensate them for disabilities resulting from advantages enjoyed by our secondary industries.
– That is not quite fair. I think the honorable member ; will agree that primary producers were assisted because of the loss of prices overseas, not because of any local circumstance. , ,
– It was because of the . loss of prices that the primary industries were unable to bear the high costs, of production which have been loaded on them, despite all our experience of marketing schemes, bounties and subsidies to compensate them for the disabilities under which they have suffered, and, in some cases, to keep them in existence. Yet to-day we are considering a proposal which, to my way of thinking - I shall be glad to have evidence to the contrary - can only add to their burdens. For that reason I must regard the proposal at present as being fundamentally unsound, and the present as being an inappropriate time for its adoption in Australia. No one would be more pleased than I to improve the standard of living of the whole of the workers of Australia, first, by giving them greater purchasing power, and, secondly, by a reduction of the hours of labour, when that could be done without, as a corollary, placing additional burdens upon any other section and lowering its standard of living. I do not pretend for a moment that the case as I envisage it and am trying to relate it, tells the whole story. I am merely endeavouring to discharge what I regard as my duty, by making an attempt to trace the effect of the proposal upon those industries with which I am particularly acquainted. At the same time I ask those honorable members who are particularly acquainted with the problems of secondary industries to trace for my benefit, and the benefit of other honorable members, the ultimate effects as they see them of such a scheme upon those industries and our whole economic structure. The theory advanced here to-day and yesterday, that, the mechanization of industry is the sole cause of unemployment, and that the solution of the problem lies in countering mechanization ‘ by reducing the number of working hours, is not in accord with the reason advanced a few years ago for the existence of unemployment in Australia. For instance, we were told four or five years ago that the real reason for unemployment was the lack of adequate protection for our secondary industries, and that the granting of protection would solve the problem as it then existed. Action, which was thought by the government of the day would be proper, was taken to give the protection sought, the protection being very high, and, indeed, in some cases, prohibitive. Well, the results did not support the theory. Higher tariff duties did not prove to be the solution of the unemployment problem. Then, eighteen months ago, we were told that the explanation for unemployment was to be found in our faulty and inadequate monetary and credit system. We were told that if only the right steps were taken to give us cheaper and more readily accessible credit, if banking were nationalized in Australia, we should then be able to solve the problem of unemployment. To-day, a different reason for unemployment is advanced, and a different solution is offered.
– We are sending £50,000,000 a year out of the country for interest payments.
– I do not think that the figure quoted by the honorable member is quite correct, but, in any case, I remind him that the making of interest payments abroad is nothing new. We were paying interest overseas when we had no unemployment problem.
– Nevertheless, it would be very handy to have £50,000,000 in Australia.
– I agree, and I should be very glad to associate myself with the honorable member in any sound proposal for transferring those payments to Australia, so that the money might be used here for the stimulation of industry. I am not trying to score at the expense of the members of the Opposition, or to indulge in merely destructive criticism, when I point out that they have at various times advanced these various reasons and cures for unemployment. I merely draw attention to them in order to justify the conclusion I have reached that a complete solution of the problem of unemploy ment is not to be found in any one of the various theories that have been put forward from time to time. We must contemplate a continuation of the sound planning which, in my opinion, has been engaged in by governments in Australia in recent years - planning which endeavours to counter the effects of the mechanization of industry on employment and to stimulate employment by affording the right degree of protection to those industries which are worthy of it, and which proposes to revise our banking and monetary system in the light of the findings of the royal commission appointed to examine these matters. I do not believe that the solution of the unemployment problem lies wholly in reducing the number of working hours. We must recognize that the inventive genius of man has not come to an end, that the process of the mechanization of industry will undoubtedly continue, and that the trend which we observe, now in industry and commerce will almost certainly develop. We must plan carefully ahead, and not take any hasty, illconsidered action in attempting to effect a cure.
I do not think that there can be any permanent solution of our industrial problems until we first solve the problem of placing our rural industries in a sound position, which they are not in at the present time. This cannot be done by waving a wand, but it must be done, nevertheless. The first preliminary is to establish in the minds of the various governments of Australia, the need for action designed to rehabilitate the rural industries. I am not singling out any government for blame, but it is a fact that there has not been displayed for many years past by the governments of Australia a consciousness of the fundamental fact that the prosperity of the whole community rests upon, and is bound up with, the prosperity of the rural industries. It is a fact that our rural industries are lagging far behind the secondary industries in efficiency, which is a sad admission from one who is engaged in an important rural industry.
– Whose fault is that ?
– The fault lies primarily in the fact that the rural industries are not operating on a profitable basis.
No industry, whether primary or secondary, which is struggling for its mere existence, can take the steps necessary to render itself efficient.
– Is it not a matter of markets ?
– Not altogether.
– How else can their prosperity he restored?
– Lower costs of production would help, and hy that I do not necessarily mean lower wages. As honorable members are aware, there is no other industry in Australia which pays lower wages than do the rural industries, and again I make the admission with regret.
– I have heard members of the honorable member’s party say that if the rural industries had to pay no wages at all they still could not carry on at a profit.
– We know that all industries, whether primary or secondary, need machinery and equipment, the cost of which is affected by tariff imposts, and by high costs of production. I am personally acquainted with many farmers who admit that their methods are inefficient, but who say that they must continue employing those methods because they cannot get enough out of the industry to enable them to buy proper equipment.
– I have heard experts say that Australian farmers are able to put in a crop of wheat and take it off more cheaply than it can be done anywhere else in the- world.
– That may be so, but against that we must place the cost of transport to market, which is higher from Australia than from anywhere else in the world. In support of my statement that our primary industries are not efficient, I direct the attention of honorable members to figures relating to butter fat production in Victoria: During the period from 1929 to the present time, the average production of butter fat in Victoria was 155 lb. a cow, whereas among the herds of the members of the Herd Testing Association, who are able to have regular tests made, and thus build up their herds to a point of efficiency, the average production was 222 lb. a cow. This is just one instance of how greater efficiency in. rural industry can, be obtained by those who can afford to buy the best stock and equipment. If, instead of considering proposals which, in the long run, must add to the cost of production in primary industries, we were to consider proposals for increasing the efficiency of our fundamental primary export industries, we should be helping to establish a foundation upon which we could safely erect a structure of higher wages and fewer working hours. I think it is regrettable that the division of legislative authority between the Commonwealth and the States should prove a bar to easy action which ought to be taken with regard to industrial legislation and the marketing of primary products. We should be better employed if we considered means for centralizing control of these matters in the national Parliament, instead of having authority divided among several governments, which really means that there is no authority at all.
– The honorable member is apparently against the new State movement.
– I am not, but the time is long overdue when we should ask the people of Australia to clothe the national Parliament with full power to legislate in regard to industrial matters and marketing.
– In regard to commerce generally.
– Yes. One of the first things this Parliament should do is to ask the people by way of referendum for authority to deal with all matters relating to industry, and the marketing of our primary products.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the 40-hour week can be achieved in that way.
– It is a foundation upon which ultimately the adoption of the 40-hour week may rest. It* has been said to-day that this Parliament has not the power to bring about the adoption of the 40-hour week. Feeling as I do that this proposal is not based on sound premises, if there is no alternative method of solving the problem of unemployment in Australia to-day, I am prepared to support the adoption of the 40-hour week in spite of all the criticism I have levelled against it to-day. But I’ am not content to .believe that there are no alternatives to be explored. I conclude by urging upon the Government the necessity for taking, a referendum of the people with the object of securing authority to clothe this . Parliament with complete power to legislate not only in industrial matters, but also for the efficient control by those engaged in the primary industries of the marketing of our primary products.
, - I approach this subject believing very firmly that the cumulative effect of the inventive genius of modern man, the advance of scientific knowledge, the mechanisation of. industry, the increased unit-power of those engaged in agricultural production, and the invasion by women of the fields of employment previously entirely occupied by men, does, and must, necessitate a gradual and progressive reduction of . working hours. I submit further that nobody short of a Deity would be able to say in this Parliament, or elsewhere, “Let there be a 40-hour week”, and straight away arbitrarily establish it, knowing exactly what the precise result of - its establishment would be. Economics and sociology are not exact sciences and, therefore, in matters of this kind, affecting as they do the economic structure of the Commonwealth, and producing as they do international repercussions, we must proceed very cautiously, carefully and gradually.- Some of the suggestions made in this debate seem to indicate that there is a strong belief among honorable members opposite that the establishment of a shorter working week would not only be a substantial contribution towards the absorption of the unemployed, but would also lead to the permanent vanishment, of unemployment. I even gathered, from the arguments advanced by honorable members who have spoken from, the Opposition benches, that it would be possible to make an estimate of the length of the working week necessary to absorb all the unemployed and, leading on from that, that it would be possible periodically to review the working week as we periodically review the basic wage, in such a way as to establish a working period that would always ensure normality in employment.
As a matter of actual fact, that cannot be done. If it were possible, then the Scullin Government in 1930 and 1931, when unemployment was mounting with such alarming rapidity that it threatened to bring about a collapse of the economic structure of this country, missed a glorious opportunity to banish the economic ills of this country by substantially reducing working hours. But at that time no suggestion was made that a reduction of working hours would bring about that result. No suggestion was made by the parliamentary supporters of the Lang Government in New South Wales, that the unemployment position in that State could be brought back to normal by a shortening of the hours of labour to 40, 36 or even 30 hours a week.
– Nobody was foolish enough to claim that. A permanent solution of the unemployment problem does not depend on hours.
– I know that it does not entirely depend on hour3 worked, and that is why I take to task some honorable members opposite who have spoken on this matter. I refuse to believe that this proposal is, in itself, a solution of our troubles, or that it constitutes a solution of the economic ills of Australia to-day. I further refuse to believe that Australia is lagging behind other countries in its attitude to this question. An honorable member opposite cited a long list of countries which had approved of the resolution adopted at the conference at Geneva. He seemed ‘to hold up the action of those countries as providing an example which Australia might well follow in this matter. I invite a closer examination of that suggestion. It has been said that the United States of America has set us a splendid example, but it has 11,000,000 unemployed. Does anybody seriously say that the condition of the United States of America, economically and socially, is in advance of that of Australia? Italy is another country which has adopted fairly generally a 40-hour working week. Would honorable members opposite suggest that we should follow the example set by Italy, where the adoption of a 40-hour working week’ has merely meant rationing of employment, and where wages have been reduced commensurately with the reduction of working hours? I suggest that neither the United States of America nor Italy provides us with an example which might be followed. France and Germany have refused to accept the principle of a shorter working week. The Leader of the Opposition also mentioned that China supported the proposal. In China, the regulation of hours, conditions of labour and wages is absolutely non-existent. I travelled through China and visited not only China proper, but also many of the industrial plants established in the international settlement of Shanghai, where there are some 3,000 factories. There, I saw the most ghastly exploitation of child labour possible for one to imagine, little children warped in their mentality, under-nourished physically, working in indescribably filthy and unhygienic factories under conditions almost unbelievably inhumane, not 40 hours a week, but from twelve to fourteen hours a day - not five and a half or six days, but seven days a week, and 365 days a year, for a miserable pittance of 2s. a week. And they are employed in industries conducted by the great industrial representatives of countries such as the United States of America, France, Germany and Italy - countries which the Leader of the Opposition suggests we might emulate.
The Japanese delegate at Geneva refused to support the principle of the 40-hour working week. In Japan hours of work are nearer 60 than 40, and wages are only a fraction of those paid in Australia and average European countries. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) mentioned Russia, which he held up to people in Australia as the working man’s Utopia, an idyllic place, where working men find everything to their liking, where -no complaints are necessary, and where nobody ever dreams of calling a strike in order-to improve the conditions of working men. The honorable member admitted that in that country men- in industries’ are working 42 hours every seven days, and I venture to suggest that at least the honorable member has not understated his case: substantially, what he’ said “was’ correct, as far as he went; but he did not tell the whole story. During my travels in Russia one of the great Russian industrialists was advocating an eighthour day in certain industries. But what of the hours of labour of the rural industries of that country? Do the agricultural workers work 40 hours or 42 hours a week? They work ten hours a day, and that applies to both male and female employees. The women are expected to go out into the fields and work ten hours a day, even though they may be mothers with suckling babes. It is considered in that country that such a woman can work ten hours in the fields, with just sufficient time off at intervals to enable her to suckle her child. Yet such countries are held up to the Government as providing an example which Australia might very well follow.
In view of the facts I have stated, the suggestion that Australia is lagging behind other countries in respect of hours of labour cannot be sustained. I mentioned China and Japan particularly because happenings in those countries have a big bearing on our trade relations with them. We are successfully endeavouring to increase our trade with China and Japan. If the introduction of a shorter working week in Australia caused an increase of production costs, it might be necessary for us to increase the duties at present levied on imports from China and Japan. Such a contingency would be fraught with great danger to Australia’s trade position in the East. This shows how necessary it is that every aspect of this problem should be carefully considered. Honorable members opposite must recognize the need to take full cognizance of the international repercussions of a drastic and “thoughtless application of the principle of a 40-hour week to Australian industries.
Looking at the subject from the local viewpoint, we must remember that the Commonwealth Parliament, whatever its inclinations may be, cannot ride roughshod over the State parliaments, nor, for that matter, over the various arbitration tribunals of the country. All sorts of real obstacles stand in the way of an immediate application of this principle to our industries.
– The honorable member did notsay that during the last election campaign.
– I have always advocated a progressive reduction of working hours, and have always candidly and honestly discussed the subject with electors who have approached me on it; If the introduction of the shorter working week could have been accom- plished as easily as the members of the Opposition suggest, the Lang Government, and also the Scullin Government, could have introduced it, but they failed to do so, and the stupid, unintelligent, bull-at-a-gate tactics of those governments in dealing with other big national problems were chiefly responsible for their downfall and, unhappily, for the damage done to the economic structure of this country. This Government proposes candidly, honestly, and plainly to attack the problem in a logical way, by the setting up of an investigating body to examine the problems attendant upon the application of the principle to our industries.
-What has the honorablemember to say about the constitutional aspect?
– The Governmentwould seek to overcome all difficulties, and the investigating body which it is proposed to set up would, in my opinion, be a proper body to deal with the issues involved. The Leader of the Opposition and his supporters are not favorable to the setting up of this body. I have listened to every speech made during this debate by honorable members opposite, and the only constructive proposal that has been submitted to meet the situation came from the Leader of the Opposition. With obvious reluctance he agreed that some inquiry was necessary, and that it would not be possible arbitrarily to apply a 40-hour working week to all Australian industries immediately. He therefore proposed that . a committee consisting of a judge of each State Arbitration Court, with the Chief Judge of the CommonwealthArbitration Court as chairman, should deal with the problem. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) stated in reply that he had already approached three State governments with the object of securing a judge to act in such a capacity, but had met with failure. Apart from that fact, I ask whether a body such as that suggested by the Leader of the Opposition would be a suitable authority to deal with the subject ? I suggest that the gentlemen referred to, in their own spheres and within their own jurisdiction, have had opportunities in the past to direct that a 40-hour working week be adopted, but have failed to accept them. The whole of their history and record indicates to me that they would not be suitable appointees to such a committee of inquiry into the subject. Their actions, if not their words, have shown that they do not think that a 40-hour working week is desirable.
I say, emphatically, that this whole subject demands the most careful investigation. If the principle could be put into operation easily, why is it . that the three State Labour governments in power in Australia have hitherto made no tangible or genuine effort to apply it?
– The Tasmanian Labour Government has done so.
– As far as I know, not one of these governments has made any attempt whatever to apply a 40-hour working week to industries within its jurisdiction.
– That is not correct.
– The complete failure of organized labour, and the emphatic refusal of the Federal Parliamentary Labour party, to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in seeking ways and means to introduce this principle speak for themselves. We are faced with the spectacle of honorable gentlemen, who profess to be favorable to the 40-hour working week, declining to assist the Government to bring it into effect. Actually these honorable gentlemen are traducing other people who genuinely desire to bring the reform into operation. One trouble is that the Labour party is divided within itself on this subject. One branch of the party strongly favours the introduction of a 40-hour working week, but another demands the immediate application of a 30-hour week to industry. One section wishes to proceed along evolutionary lines but the other wishes to adopt revolutionary and radical methods. In order to divert attention from the incongruity of the position, and to prevent the alienation of the radical and revolutionary section of the party from the evolutionary section of it, honorable members opposite have loudly, blatantly, arrogantly, and flamboyantly demanded the immediate introduction of a 40-hour working week, yet decline to give their genuine co-operation to the Government which desires its introduction, but which cannot establish it without the cooperation of Labour.
.- I have listened attentively to this debate, and I must say that, apart from the few decrepit arguments which the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) stood up and then knocked down, he has contributed nothing to the discussion. Every honorable gentleman opposite who spoke in this debate yesterday favoured the introduction of a 40-hour week, but since the censure note has disappeared from the motion their colleagues are not now fearful of the position of the Government, and those of them who have spoken in the debate to-day have declared themselves to be unfavorable to the proposal. But they cannot bluff the people in that way.
Yesterday the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) made a statement, the accuracy of which I questioned. The honorable member for Macquarie has just repeated the statement. The Prime Minister said that he had requested the Queensland Government to make available the services of a judge to act on the investigating body, but had been met with a refusal. The fact is that the Prime Minister asked for the services of a particular person. He mentioned Mr. Justice “Webb, of the Queensland Supreme Court bench. That gentleman is also chairman of the Cane Prices Appeal Board, which is likely to be very busy during the next five or six weeks. Obviously, it would be difficult for the Queensland Government to make his services available. I am quite sure that if the services of a member of the High Court bench had been sought from the Commonwealth by a State government the Chief Justice of the court would have had to be consulted. The High Court, like the supreme courts of the various States, plans its work for several weeks ahead, and the sudden withdrawal of a member of the bench would disorganize the whole programme. Mr. Justice
Webb, the President of the Queensland Arbitration Court, is a judge of the Supreme Court and also chairman of the Central Sugar-cane Prices Appeal Board. I took the trouble to send a lettergram to the Acting Premier of Queensland, Mr. Pease, regarding this matter, and I have received from him the following replies: -
Replying to your telegram 7th, Prime Minister’s statement is not exactly correct, because he definitely asked the Queensland Government to make available the services of Judge Webb as vice-chairman of hours committee. In view of the fact that Judge Webb is chairman of the Cane Prices Board, he could not be released at this juncture, but the Queensland Government’s suggestion was that the proposed committee was too unwieldy, and we suggested as alternative tribunal of judge of Commonwealth Arbitration Court and member of each State Arbitration Court. We were then, and still are, prepared to make available a member of the Queensland Industrial Court on this basis.
Replying to your telegram 7th, Prime Minister’s statement that Queensland Government was unable to release Justice Webb as vicechairman of Hours Investigation Committee correct, reasons for which were fully explained to Commonwealth Government. In addition to Justice Webb being judge of Supreme Court and President of Industrial Court, he is also chairman Central Sugar-cane Prices Board, and matters incidental to early approach of crushing season naturally require his personal attention. See my press statement published extensively Daily Standard, 28th April. Press report this morning attributes statement to Prime Minister yesterday that New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland had intimated that no suitable official available to act as a representative of State industrial tribunals on conference. No such request made to Queensland for representative other than for services Judge Webb.
Those replies clearly show that the circumstances were not as suggested by the Prime Minister and the honorable member who has just resumed his seat. The reason why Mr. Justice Webb is chairman of the Central Sugar-cane Prices Board is that he is the board’s legal authority. I recognize, of course, that men capable of filling the position of vicechairman of the body whose appointment was proposed by the Government to investigate the 40-hour week proposal could be found in other States. The suggestion that members of the arbitration tribunals did nothing to facilitate the inquiry goes by the board. They are merely the servants of the States, and are employed to do specific work.
Last evening, in reply to the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney), who asked the Prime Minister whether he tried to get a representative from Tasmania, the right honorable gentleman evasively said that there was no Arbitration Court in that State. There is no State Arbitration Court in Victoria, but wages boards are established in that £tate. Wages boards were appointed in Queensland before the Federal Arbitration Court came into existence. The first application made to the court resulted in a reduction by 2s. a day of wages paid by voluntary agreement, showing that the court does not always act .in accordance with the wishes of the workers.
Yesterday the statement was made by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that the Queensland Government had done nothing to assist in tuc investigation of the proposal for a 40- hour week, and the honorable member for Macquarie just said that three State Labour governments which had had complete control had done nothing; but that is only a half-truth. The only Labour Government in Australia that has absolute power is that of Queensland. The Labour Government in Western Australia has a. majority of two or three in the Lower House, but would be in a hopeless minority if an important matter had to be decided at a joint meeting of both branches of the legislature. A similar position obtains in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. If the Government of Queensland- had taken action to put the proposal for. a- 40-hour week into . operation in . that State, the honorable member for Barker .arid .every other supporter of the Government would have said that it was interfering with the functions of- the Arbitration Court; but, since the International Labour Conference has come to its decision, the Queensland Court has granted- a 40-hour week to three industries in that State - the Mount Morgan Mining Company, the Golden Plateau Mining Company, at Cracow, and the “building trade. An application was made by the combined -unions of Queensland for a 40-hour week in all industries. The court was not prepared to apply the principle .to industry gener-ally, on the ground that the conditions, operating in other States would prevent its effective application. The President of the court said: that the matter was one which the federal authorities should determine. The Opposition does not ask the Government to put a 40-hour week into operation. We merely urge it to re-affirm a principle which it supported last year. The best means of applying the principle should be investigated by a small committee. The unwieldy body proposed by the Government would be quite unsuitable. Employment in ^Queensland is largely governed by awards of the court, but. at no stage., during the fifteen years of Labour, administration in that State hae there been any possibility of applying an. award to rural .industries, .owing to the. economic conditions existing in them. I represented the Australian Worker* Union at Stanthorpe when an investigation was made as to the effect that a rural award would have if applied to the fruit-growing industry. I found that not one man was employed in the industry on wages, and, therefore, an award would not affect them. An award has been granted to’ the cotton-pickers, but all that the court determines is the proportion of the benefit derived through the Commonwealth or State Governments’ assistance of the industry that should go to the workers.
– Does the honorable member contend that a 40-hour week should be substituted for “the- present number of hours? “‘> * “”’ -: ; Mr. MARTENS.-No’: I ‘say that the principle should Se endorsed, because the Government .”agreed to it last year. Pollowing that, a’ properly-constituted body should be appointed, to determine how the principle could be applied to industry The suggestion that the Labour party, would .then ask. for. .a 30%on_r. week is a stupid f one.. Such, .a request has never been made by any” representative of the workers.. -In the -sugar- industries, the employees were formerly employed - for 58 and, 60 hours a week, and, when they asked that the hours of l.abour be reduced to 48-, they were met with, the same- arguments (a.s. .are. advanced , to-day. in regard to a 40-hour week . We. had a similar experience in Queensland when a -44-hour week:was sought,.and,when a request was made that a, 40-hour ,week- be applied to. three industries. The Opposition does not ask-, the Government to apply the principle to :the. employees in all industries willy-nilly, but it asks the Government to stand up to the instructions given to its representative at the International Labour . Conference, and to appoint, a suitable, committee to ascertain how far effect would be given to the proposal.’
The honorable member for. Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) made a remark this afternoon, that will not bear investigation. The Opposition, contends ‘ that, although, the population of Australia has increased, fewer people are now employed. Yet ‘ the honorable member claimed that production has increased, and the number of people employed has also increased. It has been suggested by the honorable member for Macquarie that, because of stupid action by the Scullin Government, the Commonwealth got into financial difficulties; but the High Commissioner, Mr. Bruce, who led this House for a considerable .period, has stated frankly that, if it had. not .been for- -certain action taker by the Scullin Government to correct the trade balance, this country would not have maintained its solvency. Figures published in the Commonwealth YearBoole show a continuous decrease of the amount paid in wages. From 192S to 1929, the’ amount was £45 a head more than in 1934, a fall of 21 per cent. The figures were £2.12 a head in 1928, and £166 a head in 1934. In 1930, the population was 6,514,127, whilst in 1934 it had increased to 6,629,833, an increase of 116,000; yet, in 1934, the number of persons employed in secondary industries was 14,000 fewer than in 1930, the figures being -419,000’ in;i930;; and 405,000 in 1934. ! The significance- of the figures is that the drop occurred ‘despite the orthodox improvement of business. ‘The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) has_ told us a dozen times recently that ‘more men are now employed than ever before, but . the latest . Year-Booh gives the lie direct to that statement.
– I think the honorable member should. withdraw. that statement, because- -it is not correct.
– It is” not the practice to require the withdrawal of a statement merely because it is incorrect.-
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I made a statement to which the Minister for Trade and Customs took exception. I took my figures from the Commonwealth Year-Booh, 1935, and I have no desire to contradict the Minister if he has later figures at his,, .disposal.
– The figures I quoted are the latest issued by the Commonwealth Statistician.
– I have not got those figures.’ However, those which I quoted refute the Minister’s claim which he has made repeatedly in this House during the last three years, and agree with the statements which I produced. Together they show that the position is not as was stated by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison). I shall now deaL with industrial conditions in Queensland. In proportion to its population, a larger number of employees are covered by awards in that State than in any other State. However,” ‘in Queensland, industrial awards have not been applied’ to the rural industries’; I am not now referring to the pastoral industry, but to farming generally. At no time has the Arbitration Court in’ that .State seen ‘ fit .to make awards foi- -rural industry, except in respect of cotton-picking. In that instance ‘the court took into account the fact that, the Government provided financial assistance to ensure to the growers a better price for their cotton, and held, rightly, that the employees in the industry were entitled to some of the benefit. No award has been applied to any other section of the cotton industry. The only other award in the rural industry was in respect of the “wages of .ploughmen. So far.- as the’ great bulk- of rural industry is concerned, no industrial award is in operation because the Arbitration Court has always taken into account every -phase of’ the economics -of this section of industry, and for many years has adopted the practice of considering the probable- effect of granting the conditions asked for in the union’s application.’ When an industry was “ in “ competition”’ with industries in other parts of the Commonwealth where, owing to the absence of industrial awards, less stringent conditions obtained, that fact also was weighed by the court.- For these reasons the’ unions find it more difficult to secure from the court a satisfactory award than would be the case if industrial conditions throughout the Commonwealth were more uniform.
Much capital has been made out of the contention that a shorter working week will result in a decrease of output. That is not borne out in actual practice in Queensland. In 1928, after fifteen years of Labour Government, the Commissioner for Railways (Mr. Davidson), in his annual report to Parliament, stated that the introduction of a shorter working week in the railway service had no.t resulted in a decrease of output. During that period award conditions applied generally in industry; hours of work were shorter, the basic wage was higher, and the number of unemployed was the lowest in the Commonwealth, whilst the average cost of production was less than in other States. These facts show that the introduction of a 40-hour week in industry would not have the effect suggested by private employers of labour. I have no doubt that the employers believe that their objection is well founded. Members on this side of the House do not suggest that hours of work should be reduced haphazardly. We say that the Government should ratify the resolution of the Geneva Conference, and then make an investigation to ascertain in what industries the shorter working week could be applied. I believe that a 40-hour week could be introduced without having the effect predicted by supporters of the Government. It would enable us to provide greater employment, not necessarily at reduced wages. I would not support the introduction of a shorter working week in industry if it would necessitate a reduction of wages. When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) cited certain countries which had adopted the resolution of the Geneva Conference, some honorable members opposite greeted the mention of them with guffaws. However, I recall that when this Parliament was considering the application of sanctions against Italy in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, supporters of the Government made rauch of the fact that 56 countries, which were’ members of the League of Nations, had agreed to apply the sanctions and to take all action necessary to enforce them, although some of those countries do not possess armies or armaments, nor even a gun with which one could knock a crow off a cornstalk at a distance of 100 yards ! Yet their support of sanctions was greatly applauded by Government supporters, who referred to them as countries which were prepared to go to any length to force Italy to obey the League of Nations.
From the September issue of Industrial and Labour Information, published by the International Labour Office, I quote the following passage: -
Some time ago the Brazilian Minister of Labour appointed a joint committee, of employers and salaried employees to draw up a plan for the regulation of hours of work of the office staff of transport undertakings. This committee, having now completed its task, some of the general principles it laid down are indicated below: -
Tlie ordinary working hours of office employees in transport undertakings 6hall be six in the day or 30 in the week. These hours may only be exceeded in cases for which provision is made by decree, and in such a way that there shall be one day’s rest in every six days’ work. The ordinary working day shall begin not later than 7 a.m. and end not later than (i p.m.
In no circumstances may the observance nf the statutory provisions to bc enacted in regard to hours of work be made a ground for reduction of salary or commission due to the employees.
Tlie general principles relating to hours of work shall apply throughout the country to the staff of all transport undertakings, agencies, or departments or sub-departments thereof, except for persons occupying posts of management or supervision.
The weekly rest shall be 24 consecutive hours, and shall for preference’ be granted on Sunday. Whatever time-table may be adopted, the working day must include an interval of one to two hours for a meal and rest.
The October issue had this to say about changes in hours and wages in the petroleum industry in the United States of America -
Tlie report shows the effect of the adoption of the code which limited the number of hours of work in the production branches of tlie industry to 36 a week on the average. During the period of contraction from May, 1029, to May, 1033, the payrolls reflected not only the decreasing number of employees, but also short time and falling wage rates. Tlie initial effect of the code was a greater increase in aggregate employment than in aggregate payrolls. Thereafter, however, in all branches of the industry, payrolls expanded more rapidly than employment. For the period, May, ‘1933, to July. 1834, us a whole, there was approximately a 10 per cent, greater expansion of payrolls than of employment. In spite of this tendency, howover, in all branches of the industry except pipe lines, payrolls were further below the 11)89 level in July, 1934, than was employment. During the depression, payrolls fell faster owing to the fact that, in addition to the laying-off of employees, there was also a strong tendency towards the elimination of overtime and the introduction of part-time work, as well as reductions in rates of pay for ‘ those who v/ere retained.
That import proceeded at some length in a similar strain. I have here various other journals published by the International Labour Office, dealing with industrial conditions in other countries.
– We do not, want to hear them.
– Information of this nature published by the International Labour Office accurately sets out the facts, as the reviews are based on statistics sent to that institution by the countries concerned. They give a more truthful statement of the position than can be procured from any other source. I do not think the Minister for Defence desires to see a 40-hour week applied to industry in this country, or that he was pleased to read of the convention adopted on this matter at Geneva, although he supported the sending of an Australian delegate to the conference. This Government does not want to take any action at all in this matter; it simply desires to shilly-shally with it, ending where it commenced. Its declarations to date have been made simply to tickle the ears of unthinking people and to. lead them to believe that this Government is doing something to introduce a 40-hour week in industry. Supporters of the Government say that they are anxious for this reform to be effected, but they do not say when. So far the Government has only suggested the appointment of a committee of 21 people to investigate the matter; a number of the appointees are not directly interested in the proposal, nor do they understand its implications to industry generally. Consequently, if such a committee is appointed, I believe that after twelve or eighteen months, and after enormous expenditure has been incurred, we may get a report, more or less useless, that will serve no purpose other than to provide an excuse for the Government to defer any decision.
.- But for certain remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the honorable member . for Herbert (Mr. Martens), I would not have participated in this debate. The honorable member for Herbert denied the accuracy of the figures of the Commonwealth Statistician in regard to secondary industries. T have quoted those figures on previous occasions, and they show that there is more employment in Australian factories to-day than ever before in Australia’s history. Honorable members may check them in the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures’ Gazette. The Commonwealth Statistician’s figures are: 1926-27, 452,000; 1931-32, 337,000; 1934-35, 451,000; and at December of last year, 409,000. I believe that the honorable member for Herbert desires to see a 40-hour week applied to industry. He spoke of the necessity for it. Yet, when I asked him if he were in favour of applying it to the cottonpicking industry in districts situated not far from his own electorate, he replied equivocally “ not immediately “. The honorable member makes long speeches in this House which’ convey the impression that he believes the immediate application of a 40-hour week in industry to be necessary, but when asked specifically about applying it in an industry at the back door of his own electorate, he admitted that it cannot be applied immediately.
– The cotton industry does not operate in my electorate.
– Cotton is grown in Queensland, and near to the district which the honorable member represents. He advocated the general adoption of a shorter working week throughout Australia, but is not prepared to apply it immediately to a Queensland industry. That is the attitude of the Opposition generally. They speak lightly of a 40- hour week. No one will deny that it is necessary that hours of labour be reduced and conditions of labour be lightened when we can do it; but who would embark upon such a drastic change without proper examination?
– It is certain that the Government would not.
Mr.WHITE. - Such acourse would be disastrous to the people we represent. I am sorry that I did not hear the honorable member for Hindmarsh speak, because he generally makes an earnest contribution to debate. Near his electorate there is one of the greatest secondary industries in the Commonwealth, the motor body works. Would the honorable member apply a 40-hour week to that industry immediately?
– I would.
– I advise the honorable member to ask the management of any industry whether it will lightly take the responsibility of introducing shorter working hours ! . The effect of a 40-hour week on industries would depend on the proportions of labour and raw material used. It might be applied to one industry which would thrive, and conditions would be better for the employees, whereas another industry, if subjected to the same test, would be completely wrecked. I refer more particularly to those industries which come within the ambit of the protective tariff. If the shorter working week were applied throughout the protected industries, it would throw the rates of duty out of proportion. All the inquiries made by “ the Tariff Board, which have’ assisted to bring about the existing happy state of affairs in secondary industries, would have to be repeated, as the data on which the tariff is based would have been completely changed. If honorable members opposite deny ‘ that, they admit that they know nothingof practice in secondary industries. Those in which there is a large proportion of male labour - a highly desirable state of affairs - might not be properly protected if they immediately changed over to a 40-hour week.
– ‘Why did this Governmentinstruct its delegate to Geneva to approve of the 40-hour week?
– At Geneva, this Government did approve of the principle of a 40-hour week. It is possible lightly to pass a resolution in this House, but honorable members must realize that it is reasonable to have full inquiry before action is taken”. Honorable members cavil at the committee” the Government proposed to appoint to make an impartial inquiry into working hours.Unjus tifiably, they suspect that some members of the committee will not give to the workers, a fair deal. Is that attitude calculated to promote the introduction of a reform and improve the conditions of our people? The development of this great country is merely beginning. Honorable members opposite, largely because they believe that their actions will be received with approbation by those people whom they believe they represent, but whom, in very many instances, they considerably ‘misrepresent, have made wild statements on the subject of the proposed committee. The Victorian Chamber of Manufactures’ Gazette makes this pertinent comment on the opposition of the Labour party to the committee -
The position is, therefore, that the trades union representatives were not prepared to trust six other independent persons (all unnamed, except- Chief Judge Dethridge) to decide the question “ whether any or what general reduction of working hours in Australia is desirable and/or practicable, having regard to the social, ‘ economic, and national interests as a whole “.
-i thought that we had passed the inquiry stage.
– No. Because there is a fight between the Australian Workers Union and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, one of those periodic feuds when somebody is either being expelled or re-admitted - the Labour movement is trying to torpedo a national effort. This - boycott is because” of the rival ambitions of Labour’s saw-dust leaders, whose vanity is wounded at their not having been given the monopoly of picking the. team. This shows the hollowness of the unions which make up-“ the Labour- . movement. Nevertheless, ‘ it is interesting to see that rival sections of the movement can get together in this House, to the extent that, instead of the part song we have heard in the last two or three years, they now sing inchorus-but . - only a song of propaganda which “they hope will delude the people, and which they’ will use again at electiontime. No doubt the speech delivered by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) will be circulated “from Thursday - Island to the southern. boundaries of Herbert. ‘But how hollow are his professions shown when a single industry,’ cotton-growing, is pointed to, and he -.is afraid to declare himself! Surely, if we have at heart the welfare of, not only the workers, hut also the whole of the people of Australia, including the consumers, who would be affected by any increase of prices brought about by the rash . action proposed by honorable members opposite, an inquiry is necessary? The Commonwealth Arbitration Court has functioned for years, and it has done excellent work. That is true also of the State wages boards and State industrial tribunals. These board;, assisted by other competent persons, as proposed by the Government, can be trusted to inquire into the hours of labour. There is no magic in the word “ forty “ in this connexion. If a supporter of the Opposition said “ 30 hours “ it would become the cry of the party.
– In the end it will come to 30 hours.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) would not be satisfied with 30 hours. He would say: “ I am in favour of 15 hours “, and at election time, somebody else would go even better. . Hours of labour and production should not be dependent on the Dutch auctions which happen at election time, when the workers, .are asked to believe that they can have more leisure without loss of wages. The party opposite is an authority on leisure, because there was never more unemployment in this country than when the Labour Government was in power in the Commonwealth. That ought to be sufficient to convince the people’ of the danger.of acting too hastily.
– Labour was not in power at the time. to which the Minister refers.
-The honorable gentlein an -should Know “for, he helped to put the Labour Government ‘out of office. The Labour party believed it was in power; at least i.t occupied .the” Treasury bench. It ‘would “be wise to inquire into not only the hours pf labour, but also some of the conditions associated with employment. L I . am sure honorable members opposite will : agree that this is necessary. Other”, -m’a’tters;-. worthy of inquiry, include the ‘ payment of the basic wage to” families^ ‘Would any honorable member opposite .say that the married man with a family, who is an excellent citizen .is ‘as well off as is the single man-who having-‘ just reached the age of 21 is paid the basic wage, which is the minimum fixed by the court for the maintenance of a worker with a wife and family? The State of New South Wales has grappled with the family aspect of this question by instituting” child endowment.
– A Labour government did that.
– That does not alter the fact that this is a subject that might well occupy the attention, not of one party, but of all parties. The various political parties should confer on this important matter, in order to discover some means of encouraging family life. If we want children to have better environment, and greater amenities, married couples should have some greater benefits than single men. Probably a contributory fund could be created within industry, from which payments could he made to married couples, in order to encourage men and women to raise families.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I should like the Minister to indicate the relevancy of this.
– It is very relevant; it is connected with hours of labour. I desire to show that, not only is the subject of working hours a matter worthy of inquiry, but also that rates of pay and conditions of employment should be inquired into. An inquiry merely in relation to hours would be unwise. The investigation should extend to the basic wage in industry, and “ equal pay for equal work “. Women in industry are frequently employed at a lower wage rate than men for the sole reason that they are women.
– Would these matters be inquired into by the proposed committee?
– Surely they could be brought forward. The inquiry proposed by the Government could draw evidence from any quarter - from the employer and from the trade unions. Another matter deserving of close inquiry is the school leaving age. If boys and girls were kept longer at school, the problem of unemployment would be less acute.
– Keep them at school until they qualify for the old-age pension !
– That would suit the honorable member’s policy admirably. He would give the people pensions from birth. Generally he favours the policy operating in Russia, but there work is compulsory and he would not dare to advocate that. If the school-leaving age were raised, the tragedy of youths just coming of age being discharged from industry, because they are less competent than men of from 30 years to 40 years, would no longer exist and the technical training which the boys would receive by remaining longer at school would better . qualify them to . take their place in secondary industries. There is a shortage of youths in industry to-day.
– Notably in the engineering and motor body-building trades. Honorable members may now see in Melbourne work-shops the notice - “ Boys wanted “ - something which has not been seen for years.
– There are thousands of boys out of work.
– No doubt. But the boys who are difficult to place are those of from 17 to 21 years of age. The tragedy of it is that these young men have grown to that age during the depression period, and they are now unskilled, and, therefore, difficult to absorb into industry. Their only hope seems to lie in the primary industries. Honorable members must realize that a later school-leaving age would have enabled these lads to obain technical training which would now enhance their opportunities to obtain work. At the same time, as there would always be a reduced surplus of labour they would not displace men of a more mature age, or those who, by reaching the age of 21 years, are qualified for the basic wage and the conditions appertaining to it. If honorable members had, instead of a party outlook, a . national viewpoint, they would not have been for two days “ telling the world,” through the newspapers and Hansard, that a 40- hour week is necessary for men in industry, when so few of them are qualified to indicate an industry which could apply it. Instead of pursuing that course they would have done better had they supported the very generous attitude of the Government, as shown in the renewedoffer by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to allow the inquiry into the working hours to proceed, and his undertaking to confer with the Leader of the Opposition, to this end.
– No collaboration with the enemy!
– No collaboration with the enemy! The pity is that that is exactly how the honorable member looks at these matters! But, if instead of remembering that we are in hostile camps, we were prepared to co-operate to better the conditions of the workers and the community generally, we would proceed with this inquiry, and such collaboration would be for Australia’s undoubted good.
.- The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), who should have made a useful contribution to the debate, devoted the most of his time to abusing honorable members on this side of the chamber for supporting the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Curtin). The main point in the Minister’s speech was that the Labour party is opposed to the appointment of a committee to inquire into the principle of a 40-hour week. Strong opposition has been shown by honorable members on this side of the chamber to the appointment of such a committee because they realize that when similar bodies have been appointed in this and other countries, their recommendations have seldom been adopted, and the investigations have merely wasted time and money. We are also opposed to the appointment of such a committee because its personnel would include only those whom the Government know would make a recommendation in accordance with its views, and in that way enable the Government to evade its responsibility. Even if such a committee presented a report based on the evidence submitted to it, the Government would appoint another commission or committee to inquire into its findings. More royal commissions and committees have been appointed in Australia to conduct investigations into public matters than in any other country, and in almost every instance their recommendations have been pigeon-holed. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in his policy speech, dealt specifically with the subject of unemployment. and said that if his Government were returned to power he would appoint a full-, time Minister to deal with unemployment, which was the most important problem which the Government had to solve. Later the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) was appointed Parliamentary Under.Secretary for Employment, and he conducted inquiries in Australia and in other countries. When abroad, the honorable member represented the Commonwealth at the International Labour Conference at Geneva, in June of last year. At that conference the principle of a 40-hour week was discussed, and 79 delegates voted in favour of the. principle and 39 opposed it. On his return to Australia the honorable member submitted a report to the Government which it was not prepared to adopt. I do not know whether some persons were aware of its contents, but honorable members on both sides of the chamber were inundated with letters from local governing bodies and others asking that representations be made to the Prime Minister to release the document. Some time later when the report was made available, it was ascertained that the Government had been advised by its delegate to ratify the convention. I understand that a 40-hour week is worked in the industry controlled by the honorable member for Parramatta, and that it has- been found to be entirely satisfactory. As the recommendations of the honorable member were opposed to the views of the Government, his services as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment have been dispensed with and a successor has not been appointed. But apparently the whip has been cracked, for the honorable member now agrees that the whole matter should be referred to a committee.
– If the honorable member read my report he would know that I recommended the appointment of a committee.
– In the speeches delivered by the honorable member at the Methodist Mission, in Newcastle, he said that the introduction of a 40-hour week was long overdue.
– So it is.
– If that is so, why did he suggest that the matter be referred to a committee? Australia was a signatory to the Peace Treaty, Part 13 of which provides for the establishment of an International Labour Office to conduct investigations into industrial matters. At the last conference, a majority of the representatives of many important countries approved of a reduction of working hours, and the maintenance of the present standard of living. The following countries have adopted the principle: - Canada, Italy, the United States of America, . Czechoslovakia, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Japan, New Zealand and Great Britain. Following are a few examples of the experience of employers in the lastmentioned country: -
A notable experiment in shorter hours was carried out in the Nottingham and Beeston works of the Boots Pure Drug Company. By the introduction of a five-day week, the hours of factory workers were reduced from 474 to 424 per week, which after a trial period was pronounced an unqualified success. An independent expert reported that, in general, costs in the aggregate were not enhanced, and that weekly wages were, fully maintained.
Messrs. Lever Brothers and associated companies, and Messrs. Joseph Watson and Sons Limited, soap manufacturers, Leeds, have decided to inaugurate a five-day week for their employees without loss of pay.
At the ninth annual general meeting of Messrs. Carr and Company Limited, biscuit manufacturers.. Carlyle, who introduced a five-day week in their factory in January, 1935, it was stated that the experiment had been a success; while the cost in wages had increased, production had not suffered, and works expenses, which included coal and power used, had been reduced. From the stand-point of the. workers, the five-day week had been a great benefit.
I have quoted sufficient to show that the opinion held by some British manufacturers is that industry would not be affected detrimentally if the principle were adopted generally. Similar opinions have been expressed by manufacturers in other countries after the adoption of the 40-hour working week. The mechanization of industry has resulted in many men being displaced; in some localities large numbers have lost their employment. ‘ I now propose to deal briefly with the coal-mining industry, in which I have been interested practically all my life, and to show tEe extent to which that industry has been affected. In 1929, the wages bill in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales was approximately £4,000,000, but by 1931 it bad been reduced to less than £3,000,000. From 1931-33, there was a reduction of approximately £2,000,000. In 1926, the total number of employees was 24,125, but in 1933 it had been reduced to 13,349. The underground workers on New South W ales coal-fields have been speeded up, as an output of 550 tons by each employee per annum in 1931, increased in 1934 to 776 tons, or an increase of more than 40 per cent. In 1931, 15,666 workers produced 6,019,809 tons of coal, and in 1934, 13,465 employees produced 7,873,180 tons. Precautions to ensure the safety of the men appear to have been disregarded, as in 1934 there were fifteen fatal accidents, representing 1.11 per 1,000 employees. The miners have been hard put to it to meet the prevailing distress. With the closing of the mines and the destruction of the economic life of these ‘communities, families who had invested their savings in a home or a small business found that their investments were rendered practically valueless overnight.
The figures that I have already quoted give some indication of the effect of mechanization. The majority of the companies propose to instal more highlymechanized units for the production of coal. The immediate centre of interest, as far as mechanization is concerned, is the Lambton B Colliery, owned by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, in. the northern district of NewSou th Wales. According to the company’s figures, the machines to be installed by it will increase the production of each man from an average of from four to five tons, to an average of 40 tons a day. It should be quite obvious to anyone who possesses an elementary knowledge of arithmetic that with an average production by each employee of twenty tons a day, 2,000 employees working 250 days annually could produce the total Commonwealth requirements of 10,000,000 tons. Five or six mines, not necessarily those which are now working, if organized in this way, could meet all requirements, and the remainder could be permanently closed. The machines which the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited proposes to install in Lamb-
J/r. James. ton B Colliery are not the most productive. Representatives of the mine-owners association have visited the United States of America for the purchase of new. machinery of a later type. The mahan of the 44d coal-loader have placed on the market another machine which not only cuts but also bores and loads the coal. The Whaley Automat coal-loader has a loading capacity of 360 tons an hour, compared with the 360 tons a day guaranteed for the 44d machine. This output is equivalent to that of 60 employees. But with the machine, not more than seven or eight operators will be needed to work it. Another machine tested at Wigan, England, it is authoritatively reported, enables six men to produce the quantity previously handled by 100 men. The executive of the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees Federation is also in receipt of information from Scotland, to the effect that a machine which is now in operation in that country cuts, shears, and breaks down the coal without explosives, and loads it with only a small crew of operatives. The world is faced with the prospect of the addition of an army of 100,000 persons to the ranks of the unemployed, numbering 10.000,000 throughout the world, for whom the social order can make no provision. All that is necessary to promote human happiness and comfort is produced in excess of requirements, but instead of being distributed among those who are in need of it, a large quantity is destroyed. Mechanization and rationalization will speed up the production of the individual worker to from five to ten times his present output, although the total coal requirements of the Commonwealth are less than a quarter of the present productive capacity pf the industry. The adoption of a 40-hour week in the coal-mining industry, in which a 46-hour week is now worked, would enable an additional fifteen men to be absorbed for every 100 men who are now employed for 46 hours a week. I am amazed at the unwillingness of the’ Government to be guided by reason in this matter. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has seen for himself the conditions in the coal-mining districts. A great deal is said by Government supporters regarding the increase of employment in the manufacturing industries, but they make no mention of the coal industry, the position of which is worse now than it has ever been previously. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) would not attach his signature to a report in favour of the adoption of the 40-hour principle unless he believed in it. One of the principal excuses of the Government is that it is confronted with constitutional difficulties. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has disposed of that by quoting the opinions of legal luminaries in Australia and overseas. That the Commonwealth Parliament has the right to ratify international conventions without consulting the States cannot be denied. The legal position is set out very clearly in an article which appeared in the Sydney Sun of the 18th February last. From it I make the following quotation: -
The power and obligation of the Federal Government as to ratification of labour conventions of the International Labour Office would appear, on examination, to be wellfounded and should be now exercised.
The most comprehensive discussion of this question is that by Mr. A. B. Staricoff, LL.B., B.CL., Vinerian Law Scholar in the University of Oxford. Mr. Staricoff’s views are set out in the opening article in the November issue of the International Labour Review, an official organ of the International Labour Office. This article examines fully every legal contention for and against the constitutional right of the Federal Parliament to ratify labour conventions, the conclusion being: -
In view of these considerations, it is submitted that the Commonwealth has now full constitutional power under S.51, P.I. 29 (Ext. Affairs) to give effect to International Labour Conventions.
That opinion is supported by Sir Robert Garran and Mr. . Justice Evatt. The article went on to say -
The Commonwealth authority to legislate directly is therefore seen to be paramount and not conditional on concurrence of the States.
The Prime Minister has said that it is a matter of the States concurring. Were the States asked to concur when this Parliament considered that it was in duty bound to support the imposition of sanctions? The Commonwealth exercised that power without reference to the States. Therefore, the Commonwealth Parliament, has no optional course, consistent with the honorable recognition of its obligations under the Peace Treaty of Versailles, but to ratify the 40-hour convention of the International Labour Office. Australia was a signatory to that Peace Treaty, which ended the World War. Part 13 of it, entitled “Labour”, is just as binding as the rest of the treaty. The vital articles of it make provision for international conventions, the machinery for which is the International Labour Office. This body has made its recommendation in a manner similar to that adopted by the Council of the League of Nations in connexion with sanctions.
In its issue of the 28th April last, the Melbourne Herald, which is a conservative newspaper and generally directs the policy of the United Australia party, defined its attitude very clearly in regard to the 40-hour week, as follows: -
The court has power to adjust hours according to the circumstances of different trades, and is guided by existing standards. It cannot “ rush into the adoption of a principle “ any more than the Government can. Indeed, responsibility for a change as far-reaching as the restriction of all working hours to 40 or less, cannot be shifted to any tribunal. Law-making is a function, notof the courts, but of Parliament.
The Commonwealth has restored the futile royal commission system in its most extravagant form. Over £90,000 has been spent in the last three and a half years, in addition to hundreds of thousands before that. Cartloads of the reports of able, conscientious men have had little or no influence, nor, under our party system, was it likely that they could have. The Cabinet has to make up its mind whether a proposed reform be ready for serious attention. If it need economic, statistical or other information, or if it want the guidance of experience elsewhere, it can apply directly to officials, economists or administrators who are either able to supply it or to compile it with reasonable promptitude.
It is definitely of the opinion that the Government should not shift its responsibility on to the shoulders of any commission. My opinion is that the Government is doing so for the purpose of delaying or sabotaging the introduction of this social reform; that it has no intention to ratify an agreement which would be of some benefit to the working class of Australia. At the same time, however, in a matter involving the lives and blood of the working men of Australia, it would not hesitate to. conscript them for another blood bath overseas, and would not pause to seek the opinion of any body of inquiry.
– Tlie Government was certainly deserving of the censure that was moved by the Leader of the Opposition, but the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Hindmarsh will, undoubtedly, afford to those honorable members of the United Australia party who, in season and out of season, have advocated a 40-hour week, an opportunity to show clearly where they stand on the matter.
.- I desire to preface my remarks upon this subject by reading to the House the following letter received from the chairman of the County Council of Sydney: -
The County Council propose to have constructed a number of coal trucks which will further reduce handling charges, and the following statement sets out what will be the result.
At present coal is delivered to Bunnerong in the usual S and D type waggons, the sides nf which drop, and then the coal is shovelled nut by men. It takes sixteen men working eight hours to unload 1,152 tons of coal. In the proposed waggons provision will be made to unload by mechanical means, such as tipping the waggons, or by providing selfemptying hoppers in which case two nien could empty the same quantity of coal (1,152 tons) in the same time (eight hours).
When the question is asked : “ What is to become of those fourteen men who will be displaced from their occupation?” we can arrive at only one conclusion-as in all other activities where mechanization of industry is affecting employment, there must be some adjustment.
I do not propose to traverse the contentions of many of the preceding speakers, because this House is not so much concerned with the principle of a 40-hour week - the Government having affirmed it - as it is with the application of that principle. In the critical stage which Australia has reached to-day, we have a very attractive and seductive young lady in the form of “Miss Forty Hours”, and that all of the party managers are endeavouring to induce this beau tH ul creature to wed their own political party. In making these advances, however, I consider that they are stepping out in the wrong direction. Despite the fact that already many Australian industries have adopted the 40-hour principle, it is impossible to inaugurate successfully a 4.0-hour working week with our present multiplicity of industrial arbitra tion tribunals. Australia has always been in the forefront of social and political reform, though in recent years we have lagged behind some of the foremost nations in the implementing of many of them. In regard to the International Labour Conference at Geneva, the attitude of the Commonwealth Government is not in doubt; it sent the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) to that assembly with instructions to support the principle of a 40-hour working week. Along with other honorable members, I have read the speech which the honorable member delivered, and I do not suppose that any man could have more strongly supported or more effectively argued in favour. of the principle of a 40-hour week. It was adopted by the conference, although some of the delegates opposed it on the ground that it was impracticable unless all countries would agree to introduce it, and that it was hopeless to expect a unanimous decision. It was also contended that, even if the nations did agree to introduce the shorter working week, it would be difficult to apply it, because of the different standards and the disparity of conditions in cheap labour and dear labour countries. Irrespective of what other nations may or may not do, I consider that Australia must sooner or later inaugurate a 40-hour week. It will be a matter of evolution, in the same manner as we started out upon social and industrial reforms in days gone by, without awaiting the lead of other nations. Showing the trend of thought that exists in the ranks of the United Australia party to-day, its conference which was recently held in Sydney, unanimously adopted this principle. Delegates to that conference came from all parts of New .South Wales, so that the opinion expressed on this matter can be accepted as the view of the United Australia party to-day.
I submit to the House that the first thing necessary before we can hope for any reform in this direction, is to set our own arbitration house in order. We speak of. other countries being divided, but on this question we ourselves are similarly divided. For instance, in New South Wales, some industries are controlled by Federal laws and some by State laws. Different awards, governing hours of labour, have been made; in Victoria a different set of State laws is in operation. Each State has its own ideas, which are often varied, according to the nature of each particular industry. I am not concerned so much with the conditions in other countries as with those obtaining in Australia. Surely, as far as our own country is concerned, the time has arrived when we should reach an understanding upon the subject of industrial arbitration laws. Between State and State we should be able to arrive at some common rule. The introduction of the 40-hour working week in Australia can be achieved successfully only through the gateway of one industrial arbitration system. I put it to the States that if they are anxious and willing to inaugurate a 40-hour week this is the only way in which it may be done. I hope to have the privilege of giving the House an opportunity to take a vote on this very important matter: I believe that it is the only possible and efficient solution of this great -social and industrial problem.
In my opinion, motions of censure generally are regarded by the public as being part and parcel of the political system. The people are educated to believe that a motion of censure is apparently moved for the purpose of offering some embarrassment to the Ministry. I feel that the present Government is sincere in its endeavours to have all the facts examined before embarking upon this great problem. But I submit that reform is only along the road of a universal industrial arbitration system. If it be necessary, the people of Australia should be given an opportunity to vote upon this matter in order to express their opinions. I ask the Government to take action in conjunction with the States, with a view to initiating in Australia one general industrial arbitration system.
.- -We have before us a proposal by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) and an amendment by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). The latter proposes that the Government adopt the convention of the International Labour Conference in regard to the introduction of a 40-hour week, and ascertain the best method of implementing it, while the former pro poses that the Government shall make inquiries in reference to the practicability of such an alteration of our social system, on which so much of the national economic fabric depends. Honorable members appreciate the outline of the constitutional position given this afternoon by the Treasurer (Mr, Casey). He made it very clear where we stand. He explained that it was recognized that Australia had no real obligation to implement the decision of the Conference at Geneva by inaugurating the 40-hour week; that decision it was admitted was merely a recommendation to Australia. In those circumstances it is futile for any honorable member to suggest that Australia has repudiated any obligation to the International Labour Conference. Up to the present, the outlook has been superficial. I believe that the introduction of the 40-hour week will come, and at mo great distant date, but, before it is generally adopted throughout Australia, two essentials must be carefully inquired into, and precautions must be taken to prevent injustice - first, the export industries of the Commonwealth must not be sacrificed to unequal competition from other countries in which longer hours operate; and secondly, the gap between them and the secondary industries should not be unduly widened. Persons engaged in the sheltered secondary industries must not be given increased advantages from the new order by penalizing further the export industries. The Treasurer wisely stated that the Government was determined not to jump off the deep end. To inaugurate the 40-hour working week without a comprehensive preliminary investigation would be most unwise, for the Government would almost certainly find itself in deep water and difficulties. For that reason I support the motion for the investigation. For the last five years Australia has been struggling through the effects of a depression. We have made considerable progress - more than has been made in many other countries - in recovering from the slump, and it will be admitted by all parties that the position of the secondary industries and of the workers is much in advance of those dark days of 1930. The employment figures prove it. I am gratified that the primary industries also show some improvement, and though, members of the Opposition invariably cite the monetary system, and the mechanization of industry as drawbacks, it should be noted that since 1932 we have made wonderful progress in spite of both. Having found the right road upon which to travel - a road which has already enabled us to, make much progress in the direction of recovery, reducing unemployment from 30.7 to 13 per cent. - it is prudent for the Government to be cautious of unproved “ quick cures “ and keep to that road. It is not time for experiments which may turn out disastrously. In order to estimate the effect of the introduction of a 40-hour working week, we must realize that the value of production is divided between the three factors in industry - labour, management, and interest. At present we have in Australia approximately 200,000 civil servants, 450,000 employees in secondary industries, and 50,000 other employees in sheltered occupations, such as those employed by shire councils, &c. This makes a total of 700,000 persons who would benefit by a reduction of the number of working hours. We have been told that these employees now work on an average 45 hours a week, so that a reduction of the number of working hours to 40 would represent a reduction of 11 per cent. We may be charitable, and say that it probably would not be necessary to increase the number of employees by 11 per cent, in order to make up for the reduced number of working hours, because it is a fact that, towards the end of the day, a weary worker is not capable of his highest output, and persons working fewer hours would give relatively a slightly higher output. Therefore, probably 10 per cent, more persons would have to be employed in order to compensate for the shortening of the working week. Thus, instead of there being 700,000 employees in sheltered services and industries, it would bc necessary to have 770,000. With their average wage just under £4 a week, or £200 a year, the extra cost for the same production and services would be £14,000,000 a year. As a set-off, we might strike off an amount of £2,000,000 at present distributed yearly by the governments of Australia in doles to assist those out of work, leaving an additional claim by this section of £12,000,000 on the wages fund. The aggregate number of hours worked by the 770,000 employees would be the same, and the national wage fund would not be increased by so much as a penny. If an extra £12,000,000 is taken out of the national wages fund, for the benefit of those in sheltered industries and services, there must be £12,000,000 less in the fund for producers of export products and those employed in the unsheltered industries. Thus, if the 40-hour working week were introduced immediately, it would have the effect of widening the gap between secondary and rural industries by £24,000,000. The one would, be reduced by £12,000,000 a year, and the other would be increased by a similar amount. The Government has been trying to restore a balance and close that gap by reducing the customs tariff on farm requisites, railage, sales tax, and primage duty; by granting bounties; and by taking steps to bring down the rate of interest. Yet here is a proposal which, if adopted without inquiry, will have the effect of undoing the good work which the Government has achieved during the last five or six years. Precipitous action is dangerous, and again I say, when we are on the right road, let us stick to it. We may penalize Australia by trying to rush ahead.
I believe that a 40-hour working week will come. The mechanization of industry has already reduced enormously the cost of commodities, and enabled millions of people to enjoy luxuries and comforts which were far beyond their reach 40 years ago. Hands are displaced, but they are gradually absorbed back in new avenues of industy, as the last three years have shown. Eventually, it will have the effect of enabling the number of working hours to be reduced, but we must be careful that no wrong is done to the exporting industries, including mining, which must dispose of their products on the open competition markets of the world.
– Does the honorable member think that, if the working week were shortened, production would go up in accordance with the increased wages cost?
– No. In fact, because the wages cost of the commodities produced would be greater, their price would have to be increased, and the standard of living would really be reduced. [Quorum formed.]
It is estimated that the wages paid in secondary industries represent approximately 50 per cent, of the value added to manufactured goods after deducting the cost of the raw material. I have shown that the reduction of the number of working hours would increase the wages bill for the same amount of work by 10 per cent., so that the added cost of the commodities produced under the new scheme would be half of 10 per cent., or a general increase of 5 per cent. A similar increase in costs would result on all services to which the reduced hours applied. The rise in the price of farm machinery is the latest illustration of how even a small increase in costs is “ passed on “.
Reference has been made to some companies which have been in a position to pay very good dividends, and it was stated that the workers in those industries, and the consumers of their commodities, should enjoy a greater share of the profits. I admit that, but if we examine the lists on the Stock Exchange, we find that there are very few companies which pay 10 or 12 per cent.; there are many which pay smaller dividends^ while there are plenty which pay none. Many, after a period of unsuccessful effort, go into liquidation, so that the money which was subscribed for the undertaking is lost. In the circumstances, it is hardly fair to cite as examples companies which, by virtue of high protection or monopoly conditions, have been able to make large profits. .
Reference has also been made to the fact that many municipal and shire councils in New South Wales have already adopted the 40-hour working week. That is all very well for the councils and their employees. Many can be generous with money provided by someone else, but is it quite fair to the ratepayers who have to find the revenue, and who themselves, for the most part, work many more than 40 hours a week? I admit that the 40-hour week proposal provides a good electioneering cry, particularly in industrial electorates, but let us remember that “ he who goes slowly goes safely”. We have Arbitration Courts with power to deal with industrial matters, and in some cases the Arbitration Courts have already fixed a 40-hour working week. The Government is justified in proceeding with caution. It must “look before it leaps “ on a measure of such farreaching importance.
Moreover, we must remember that Australia is not a self-contained economic community. Were it so it would make little difference whether we were on a 40-hour week or a 30-hour week. If all were exchanging their products with their neighbours, who also were working the same number of hours, the scheme would be quite just, even though there would be less to divide. The trouble is, however, that while the secondary industries supply only the home market, the primary industries must dispose of their products on overseas markets in competition with the goods of other countries. Our iron and steel industry is commencing to export its products and to increase employment. Such exports must not only pay for our imports, but must also provide an additional £26,000,000 a year for overseas interest payments. No member of the Opposition has put forward one suggestion for overcoming the anomalous position that would be created as between the secondary and primary industries, and as between the export industries of this country, and their competitors overseas, if an Australian 40-hour working week were introduced. The Government is, therefore, wise in deferring action until it has had an opportunity to examine more carefully the various effects of such a proposal, otherwise we should again have a big stream of people rushing from the country to the city, seeking to share the advantages of the unbalanced conditions.
– As honorable members are aware I have had considerable experience in tropical Australia, and, as one who has practised the 36-hour week, and only on rare occasions the 40-hour week, in physical and technical work, it may seem somewhat incongruous that I should rise to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). I should, however, explain that, in tropical Australia I had team work, and whilst this arrangement was the best that could be devised, the conditions were grim, and I had no drones. Perhaps I may be permitted to liken my method to a device of economic democracy - one which I suspect the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) has been practising in a much larger way - a form of collective bargaining that exerts on the employer a healthy pressure to pay the highest wages for the shortest hours which industry can afford. But experience teaches us that these devices do not always work smoothly. Not infrequently they occasion dissension and disputes between the employer and the employed.
At the outset of my remarks I mentioned the tropics - the roof of Australia. I did so because this country is so vast and its climate so diverse that it is not reasonable to expect any sane body of men to entertain the idea of a rigid fixation of working hours for physical or mental labour in all Australian industries and climates. Speaking broadly, the farther north one goes the less the hours of work in industry should be. We worked in less fatigue in a cold climate. I may be pardoned if I say that I speak with authority on this phase of our industrial life, because I have been engaged in hard physical and precise technical work in the tropics and the south.
I had not intended to take part in this debate and would not have done so but for the fact that the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) touched on two interesting and important points, and that this discussion gives us an opportunity to endeavour to localize our problem, instead of giving rein to the movement for unification, much as I approve of administration by central authority in respect of many matters.
But before dealing specifically with the points raised by the honorable members mentioned I am reminded that we have been discussing the state of our social and economic mechanism with all its attendant inequalities, and I affirm that our immediate concern is to lessen the grosser inequalities of economic rewards which constitute one of its outstanding characteristics. The social conscience revolts against conditions making possible the over-enrichment of certain sections of the community, whilst others suffer the extremes of poverty. A brief historical survey discloses that as a democracy we gained a legal and political equality through the centuries, but under our existing system, there have arisen grave political and social inequalities which tend to reduce this basic equality to a sham. Our immediate duty, as I see it, is to leaven the grosser inequalities. This Government, I am convinced, has earnestly consulted our Labour organizations, the medium which we have created to checkmate plutocracy, as to their attitude to the hours of work in industry, and the result of its overtures is known to honorable members. I do not intend to discuss all the “ sound and fury, signifying nothing” which has been heard in this chamber yesterday and to-day. There has been much ejaculation and showmanship, and, at times, a delightful naivete, in the approach to this intricate problem. But I do commend the honorable member for East Sydney and also the honorable member for Echuca for their enlightening addresses. I am in accord with the honorable member for East Sydney in his reference to speeding up machines. I agree that, with efficient machinery in operation, there is little need for a lengthy inquiry before instituting the 40- hour week in industries which are highly mechanized and impose a continuous strain upon the workers. But to say that all industries, many of which are being carried on in the more temperate climates of Australia, are to be included in the same category is not sound reasoning. That policy must react against our ability to compete in the home market as well as overseas, with countries whose people have to be content with a lower standard of living than that enjoyed by industrial workers in Australia.
I turn now to consider the position of our primary producers - that section of the Australian community who have a lower standard of living forced upon them by economic pressure and otherfactors. They have been instrumental in making possible a higher living standard! for all other sections of the people in this country, but have received little, and in many cases, no reward for their indomitable courage and individualism. The honorable member for Echuca very pertinently asked why our primary producers’ rewards should be so unsatisfactory. The answer, in my judgment, lies in the fact that capital has never been seriously invested in agriculture. It should not be necessary for me to trace the history of capital in industry, but it may not be amiss if I state that, first, there was the family group, followed by the joint stock companies, and then came the third and present phase - the utilization of capital in widespread combinations. The chaos attendant on the third phase now confronts us and we should concentrate on “ First things first “. But I repeat that capital has never seriously entered the field of agriculture. It has existed more in a form of parasitism on the individualism of primary producers. By this I mean that it matters not what form our calculations may take - whether we enter the realm of higher mathematics, whether we touch on the binominal theorem or the theory of relativity - we cannot get away from the fact that the primary producer, the man who takes all the risks, is without adequate protection and therefore has to be content with inadequate rewards for his labour and capital outlay.
I say, therefore, that the 40-hour week must go hand in hand with the mechanization of industry. The problem that confronts us is a call to our nationhood. Its solution, in my judgment, lies in the unification of the outlook of primary producer and industrial worker. I am afraid that many honorable members know little about economic geography, and perhaps they will be surprised when I say that if industries are to multiply and survive, they must be induced to go 80 miles inland to the Dividing Range belt where are the very centres of our choice agricultural areas, and there develop hand in hand with agriculture. There is no other way to intensify the development of the interior and increase the population. “We must replan our industrial organization. This can be done only by a central authority - a “ National Planning Authority “ as in
England - which will make an economic survey of industry by industry, and by judicious administration eliminate the antagonism which all too frequently is evidenced between employer and employee. Unless this problem is tackled along the lines which I have suggested, we shall not deserve to retain as our inheritance this land of sunshine and vast potential wealth waiting to be intensively developed.
.- I listened attentively to the speeches of honorable members who preceded me, and I am in thorough agreement with those who contend that the introduction of the 40-hour week in industries that are under efficient management will mean greater profits for those who control them, and, what is more important, will make for industrial peace. Unfortunately, many thousands of Australian citizens, who, until recent years, were in remunerative employment, are now faced with the pro.pect of never again being employed unless steps are taken promptly to reorganize the industrial structure of the Commonwealth. I will not go so far as to claim that the adoption of a 40-hour week in industry will solve our unemployment problem. That is impossible under the existing capitalist system. All that we are seeking, at the moment, is to relieve, as far as possible, the distress of those who are unemployed. There are tens of thousands of youths in this country walking the streets of our cities in a vain search for employers. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) told us that he knew of avenues in the engineering industry for the employment of young Australians. If the honorable gentleman is in possession of that information it is his duty to communicate at once with the various employment agencies in order that industries which, he says, are languishing for boy labour, may provide our lads with work. I know of a large number of boys in Hobart who would be only too glad of the opportunity to get into employment. If we reduce the hours of labour and industry to 40, it will be possible to re-employ 32-J per cent, of those who, at present, are out of work. This problem was thoroughly investigated by the representatives of the various nations at Geneva, and the governments of several countries have given definite instructions for the abolition of overtime, and a reduction of the weeklyhours of labour to 40 without any reduction of wages. The economic aspect of the problem of hours of labour has never been tackled in an effort to see what the industries of this country could really produce if they were brought into full productivity. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) in his consideration of this important question, did not take into account the plan for reemployment of the workless which must necessarily form part of any satisfactory scheme for the adoption of a 40-hour week, nor did he consider the added value to Australia of the wealth produced by every additional person placed in employment as the result of it. The honorable member spoke a3 if we merely paid wages to men digging holes and filling them up again. It must be obvious to the honorable gentleman that if the shorter working week is adopted many more men will be absorbed into profitable production and the purchasing power of the community will be increased. If industry could be fully employed by working four shifts of six hours each, more wealth would be produced in any one year than has ever been produced in any one year in the past even under boom conditions. To-day, under present working conditions, so much surplus is produced in three months that manufacturers close down their factories for four or five months until it has been absorbed. But if all the unemployed were placed in profitable employment under decent conditions and paid a living wage, the purchasing power of the community generally would be sufficiently increased to absorb the whole of our production. I listened with amazement to the arguments advanced by honorable members opposite who jibbed at the idea of a further reduction of the hours of labour. At the International Labour Conference, at GeneVa, it was laid down that in respect of processes carried on continuously a six-hour day of four shifts should be worked, and that for processes of a non-continuous nature two shifts should be worked under reduced hours with three shifts when production increased sufficiently to warrant it. It must be’ apparent to honorable members that if ;an additional shift is engaged production will be increased, costs will be lowered, and a larger surplus of commodities’ will be available to be placed on the world’s markets in competition with the products of other countries. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) made a striking admission in the House this afternoon when he said that some’ of the farmers of Australia are inefficient find that only by the granting of government subsidies amounting to millions of pounds are inefficient farmers kept on the land.
– That is not what the honorable member said.
– It is my interpretation of what he said. There can be no gainsaying the fact that we are paying millions of pounds to inefficient farmers to keep them in unprofitable production. I consider that the products of our secondary industries are as useful and essential to the people as are primary products ; and primary producers are not the only people in Australia who produce wealth. Our secondary industries convert and change commodities, and in the process of conversion give them added value, thus adding to the nation’s wealth. If industries which are now working only one shift a day were to accept the principle of the shorter working week making production continuous by working two, three, or four shifts, for five days a week, it would be possible for Australian industries so to .increase their production that the people who are starving and in want to-day would have all they need. In Australia to-day we have the spectacle of governments keeping thousands ‘ of persons on the dole by imposing a wage tax of from 4d. to ls. in the £1 on the workers. Thus, the purchasing power of the workers is considerably reduced. These sacrifices are demanded in order that governments may continue to keep an army of men idle. Such a policy must inevitably react against the governments responsible for it. The workers are in bondage to a system which keeps a great many of them on the dole. Yet this is the policy subscribed to’ by the present Government which claims to have at heart the welfare of the workers. It represents interests which to-day are making millions of pounds out of child and women-labour. While menfolk are kept on the streets on the dole, women and children are employed in factories producing the wealth of this country. But the position will not be improved merely by sacking female workers and forcing them into marriage. The remedy lies in other directions. It is said that the adoption of the shorter working week will change the whole position of international trade. At the last International Labour Conference no data were brought forward to show the effect of the reduction of hours of labour on international trade. I cannot understand the attitude of some honorable members who say that Australia must wait until the other countries of the world adopt the shorter working week. We should have to wait for thousands of years for backward countries like Japan and China, whose working period is seventeen hours a day, to reach our standard ; yet honorable members say on the one hand that we should wait until other countries come into line before we make the change, and on the other hand that the 40-hour week will come shortly.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) said that Japan had adopted the 40-hour week.
– It is common knowledge that neither Japan nor Germany has adopted the 40-hour week. If those countries had done so, there would have been no opposition by honorable members opposite to the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia. If the purchasing power of the teeming millions in other parts of the world could be increased by £ 1 a week, they would be able to consume the whole of the production of the Australian farming community. As long as the workers of the world are kept on starvation wages, there will always be over-production. Australian workers arenot loafers ; they are the best workers in the world, and yet some of them are forced to labour under worse conditions than those operating in some of the European countries to-day. There can beno denying the fact that we are merely tinkering with the question of unemployment, which is one of the greatest problems confronting the world to-day. I cannot understand the attitude of Government supporters when they say that there is no immediate hurry to adopt the principle of the shorter working week. Only a little while ago persons of the political conviction of honorable members opposite were opposing the adoption of a 48-hour week. Yet, under the 48- hour week, production of goods in Australia was greater than ever before. With the introduction of modern machinery and an increase of the number of workers employed, we shall continue to produce more and more wealth.
– Is that how the Victorian manufacturers were able so successfully to compete against the New South Wales manufacturers in Sydney?
– Any reduction of hours must be adopted on an Australiawide basis, so that there may be no unfair . competition between the States. Only in that way can the present unemployment difficulties be successfully tackled.
The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) in his speech last night, said that the Constitution does not prevent the Commonwealth Parliament from giving effect to the principle of the 40-hour week. It is the duty of the Government to put into operation its preelection policy of instituting the shorter working week in Australian industries. But is it to be expected that a government dominated by the farmers’ party and financed by big institutions will honour its election promises ? To-day the Country party holds the balance of power and boasts that it is able to get out of the Government everything it needs for its supporters in the way of bounties and subsidies to keep inefficient farmers on the land.
– The members of the Country party have made no such boast.
– The introduction of machinery has revolutionized farming, and the day of the small and inefficient farmer is done. No government can afford to keep inefficient farmers on the land; small farms must be replaced by big farms on which will be produced all that is necessary. This Parliament has only recently provided, out of the public purse, no less than £12,000,000 for the assistance of inefficient farmers. Yet, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) ha3 said, “Look what it will cost if we give the workers a 40-hour week “ ! Honorable members opposite have already contented themselves by mouthing the phrases used by the British Government’s representative at the International Labour Conference, when he said that that Government could not adopt a compulsory limitation of hours, and that it had not sufficiently examined the matter to warrant a definite conclusion being reached. It is well known that the British Government is definitely against the introduction of a 40-hour week. That Government is the bulwark of capitalism and the protector of sweaters of women and children. In fact, the living conditions of the workers in England are as bad as those of any other country in the world. Quite recently we have read, that His Majesty King Edward visited the slum areas, and was so impressed by what he saw that he said they must go. Are we to take our instructions from England, or shall we stand up to our responsibilities as a national Parliament ? Those “meat-pie philanthropists,” who profess to be working for the emancipation of the worker, are interested only in the votes of the workers in their own electorates. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), who, with a fanfare of -trumpets, left for Geneva in order to advocate a 40-hour week, submitted a report favouring its adoption, with the result that he was relieved of his position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment. The only person who benefited by his trip was the honorable member him-, self; he got a knighthood, and the unemployed of Parramatta got a pie. I am confident that, when the vote on this motion is taken, those honorable members opposite who boast of their interest in the unemployed will not be found supporting a 40-hour week. It is interesting to hear the Government criticized by its supporters who are in danger of losing their seats. If I believed in a 40-hour week, and desired to improve the conditions of the workers, I should not sit for five minutes behind the present Government, but would associate myself with those who are really desirous of bringing about a working week of 40 hours.
– ‘Order! The honorable member is not entitled to criticize other honorable members as he is doing.
– Am I not entitled to criticize the action of the man who went overseas to advocate a 40-hour week?
– Does the honorable member criticize him for instituting a 40-hour week in his own industry ?
-No; but he will not support the adoption of a 40-hour week throughout Australia, because he has been told by the Employers Federation that, if he does so, he will not be endorsed at the next election.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the subject before the Chair.
– All that we on this side ask is that honorable members opposite will ratify the instructions given by the Government to Australia’s delegate to Geneva. I do not know whether he remained at Geneva long enough to register his vote in favour of a 40- hour week, or left the conference in order to attend a function in London. If he left Geneva before the vote was taken, he was a poor representative, and it is no wonder that, when the pressure was applied, he said that he would stick by the Government, although it would not allow him to retain the position of Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment.
I appeal to the Government on behalf of the youths of Australia, who were promised that avenues of employment would be found for them. That promise will not be fulfiled until there is a reduction of the working hours each week, thereby enabling these lads to take their place in industry, and, in time, fulfil the duties of citizenship. If they have to wait for men to die, or retire, before they can obtain employment, their outlook is depressing indeed. The State governments are unable to cope with this problem, because they have not sufficient resources at their disposal to enable them to do so. Not being in control of industry,, they are helpless. It is a poor argument to say, as the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) did, that the motion, if agreed to, would take from the States the right to determine the hours of labour within their boundaries. That is a paltry excuse to be offered by a. Government which, during the last election, proclaimed that, if placed in power, it would emancipate the unemployed of this country. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) said that the present Government is responsible for the satisfactory prices received for wool. That is not so. The higher price of wool during recent months has been due to the demand for wool by those nations which desire either to clothe their people better, or prepare for another war. I hope that honorable members opposite who have spoken will prove their bona fides, and fulfil their promise to the electors. All we ask is ratification of the convention providing for a 40-hour week, when it will be possible to set in motion the machinery to bring about a 40-hour week in industry throughout Australia, thereby creating greater purchasing power for our people, and enabling our primary products, which are now rotting for w,ant of buyers, to be sold. To-night, some honorable members will have to declare where they stand. I trust that they will decide aright.
– ‘When this motion was before the House yesterday, Ministers and Government supporters were at great pains to show that, not only were they wholeheartedly in favour of a 40-hour week as a principle, but also that they were doing their best to promote its general adoption throughout Australia. So strongly did they favour a shorter working week’ that they had actually asked the State governments about it, and had proposed an inquiry with a view, they said, to making a 40-hour week a reality. To-day, when the Government is no longer in danger, but must ratify the convention if it would prove its sincerity in advocating a shorter working week, nearly every speech by honorable members opposite, with the exception of the honorable member for Watson (Mr.
Jennings), has been directed to pointing out the danger associated with the adoption of a 40-hour week in Australia. Arguments have been advanced to show that, in some countries, it is doubtful whether unemployment would- be lessened if the working hours were reduced. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) argued that the cost of production would be increased, and serious economic consequences would follow the adoption of a shorter working week. Yesterday, the Government favored a 40-hour week, and said it was doing its best to bring it about; to-day, it says that it is greatly concerned about the wisdom of instituting a 40-hour week, and desires that an investigation be undertaken, with a view to ascertaining whether or not the hours of labour could, with advantage, be reduced.
The proposal to reduce the hours of labour has behind it a great deal more than a mere desire to escape work or to do less work. It envisages the bringing about of conditions which would enable the worker to enjoy some of the benefits of the mechanization of industry. This mechanization is not only in process of introduction ; it has already developed so rapidly that the community views the future with apprehension. The application of scientific methods to production is causing misery and dread to the people engaged in industry, whereas under a proper system it should be bringing them happiness and security. Unless steps are taken to reduce the hours of employment in keeping with the increased ratio of production the feeling of insecurity and apprehension in the minds of the people will continue to grow. What happens when machines replace human labour is the concern of every one, and the time has arrived when it is essential that the representatives of the people in this Parliament should face up to the problem, and deal with it in a statesmanlike way. The mere sending of a government delegate to an international labour conference, and the carrying of pious resolutions in favour of a reduced working week without a reduction of the standard of living can make no contribution to the solution of our problems unless action follows. The inaction of the Common.wealth Government, after sending its delegate overseas with instructions to support a 40-hour week convention has disappointed, not only the workers, but also others who do not have to work but desire that the problem shall be tackled with courage. Little good can be derived from the favouring of a principle unless action is taken to put it into practice. The Government, so far, has done nothing more than suggest the appointment of an unwieldly and a lopsided committee to inquire into the subject. The decision of a body such as has been proposed could, the workers believe, easily be foreshadowed, for most of the delegates represent the views of people whose financial interests would be affected. It is behind such a body that the Government is seeking cover; but such sanctuary is not likely to protect the Ministers from the wrath of the people. The facts that the International Labour Conference declared for a 40-hour working week, and that this Government instructed its delegate to vote in favour of that proposition have placed a responsibility upon the Government to implement the decision without delay. Action should have been taken before now to enable Parliament to ratify the convention, and devise ways and means of applying it to industry. But so far - and I emphasize this point - the Government has done nothing whatever to give effect to the convention. Its attitude suggests that it wishes to delay action indefinitely. In support of this contention I direct attention to the position of Commonwealth railway employees in comparison with the employees in State railway services throughout Australia. The Commonwealth railway employees are unfavorably situated in regard to their working hours as compared with the employees of the State railways. According to the Commonwealth Year-Boole, No. 28, which is the latest available, there were 93,917 railway employees in Australia, of whom 14,772 were on salary, and 79.145 on wages. The hours worked by the salaried staff may be said to be less than 44 a week. Probably the average would be even less than 40 a week, so that approximately 15,000 of the employees are working less than 40 hours a week. This leaves approximately 79,000 daily-paid workers who work for 44 hours a week or more. Of these, 55,000 are employed on the railway systems of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, the respective figures being 33,96S, 13,854 and 7,154 whose hours are 44 a week. The remainder are employed on the railway systems of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, the respective figures being 17,450, 5,563. and ‘1,156. Approximately 24,000 workers appear, at first sight, to be employed on a 48-hour basis. But from these must be eliminated the artisans and those associated with them. This would probably reduce the number by at least 4,000, leaving not more than 20,000 of the number employed on the State railway services who are on a 44-hour week. That is a very conservative estimate. At page 16S of the Year-Booh, from which I have already quoted, figures will be found showing that at the time the statistics were prepared, about 1,300 persons were employed on Commonwealth railways, of whom 171 were salaried officers working for 44 hours a week or less. At least another 200 of the employees would be artisans or their assistants who would be working 44 hours a week. This leaves about 900 employees on a 48-hour week basis. As business has improved somewhat, these numbers would now be somewhat greater, but the proportion would not be altered. From this it will be seen that a considerable number - in fact, the great majority - of the railway employees in Australia work not more than 44 hours a week. In the Commonwealth railways service, however, the great majority of the daily-paid employees work 48 hours a week, while the great majority of the men engaged in the State railway services work 44 hours a week or less. I am glad to say that the Tasmanian Government has decided to apply the 44-hour week to its service as from the 1st July next. The Government of Western Australia applied a 44-hour week to its dailypaid employees years ago by administrative action, thus demonstrating that it sincerely believed in a shorter working week.
The Government of New Zealand has also demonstrated, its sincerity, for in the New Zealand Parliament on the 22nd
April, the Minister for Labour, the Honorable H. T. Armstrong, moved the second reading of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. According to a report in The Press, a Christchurch newspaper, dated the 23rd April, the honorable gentleman said -
Under this bill the Arbitration Court is asked to fix a 40-hour week where it is sought not only for new awards, but also for existing awards, and there is to be no reduction of weekly earnings. We know that the principle cannot be applied in the same way in every industry, and there may be industries where it may be difficult to apply it at all, but in most industries we can apply it.
The more people we can get working five days a week the better it will be for the country. It was the intention of the Government to introduce the principle to as great an extent as possible.
After citing figures respecting factory production in New Zealand, the Minister said -
It seemed clear that an increase in wages cannot possibly increase the course of production by more than 1.8 per cent. according to figures supplied by the Government Statist.
The Government of New Zealand, however, proved its bona fides prior to the bringing in of this bill, for it had approved an agreement between the Public Works Department and the New Zealand Workers Union for a 40-hour week, thus reducing the hours previously in operation by seven hours a week. This agreement was a result of a conference between parties. That action has left no room whatever for doubt as to the Government’s sincerity, and its future intentions respecting shorter hours.
The Labour Government of Queensland acted similarly, and the last Labour Government of New South Wales also applied the principle of the shorter working week to its employees. But when an anti-Labour government came into office in New South Wales in 1933, at the time the State Industrial Court was conducting an inquiry to determine what should be the standard hours for all industries, during which the attitude adopted by the railway and tramway authorities amounted to a request for an extension of working hours from 44 to 48 a week, the Nationalist-Country party Government announced that it would apply the federal awards in all cases. This had the effect of extending working hours from 44 to 48, with the result that at a time when unemployment was almost at its peak, many railway workers were dismissed from their employment. “ The effect of that action must have been known to the Government for one of the principal railway officers, Mr. W. Funnell, who’ appeared to give evidence at the inquiry had stated under crossexamination that an extension of the working hours from 44 to 48 a week would cause the dismissal of more than 1,500 men. The honorable member for Parramatta made reference to it on page 22 of his report to the Government.
Whatever objection may be raised to the ratification of the 40-hour week convention on the ground of constitutional limitations, it must be admitted, surely, that the application of a uniform shorter working week to Australian industries would increase employment. Surely no honorable member would object to the bringing of the working. week of Commonwealth railway employees into conformity with that which applies to an overwhelming number of railwaymen in the service of several States, and also that of New Zealand.
Labour in Australia, and in New Zealand has given practical demonstration of its belief in the need for, and the efficacy of, a shorter working week when it has held the reins of government, while Nationalism, and those associated with it in politics, has demonstrated that it will withhold the benefit of a shorter working week as long as possible. The real attitude of the Commonwealth Government is disclosed by its refusal to apply the principle. With full power to apply the terms of the convention for which its delegate voted at Geneva, it proposes nothing more than what I shall style a mass-meeting, if one may judge by the number of the proposed personnel of the committee. If this Government will not go so far as a 40-hour week for its own daily-paid workers, why not follow the lead of the States which have adopted a 44-hour week? Yet it takes not one definite step in that direction. It gives no indication of its belief in that principle. For approximately 1,000 of the employees in one of its important services, it retains the 48-hour week. It goes further than that. At the very time when Commonwealth employees have filed a plaint to be heard by a tribunal which has adopted a 44- hour standard, this Government proposes, by legislative action, to force them away- from it, although a previous Nationalist government insisted on their being included among the public servants, for whose use the tribunal was created. This Government is not acting sincerely. It is doing its best to prevent even a 44-hour week from being put into operation. We shall have proof of its attitude to the desired reform when its legislation is introduced. I think that I am justified in saying it is not only delaying the reform, but is also preventing the application of the principle to its own employees. Whilst this denial - in fact, obstruction - of the principle of a shorter working week is taking place, this Government has influenced, if not compelled the employer - the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner - to grant concessions to wealthy interests in the form of reduced freights. It looks after the wealthy interests, but screws the workers down.
To-night the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) said that the average number of hours worked in Australia was 454- During the debate the Government has been asked, if it stands for the principle of a 40-hour week, to declare its intention to apply it to industries in which that can be done without difficulty. The Government not only declines that invitation, but it also refuses to insist on the application of 44 hours to its own employees, and by its own action compels them to work three hours more than the average in Australia. As their representative and advocate before the authorities and the tribunal, I know from close association and personal observation the conditions under which the Commonwealth Government railway employees have to work. They are conditions which are not found in any other railway service in Australia. Yet those conditions, which for years had been recognized, have been taken away from them and they are now to be prevented from obtaining . conditions for which other railwaymen have obtained recognition. It seems to be suggested that the fixation of hours of work should be left to the courts. The workers feel that on matters of this kind courts are influenced in their approach to a decision on applications for shorter hours by the attitude of governments. The workers believe that when courts find that governments, through their instrumentalities, are opposing reduction of hours, they re-act, consciously, or unconsciously, to such views. They argue that if they do not so re-act, they are likely to meet with difficulties such as those which faced the President of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in 1920, which finally made his position so intolerable that he could not continue his able and distinguished work there. His retirement from the court caused a serious loss to the arbitration jurisdiction and to the people of Australia. That man was Mr. Justice Higgins. When giving judgment in the shorter hours application in 1920, Mr. Justice Higgins said -
I confess that before opening this inquiry I had no idea how widely the movement for reduced hours has spread, or the number of undertakings in Great Britain, Canada and the United States in which employees had secured the maximum of 44 hours. In May last I spoke of the 4S-hour week of Australia as long envied by workers in other countries; but there are indications now that Australia will shortly envy rather than be envied, a.nd will lose Tier pride of place as the leader in industrial movements.
Mr. Justice Higgins followed that statement by quotations of pages of instances of industries in .overseas countries in which the hours of employment were already fewer than 48 a. week. It showed the trend of affairs respecting hours of employment fifteen years ago. The fears expressed by that eminent authority at that time have been realized. The matter was extensively dealt with, particularly by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden), as well as by other speakers. Some information was furnished also by honorable members opposite. It was shown that, in regard to the reduction of the hours of labour, Australia is now lagging behind other countries. The reason is that we have not planned to meet the situation. Some employers recognize the need for planning ahead, and making provision for the conditions which have arisen, and will he intensified, by the further development of mechanical aids to production. Some have had the courage to apply it as well as to advocate it. I refer to such men as Lord Leverhulme and Henry Ford. The report submitted by the director at the Seventeenth Session of the International Labour Conference in 1933, stated -
One of tlie latest and most forcible expressions of this view has been given by Sir Harold Bowden, a well-known British manufacturer, whose testimony may be added to those of Mr. Agnelli, Mr. Robert Bosch, Mr. Henry Ford and many others - “We are not yet in sight of the technocratic sixteen-hour working week “, he says, “ but there is never again going to be full-time work for all. ‘ Pensioned leisure ‘ is the problem of the near future, and if we are to plan ahead and not, as hitherto, muddle blindly along, these matters will have to be taken in hand by industry itself, managers and workers in concert. … In my view, it is inevitable that a man’s working life will in future be shortened, that the limits of his industrial activity will become coterminous with the period of his greatest efficiency; that a far greater portion of his life will be spent in the enjoyment of the leisure won for him by the machine. The sooner we recognize that brain-power, using machinery and method, has ousted physical man-power, the sooner we shall work out a means of placing the plenteous wealth that man can produce at the service of humanity.”
That is a declaration by a man who knows something about the problem. No such pronouncements are made by this Government. It is afraid to take action because those who find the money to enable it to fight elections will not permit it.
– That is sheer nonsense.
– Let me again examine the position. Every supporter of this Government has expressed a desire that something should be done in this matter ; yet no effective action has yet been taken. As the unions recognize that a 40-hour working week does not offer a permanent solution of this problem, they do not propose that the working week should remain fixed on that basis for any specified period. They believe that working hours should be progressively reduced as the rate of production increases. They will want not only a shorter day, but also a shorter working life. Employers are realizing the necessity for adapting themselves to the new order of mechanization in industry, which caught them unprepared, and which has since developed so quickly. We are disappointed that this Government is not prepared to meet this new development in industry. It simply dallies with the problems and pretends to sympathize with the workers; it is afraid to institute the necessary reforms, although other countries which are supposed to lag behind us in this respect, have already taken such steps, and are rapidly developing their policies on these lines. It is not necessary to hold an inquiry to discover what the working week should be; all we need to do is to find out how the maximum week fixed by the International Labour Office can be most rapidly and satisfactorily applied to industry as a whole. The honorable member’ for Melbourne Ports pointed out that this, and not what the working hours should be, was to be the subject of inquiry when the matter was first brought forward, and that the Attorney-General had said that such would be the case. I believe that this was originally the intention of the Government, but apparently more conservative and reactionary interests have brought pressure to bear on it. Apparently the Government, under pressure from outside interests has changed its views, and now blames the trade unions because they would not accept the loaded, lopsided body which the Government proposed to appoint to inquire into the matter. I have no doubt that if the Government persists and a body is appointed, its findings will merely express set ideas already held on this problem by the people composing this body. The Leader of the Opposition offered to co-operate in the selection of a competent and impartial body to inquire, but his offer was spurned. In addition to tlie instances already cited of the application of shorter hours without legislative action, and what is being done in New Zealand and what was done in the United States of America in this direction, examples of legislative action are described in the report of the International Labour Office, dated the 6th January, 1936. Dealing with proposed legislation in Czechoslovakia, this report states -
The Social-Democratic party in the Czechoslovak parliament recently introduced a bill for shorter hours, which would amend as follows the Eight-Hour Day Act of the 19th December, 1918. Maximum hours of effective work, in public and private establishments, to be eight in the day and 40 in the week, or six in the (lay and 30 in the week, for persons employed on exceptionally tiring, dangerous or unhealthy operations: an interval of not less than fifteen minutes to bo granted to allemployed persons after four consecutive hours work: a weekly rest of not less than 36 hours to be given, as a, rule on Sundays, in conformity with the WeeklyRest Act, and women to stop work not later than twelve noon on Saturdays. Overtime to be paid as follows: - Double time for work at night and on Sundays and public holidays, time and a half for work on Saturday afternoons, and time and a quarter in other cases: the regulations limiting overtime tobe stricter than in previous legislation ; and work at night (between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.) to be prohibitive save in genuinely exceptional cases. The bill also provides that a reduction in hours may not involve loss of earnings.
France also intends to legislate along similar lines. The report of the International Labour Office, dated the 16th March, 1936, states-
A bill relating to the 40-hour week war. recently introduced in the French Chamber of Deputies bya group of about 50 members.
The preamble to the bill states that the reduction of hours of work to 40 in the week would create new employment involving an increase of one-fifth in the number of fulltime workers, thus putting an end to the technological unemployment. The reduction of hours would not involve any decrease in wages. It would result in an increase in costs of production of about5 per cent., but this would be balanced by the increase in turnover resulting from the rise in the consuming power of hundreds of thousands of persons and also by the reduction of taxes which would result from the decrease in the cost of public assistance.
The40-hour week would be put into effect by means of administrative regulations in the same way as the 48-hour week enforced at present: by occupations, industries, trades, or occupational groups, either for the whole country or for specified areas. The regulation would bo issued on the proposal of the National Labour Board after consultation with the district labour boards concerned.
Permanent exemptions might be allowed for preparatory or supplementary work, and temporary exemptions to cope with a sudden rush of work, a national emergency or actual or threatened accidents.
These are merely examples of what is being done in many other countries by legislative action such as this Parliament could undertake.
I point out that employees of the Commonwealth Government railways, who are covered by awards, are obliged to work ten hours a day without receiving payment for overtime in very unfavorable locations and under unfavorable climatic conditions. Every effort made by them through the Arbitration Court to remedy this position has failed, because the court apparently takes into consideration the alleged unfavorable economic position of the Commonwealth railways. As I had pointed out previously, we find th is Government, influencing, if not compelling, its Railways Commissioner to reduce freights in the interests of the wealthy class, and, at the same time, refusing to extend the benefit of the standard working week to his employees.
I shall now deal with several matters raised by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen), in connexion with the inquiry of the Victorian select committee into the shorter working week in that State. One of the findings of that body gives rise to the fears which he and others have expressed respecting the effect of shorter hours on the exporting industries. This committee, which sat for nearly twelve months, was appointed by the Victorian Parliament, and consisted of three representatives from the Labour party, three from the Nationalist party, and one from the Country party. It invited every one interested in this matter to give evidence, but the employers declined this invitation. Only two employers’ representatives, who spoke on behalf of the leather and tanning industry, gave evidence. The appointment of this committee afforded opportunities to the employers to produce data in support of continuing, or increasing, the existing working hours; but, as a whole, they refused to recognize this committee. Nevertheless, the committee’s investigation covered a very wide field. It found that, in Australia, as in Victoria, the percentage of expenditure on wages over the last decade decreased, whilst the percentage of interest and profit increased In 1924-25, the output and added value of factories in Australia were as follows: - Baw materials, power and depreciation, £233,7 07, 2S8 ; salaries and wages, £81,359,021; interest, profit, &c, £65,777,737; percentage of wages paid, 55.3 per cent., and percentage of interest, 44.7 per cent. In 1933-34, the figures for these respective items were as follows :- £201,047,145, £64,464,660, and £64,647,255, and the percentages of wages and interest 49.6 and 50.4 respectively. Thus, we find that, whilst the percentage of wages fell from 55.3 per cent, to 49.6 per cent., interest and profit increased from 44.7 per cent, to 50.4 per cent. These figures, I suggest, are significant of the trend in industry. They are a definite indication of the fact that the share of the workers in the benefits of production is rapidly decreasing, while that of the exploiter is just as rapidly growing. Yet the Government still refuses to give the workers an increased share of this production by creating extra employment through the introduction of a shorter working week in industry. I should like to quote the complete table., and a number of the findings, but time will not permit me to do so. Further figures compiled by this committee show that, in connexion with the Victorian railways, the trend was for capital and interest to increase, and the number of employees to decrease. It is shown in another table at page 5 of the report that, in the ten years mentioned, the number of men employed in the Victorian railways had decreased by more than 7,000. The figures are as follows : -
Examples of that experience are to be found everywhere. I have figures and data from Great Britain, which also prove my contention. I have no time to quote them now, but they show the need for shorter working hours. The Victorian Select Committee stated in its findings -
Your committee are of the opinion that shorter hours is no remedy for unemployment unless the demand for the goods produced can be made more effective; and they are convinced that, if the demand were effective, there would be a need for the services of every willing worker and every machine; and that under such conditions the length of the working week would not be in dispute. The proposal to reduce .hours, while retaining the previous weekly wage, must, therefore, be judged on the same principles as a .proposal to relieve unemployment by increasing wage rates. . . From this and similar evidence, your committee are forced to the admission that it is tlie power of ownership and control of industrial machinery that enables mechanization to be used as a wage-saving device, and that this discriminatory displacement of manual labour in favour of machine power has had disastrous consequences to many thousands of citizens. The continuous mechanization and rationalization of all the processes of production is a social rather than a technological problem.
The honorable member for Echuca said that most of the findings of this committee were arrived at on the casting vote of the chairman. His statement is not correct in respect of several important findings, including that for a shorter working week, for which a number of members from each of the parties voted. Paragraph IS of its report read -
Your committee agree that, . unless there is a world-wide reduction in the hours of labour, Australia’s export trade might suffer through a reduction of working hours; but they feel that any possible loss in this connexion would be offset by an improvement of the home market.
That recommendation, I admit, was carried on the casting vote of the chairman. Mr. McFarlan, the Nationalist member, as well as Labour members of the committee, supported that proposal. Paragraph 19 read -
In conclusion, your committee reports that the establishment of a shorter working week without reduction in pay is a social and economic necessity, and believe that a maximum working week of 40 hours should be established by law in the State of Victoria.
That was carried by four votes to two. I have quoted some of the findings of an impartial body, consisting of members of Parliament, who, after examining the problem from every angle, decided that the adoption of the principle we advocate is a social and economic necessity. Thu report has been ignored by the Common.wealth Government. The members of the committee who supported a 40-hour week were Mr. Keane, Mr. McFarlan, a Nationalist member, Mr. Lamb, a member of the Country party, and Mr. Prendergast, a Labour member. Although representatives of all political parties in that State on the Select Committer, after an extensive investigation, favour a reduction of working hours, members of the United Australia party and of the Country party in this Parliament oppose it, and will not do anything to benefit the workers in this country. It is not my practice to make personal charges against others, but if honorable members opposite who must realize the benefits that would accrue from the adoption of this principle do not support the motion, they are insincere. I do not wish to do anything detrimental to our interests. If this subject is studied in its financial, economic and social aspects, the conclusion is inevitable that the adoption of the 40-hour week must be in the interests of the Australian people. I regret to have to say it, but I am driven to the conclusion by the attitude of members supporting the Government on this matter that the members of the United Australia party and the Country party have neither the initiative, the courage, nor the desire to tackle this problem. .
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), and associate myself with the remarks of many honorable members on this side of the chamber, who have endorsed the motion of censure moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) yesterday. It seems rather significant that Ministers and honorable members who, at first, were in favour of a shorter working week are now trying to show that the adoption of such a principle would be detrimental to Australian industry. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. j. Harrison), who dealt somewhat extensively with the subject, contended that a reduction of hours was not an economic necessity.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– That is the inference to be drawn from the remarks of the honorable member who declared that although the mechanization of industry has resulted in changed conditions, a reduction of working hours is unnecessary. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) said that when he was a young man he worked fourteen hours a day. I, too, can recall the time when 1 worked fourteen hours a day, but it is inhuman and” uneconomic to ask men to work unnecessarily long hours. The introduction of modern machinery in industry has brought about a change in industrial conditions and is largely responsible for the present economic situation. Juvenile crime, so prevalent in this and other countries, is largely due to the fact that youths cannot find suitable employment. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) who said that the Government had not the constitutional power to ratify the convention, quoted an opinion given 26 years ago to the effect that the action suggested would interfere with the powers of the States. Some years ago the High Court ruled that the employees in a State railway service were outside the ambit of the Federal Arbitration Court; but, in 1920, that decision was reversed and railway employees were given access to that court. This is a demonstration of the change of view that has occurred with the passing of years. If the Government were anxious to ratify the convention it would obtain an opinion from some eminent constitutional authority, but it has not done so, and is depending on an opinion expressed 26 years ago. The State governments would welcome Commonwealth legislation which would provide uniform industrial conditions throughout Australia. Such legislation would assist them to overcome some of the difficulties now confronting them. If the Government were sincere in this matter it would find a way to ratify the convention supported by its representative at the International Labour Conference. Nothing of that nature has been done. The Government is simply ignoring the matter. The people will not tolerate indefinitely its present inaction. They look to this national. Parliament and Government to provide a better standard of living, and to increase their purchasing power, so that greater prosperity will be enjoyed by all.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), said -
The attitude of the Government has been one of a recognition of all those things to which the Leader of the Opposition referred in his introductory remarks. It has endeavoured, by sound and safe means, to effect an improvement of the economic position so far as hours of labour are concerned. lt lias realized the necessity to safeguard the interests of the producers of Australia, whoso products come into competition with those of the producers of other countries.
I agree that, in the methods adopted, there has been a good deal of sound, but there has been very little else. I recall what the right honorable member .said in his last policy speech to the electors, in regard to the action which would be taken to deal with the great problem of unemployment. He then said that he regarded unemployment as the most important matter which confronted the people of Australia, and that a Minister would be appointed solely for the purpose of dealing with it. A parliamentary under-secretary, and not a Minister, was appointed, and, after he had made certain investigations, his position was abolished, and the matter is not. now the particular concern of any Minister. That is what the Prime Minister describes as sound policy. The inference to be drawn from the statement of the right honorable member, that the Government has realized the necessity to safeguard the interests of the producers of Australia, whose products come into competition with those of the producers of other countries, is that it would not be wise or sound policy to shorten the hours of labour. Mr. Savage, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, said in the House of Representatives of that dominion in March last-
I dan easily imagine that science, machinery, human intelligence, are gradually getting rid of the drudgery of work. We want the people - the rank and file - to get the benefit of that. But that means shorter hours and more wages for the hours we work. But the right honorable gentleman- he was replying to the Leader of the Opposition - says we are raising the cost of living, and what is going to happen to our overseas market? The overseas market and the internal market have their foundations in Now Zealand, and not outside. I wonder if some honorable gentleman on the other side will have a shot at that very simple statement. Our markets at home and abroad have their foundation in New Zealand; they are based upon New Zealand’s power to buy. Whether the things are produced here or overseas, as long as they are sold here we must have the money to buy them. Is that not plain common sense? What is the use of arguing about it? There is nothing left to argue about; it is just the A. B.C. of it.
The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), in quite temperate language, advanced a reasoned argument, and I give him credit for believing that what he said was right. But I agree with the Prime Minister of New Zealand that the shortening of the hours of labour would increase purchasing power, and the honorable member for Riverina and others would have a wider market to explore for the disposal of the goods which they produce. There would be a better home market, which is universally admitted to be the best market. The tendency would be to increase prices, provide more employment, and bring greater contentment and happiness to all. The Prime Minister of New Zealand went on to say that his government did not intend- to make an investigation, but would go right ahead with the introduction of a shorter working week in certain occupations. He then made the following interesting observations: -
The problem ahead of the country to-day is to make it possible for the people to be buyers as well as producers … If the machine is doing more work than it used to do, humanity will naturally do loss. The people should not work such long hours, surely. What else can happen? Unless the buying power of the people increases with the increasing production, what is the use of increasing production ? Who else is going to buy the increased product unless the producer is able to buy it, or its equivalent in value?
That seems to me to be the crux of the present situation. We have to increase our purchasing power, work fewer hours, and have a more balanced distribution of employment, so that everybody will share in what is offering, and there will be more leisure for all. I recall a statement made by His Majesty the present King, when Prince of Wales. It is generally recognized that he was a very Keen student of political economy, and that he moved among the people so that he might make himself acquainted with the conditions under which they lived and were employed. Opening a conference of nations in 1932, he said that our problem was one not of production, but of distribution. It could only be solved by raising the standard of living of the people and employing all our employable labour for a limited number of hours a day. This would not be an easy task. That is the pith of the situation. The Government should seriously consider the acceptance of the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), first to ratify the convention, and then -to confer upon the means whereby the principle might be applied to particular industries without upsetting our economic structure. Nobody suggests that there should be an immediate general introduction of the 40- hour working week. A change of that kind should bc introduced gradually. It should first be introduced in those industries in which such a step would be economically sound, care being taken that the economic life of the community was not unbalanced during the period of transition. All sections of the community should cooperate in an endeavour to bring about this desirable state of affairs. For the time being, all that the Government is required to do is to ratify the convention. It has been objected by some honorable members that if we sought to introduce a shorter working week we should be leading the way in this reform; that we should be doing something which the other nations of the world have not attempted to do. I remind honorable members that already many important countries have put the 40-hour working week into operation in a number of industries, while in other countries the standard working week is shorter than the generally accepted working week throughout Australia. It is true that in this country some industries enjoy a 44- hour working week, and some even a shorter week, but the average working week is about 45 hours. In New Zealand, the Government has not waited to see whether other countries would introduce a shorter working week, but has resolutely taken the initiative. Geographically, New Zealand is in much the same position as we are, being situated about the same distance from the world’s markets. We must give credit to the Government of New Zealand for being prepared, if necessary, to be a leader rather than a follower. Something of the same kind has been done by Canada, also. As from the 1st January) 1936, the 40- hour week has been applied in the cloak and suit industry. In 1935, under the Industrial Standards Act of Ontario, schedules of hours and wages, involving a 40-hour week, were approved by order in council for the following occupations in the building industry: - Plumbers; steamfitters and gasfitters; electricians; bricklayers and masons; carpenters; lathers, both wood and metal ; painters ; decorators; glaziers and paperhangers ; sheet, metal workers in the construction industry; tile setters in the Toronto zone; and plumbers in certain areas. In Alberta, a schedule of hours and wages has been adopted for individual occupations in certified areas, the first schedule approved by order in council applying the 44-hour week in the domestic plumbing and heating industry in the City of Edmonton and the surrounding district. In the province of Quebec, where the 40-hour week was already general in the building industry, it is further extended by collective agreement, approved by orders in council, to cover the millinery trade in the whole province, and the printing industry in certain localities. Italy adopted the 40- hour week in 1934. In the United States of America, by January, 1935, there were 541 codes of fair competition in force under the National Recovery Act, covering 95 per cent, of all industrial employees. About S5 per cent, of the codes provided for the main body of industrial workers a working week of 40 hours or less. The representative of the Government of the United States of America on the governing body of the International Labour Office, stated in Geneva in February, 1935, that, while the increase of employment in the United States of America could not be ascribed solely to the reduction of the number of working hours - being partly due to the Government’s agricultural programme and its policy of public works - it was, nevertheless, possible to measure the immediate effects of the individual codes as they came into operation. For example, during several weeks prior to the adoption of the code in the cotton textile industry, every possible yard of cloth had been produced in anticipation of higher wage rates, and output had been almost as high as at the peak of prosperity. Nevertheless, the enforcement of the code- limiting the number of working hours to 40 n week resulted in an increase of employment by 11 per cent, within one mouth. Again, in the iron and steel industry, examination of employment figures for the months immediately preceding and immediately following the adoption of the code showed an increase of employment of 13 per cent. The Government of the United States of America looked with favour on the extension of the 40-hour working week, which it considered, not as an end in itself, but as a step to further reduction wherever practicable. The Executive Council of the American Federation of Labour, in a report to the annual convention in October. 1935, showed that the statements from 73 international unions indicated that 2,035,794 members worked 40 hours a week or less, and of those 603,989 had a working week of. less than 40 hours a week - chiefly 35 and 36 hours - while 13,806 had already obtained a 30-hour week by agreement. While, in general, these members had five working days a week, in some cases the working week was of five and a half or six days. In Austria, a bill to encourage the adoption of a shorter working week has recently been drafted by the Austrian Ministry of Social Welfare, and referred to an interdepartmental economic committee. The bill avoids any sort of coercion, and maintains a normal working day and working week of six days and 48 hours respectively, but it has been considered in some quarters as a step towards the introduction of the 40-hour working week. In Finland and in Norway similar action is being taken.
It is thus evident that, in other parts of the world, the 40-hour working week tends to become general, so that it is farcical for the Commonwealth Government to take up the attitude that Australia would be leading the .way if it took steps to introduce that reform. The timidity of some honorable members on the other side of the House is indicated when they claim that the primary industries would be crippled by the introduction of a shorter working week. I am as much concerned with the welfare of the primary industries as is any other honorable member of this
House. I represent a large number of primary producers, and 1 am anxious that their interests should be conserved, but I am convinced that the introduction of a 40-hour working week would benefit the primary producers, because it would help to establish for them a better home market. It is our duty to face this problem as it exists in Australia, and do what Ave can to solve it in the interests of all sections of the community. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), and take the necessary action to see whether or not the proposal for a shorter working week can be applied to industry economically, thus paving the way for the general application of the principle.
– I support the amendment moved by the. honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). I listened attentively to the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill), and also to the speeches of honorable members who have preceded me. The Prime Minister endeavoured to persuade the House that the Government was prepared to continue its negotiations for the appointment of a committee of inquiry, and told us that the Government of Queensland had declined to make available the services of a supreme court judge. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) and I have received information from the State government to the effect that it did not refuse its co-operation. It is true that a specific request was made to the State for the services of Mr. Justice Webb, a supreme court judge, who also is a judge of the Industrial Court, but, unfortunately, his services could not be made available at the time. However, the State Government intimated its willingness to release either Mr. Ferry or Mr. Riordan from the Industrial Court, for the purposes of the inquiry. Both gentlemen have a thorough knowledge of industrial matters, and would be able to give valuable service. I say, therefore, that the Queensland Government has done everything in its power to assist the Commonwealth Government in its efforts to have an investigation made of the proposed 40-hour working week in industry. lt has also been stated that the Queensland Labour Government is not making any attempt to reduce the hours of labour in that State. For many years, Queensland has taken a leading part in industrial progress. As far hack as 1924, legislation was passed enacting a statutory 44-hour week in industry. There was considerable opposition at the time, critics of the proposal asserting that it would be detrimental to the interests of Queensland in interstate competition, because industries in all other States were observing the 48-hour week. Experience has shown, however, that Queensland has not suffered through the introduction of the 44-hour week. That State is now the most prosperous in the Commonwealth, and there is less unemployment there than elsewhere in Australia. The Industrial Court which administers the Industrial Arbitration Act, has made the 44-hour week a common rule, and in certain industries provision has been made for a 40- hour week. About ten years ago, the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company represented to the Government that it was unable to carry on, and as the result of an investigation, the court authorized the company to work its employees 48 hours, in order to give it an opportunity to get out of its financial difficulties. Later, when the company was in a sounder financial position, the court ordered it to revert to the 44-hour week. It is significant that immediately following the return of the Moore Nationalist Government in 1929, the hours of labour in Queensland were increased to 48, and in view of what was then said, it is interesting to note that Mr. J. E. “Walker, a former Nationalist member of the Legislative Assembly, and also managing director of the Ipswich Woollen Mills, said, as reported in the Brisbane Telegraph of the 26th September, 1935-
It required temerity to advocate a six-hour day as an employer, and before such an audience. It was only 153 years since James Watt invented tlie steam engine, which marked the beginning of the industrial revolution. It was trite to say that the machine age had been marvellously developed: but ma.chines had not always been kept in their proper place as the servant of man. and therefore, we had failed to reap the full harvest. Machines were not only to produce wealth, but also to relieve mankind of onerous labour.
When he sat in the Legislative Assembly in Queensland he supported the Nationalist Government to increase the hours of labour from 44 to 48 -
To rectify the deplorable anomaly he advocated a (i-hour day for workers in certain of our industries. He reminded employers that Judge Beeby, of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the other day said, “ What worries me is that social changes never come from the employers “. There can be no doubt that all social changes enjoyed by the workers of Australia are those brought about as the result of Labour legislation.
The honorable members for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) and Forrest (Mr. Prowse) have said that a reduction of the hours of labour would bring about a reduction of output and an increase of unemployment, and that in all countries where a reduction of hours of labour had taken place unemployment had increased and the volume of output had decreased. That is not in accordance with fact. Convincing evidence of the ability to produce more with fewer men is given in the following table taken from An Outline of Technocracy, by Wayne W. Parrish : -
I could mention many other industries in which as the result of the reduction of hours output has been greater, while the amount of employment has been reduced. The people of Australia, and honorable members generally, waited with considerable interest for the report of the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) on his return from Geneva, and were pleased to hear him advocate the adoption of the shorter working week in Australia’ in accordance with the convention carried at the International Labour Conference, also that he had the temerity to introduce it in a factory in which he is interested; but I deeply regret that when an opportunity was afforded him to vote for the adoption of the principle in Australia by supporting the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) he failed to take advantage of it. I trust when the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) is decided, we shall find him ranged behind honorable members on this side of the House, who are anxious and willing to co-operate with the Government in the ratification of the Geneva Convention. We claim that the Government is in duty bound to honour its obligation by accepting the 40-hour working week adopted by the International Labour Conference, the effect of which will be of material benefit to Australia and Australian industries generally. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, because, after all, it only seeks to ensure that the Government honours its obligation under the Peace Treaty to ratify the Geneva conventions. The delegate to thy 1935 conference was instructed to support the principle of the shorter working week, and I understand that the delegate to the 1936 conference has been similarly instructed. The Government will stand condemned in the eyes of the people of Australia if it fails to carry our its pre-election promise to ratify the convention. The speeches of two Ministers to-day were at variance with those delivered by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence yesterday. Possibly, speaking under the strain of the censure motion, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence endeavoured to prove that the Government was anxious to put the 40-hour working week into operation - as evidence they pointed to the fact that it proposed to appoint a committee to inquire into the question, but that as the result of the failure of the unions to co-operate, the idea had to be abandoned - but, to-day, a different opinion has been expressed. Apparently the Government is now of the opinion that if the 40-hour working week were put into operation it would have a detrimental effect upon the industries of Australia, and, as a natural corollary, on the workers engaged in them. I hope that the Government will agree to ratify the convention, in which event the Labour party will be pleased to co-operate in the formation of a committee to ascer tain how a 40-hour week may be implemented. [Quorum formed.]
.- Shortly after the last election the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) was appointed a Minister and was allotted the special task of dealing with unemployment. Later he left the Ministry and was appointed Under-Secretary for Employment. In that capacity it was his duty to collect, data with a view to the absorption of the unemployed in industry. Among his recommendations was one advocating a shorter working week. Subsequently the honorable gentleman was sent to Geneva and instructed to vote for a 40-hour week. The Government is most inconsistent in regard to the power of the Commonwealth under the Constitution to legislate for a 40-hour week. All that it is asked to do is to ratify a convention with which its instructions to its delegate to Gene vfl. were in agreement. We have heard a good deal about a shorter working week ruining industry. I remember that when a reduction of the working week from 48 hours to 44 was advocated in the Queeusland Parliament, the same argument was advanced, but despite the protests and forebodings of the Nationalist press of Queensland, a Labour Government instituted the shorter working week in that State. No one claims to-day that the State has been ruined as a result. When the legislation was enacted there was considerable unemployment in Queensland, but, contrary to the predictions of those opposed to Labour, no dire results followed. On the contrary, many of those who previously were unemployed became absorbed in industry. The Government says that it requires evidence in support of a 40-hour working week, before putting the shorter week into operation. It desires to appoint a committee of seventeen to undertake an inquiry. There is already ample evidence available. Indeed, I doubt whether a committee of seventeen would bring to light any material facts which are not already known to the Government. Although the recognized working week in Queensland is 44 hours, the average number of hours worked each week is 43; yet Queensland industries Lave not been ruined. The honorable member for Parramatta carried out his instructions when at Geneva, and to his credit it must be said that on his return to Australia, he not only gave the shorter working week lip service, but also in his own business, in which he controls from 600 to 800 men, put a 4.0-hour week into operation. The honorable gentleman has not become a bankrupt by his action. Nor x.as the adoption of a 40-hour working week closed the Mount Morgan mine or the Cracow mine. The existence of a 40-hour week in the building trade in Queensland has not prevented the building of new homes. The Government contends that the adoption of a shorter working week would have such an effect on it as an employer of 28,000 persons that increased taxation would become necessary. That claim cannot bc justified. The increased cost of adopting a shorter working week would not be great. Recently Mr. A. A. Caldwell, who is connected with the International Labour Office, delivered a speech in which he pointed out that a 40-hour working week had been adopted in many industries in many countries and had proved a success.
– What did he say about Australia?
– He said that the position was somewhat vague; the average Australian thought that his country was a long way in advance of other countries, and was unaware of the fact that, whereas there was a time when Australia was in the vanguard in this respect, it had remained stationary for a long time, and was now lagging behind many nations. During the last few years taxes totalling £43,000,000 have been collected in three States of the Commonwealth, from 75 per cent, of the citizens, to provide money for doles for the other 25 per cent., who are out of work. Would it not be much wiser to spread the work over all the citizens? It is true that a 40-hour week might be difficult to apply in certain industries, but that is no reason why some attempt should not be made to give effect to it in suitable industries. When the 48-hour week was first applied to the mining industry of Queensland it was said that many mining shows would cease operations, but in the period that followed the introduction of the 48-hour working week the mining industry of the State enjoyed remarkable prosperity. I suppose the average working week to-day at Mount lsa would not exceed 42 hours. The underground miners work only 36 hours a week in many Queensland mines. When the Nationalist party came into power in Queensland, it reverted from a 44-hour week to a 48-hour week, with the result that one employee in every eleven was put out of work. This reduced the purchasing power of the people, and caused a decline of prosperity generally. Surely honorable members cannot regard with equanimity the possibility of the dole system remaining in operation for ever. To-day, only 20 hours’ work a week is given to some relief workers. I again ask whether it would not be preferable for us to spread all the work evenly over the whole community? Further investigations into this subject are not needed. Recently, the Minister for Health. (Mr. Hughes) has been pleading for a higher birthrate. Does he expect mothers to regard with satisfaction the possibility of their boys and girls being put on the dole when they reach the age of sixteen years or so?
I cannot understand why the honorable member for Parramatta thinks further investigation into this subject is necessary. Surely he made all the required investigations while he was Under-Secretary for Employment. The Commonwealth Government could at least apply a 40-hour week without delay to its own employees. It is distressing to think that many people in Australia have been living on the dole for several years. A reduction of the working week would give many -of these individuals some prospect of permanent employment.
It has been said’ that the adoption of a 40-hour working week would be detrimental to our primary exporting industries, but do honorable members realize that the average working week in the meat industry is very little over 40 hours? Some sections of the industry work only 36 hours a week. This is one of our great exporting industries. Most of the work in the pastoral and wool industry is done by contract, and a limitation of the working week would not have much effect there, for payment is by results, and not by the number of hours worked. Many Australian industries are already operating on less than a 48-hour week basis. While the 40-hour week could probably be applied universally in Queensland, it must be borne in mind that the industries of Queensland have te compete with those of other States It has been claimed by those who are resisting the application of the 40-hour week convention in Australia that this country has to compete with overseas countries, but a start must be made somewhere. The Labour party is sick of inquiries by commissions and boards. The heavy cost of these bodies is becoming intolerable to the general taxpayer. All the information needed to indicate the reasonableness of a 40-hour working week could be obtained by the Government from public departments. The various industrial tribunals of thi? country have been inquiring into this subject for years past, and have accumulated a mass of information on it. It was suggested, at Geneva that the governments which approved the convention should apply a 40-liour working week to the public works they put in hand. If the Commonwealth Government would do this it would give a valuable lead to the industrial courts throughout the Commonwealth, which, I am sure, they would not be slow to follow. Steps should be taken at once to abolish the dole, by making available to all our citizens, on an equal basis, all the work that is offering.
.- I cannot understand why the Government should hesitate to give effect to the 40-hour week convention, seeing that it sent the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) to Geneva to vote for it. We were informed yesterday that 250,000 people in Australia ave still out of employment, yet the Government says, “ We cannot consider the introduction of a 40-hour working week”. Why should 80 per cent, of the people continue to pay unemployment taxes in order to provide sustenance for the other 20 per cent., when, by a little re-organization, arrangements could be made for the work available to be shared by the whole community?
The boast is heard that Australian industrial conditions are envied in other countries. Possibly they were twenty years ago, but during my recent trip overseas I found that other countries are ahead of us in this respect. Many of the workers in Great Britain, for instance, now enjoy better conditions than those experienced in Australia. I visited many factories in the Old Country, and was impressed by the healthy surroundings in which the employees worked. The wages received were about on a level with those paid in Australia. Women workers, in most instances, enjoy better conditions than obtain here. In a factory in Birmingham I saw 800 sewing machines in operation, and the foreman stated that the average earnings of each employee amounted to from £3 to £3 5s. a week. That was for piece work. I think that the earnings for comparable work in this country are less. When honorable members on the Opposition side make requests on behalf of the unemployed, this Government does nothing to help them. We have had to fight every inch of the way, and we are invariably defeated on purely party lines.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) said that, in Russia, the employees, work in the fields for ten hours a day, but he did not tell the full story. It is true that field workers do work for that period each clay, but they do so only at certain times of the year. During harvesting operations an increased number of hours is necessary in Russia as it is in Australia. A 7-hour day is observed in the factories. Russia is one of the nations with whose competition in trade Australia will have to contend. It surprises me that other countries have not already further reduced the hours of labour. In the United States of America, 11,000,000 are unemployed, and the conditions experienced are appalling. In some of the factories, piece work and speeding up are practised extensively. I was informed when I was there that about 20,000,000 people are living on the dole. Why should the workers have to toil for long hours to provide for those for whom employment cannot be found? The conditions should be so altered as to distribute the available work as evenly as possible among all the people. Britain has a vast army of unemployed, and I was told thatabout 2,000,000 persons may never get back to work.
During my visit to Great Britain, the hint was frequently dropped that Australia should absorb migrants in order to reduce unemployment in the Mother Country; but I see no hope of that, in view of the large number of unemployed in Australia. If this country were governed on the right lines, it would be capable of supporting a population of from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000. Our defence problem causes attention to be directed to the need for increased population. For the present, however, we must concentrate upon finding employment for the 250,000 persons in our midst who are without work.
The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) stated that much of the agricultural machinery in use is not sufficiently up to date for farming operations.
– He was referring to Victoria.
– I have visited farms in various parts of Australia, including Victoria and the Riverina, and I have formed the opinion that our farming areas are efficiently worked. It . is possible to over-capitalize a farm. Many men on small properties go to the great expense of purchasing motor tractors, although their work could be done more efficiently and more cheaply with horsedrawn vehicles. Tractors burn imported petrol, whilst the fodder required for horses could be grown on the farms.
Friday8, May 1936
The appliances used in the vineyards and orchards also are up to date; in fact, our machinery is far more modern than that used in similar work in many other countries. Often we hear complaints that machines displace men from employment, but many industries could not operate without up-to-date machinery. It is needed, for instance, in the mining industry. Thirty or forty years ago it was the practice in this country to pick the eyes out of a mine; to-day the same mines are being worked as low-grade propositions. The Mount Lyell mine, for instance, has millions of tons of lowgrade ore in sight. Could this mine be properly worked to-day with obsolete machinery? When I visited that mine 40 years ago it was burning about 1,500 tons of wood a week; to-day not one ounce of wood is burnt there. It was obvious, of course, that the consumption of wood at that rate could not have continued indefinitely. Furthermore, eleven blast furnaces were worked at that mine in those days, whereas to-day only one furnace is operated, and 3,000 tons of ore is now being shifted daily at onethird of the previous cost, where’ only 1,000 tons used to be shifted. But for the use of up-to-date machinery, it would not pay to work the low-grade ore at Mount Lyell. In such instances the use of modern machinery provides more employment than would otherwise be given.
I do not suggest that a 40-hour working week should be applied to the agricultural industry. Such a step would be impossible. It was never intended by members of the Opposition that this proposal should be applied to farm employees. It is well known that during the harvesting season, agricultural employees are obliged to work unusually long hours. Owing to climatic considerations, harvesting cannot be delayed ; therefore, the farmer has to harvest his crop at a particular time, and as quickly as possible. In the harvesting season, employees sometimes work from fourteen to fifteen hours daily. For similar reasons, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) pointed out that it would be impossible to apply a 40-hour working week in the cotton-picking industry. However, the long hours worked during the harvesting season operate for only a short period of the year. I trust that the Government will give the fullest consideration to the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, and that those honorable members opposite who have led their constituents to believe that they are in favour of a 40-hour working week will support it.
. One of the outstanding features of this debate has been the manner in which the premises on which the original motion was based have been altered as the debate progressed. This has been coupled with a remarkable change of attitude on the part of honorable members supporting the Government. The original motion was one of censure against the Government for its inactivity in this matter, and, discussing it, Government members professed that they wholeheartedly supported a 40-hour working week, but added that they did not see their way clear to censure the Government on this matter. Now the scene has changed.
The element of censure by a vote of the House has been removed from the motion, and an amendment has been proposed from the Government side to the effect that this House notes the action of the Commonwealth Government to promote the 40-hour week. I propose to deal with the inaction of the Government in bringing about what it declared, through its delegate at Geneva, as its policy on this matter. That amendment also states that the 40-liour working week is in accordance with public opinion, and the principle embodied in a draft convention adopted, with the support of this Government delegate, at Geneva. “We are asked by members of the Government to support an amendment along those lines. On the other hand, the Opposition has moved a further amendment, which will give every honorable member an opportunity to record a direct vote on the proposal that a 40- hour working week be instituted. This is to the effect that the House is of the opinion that the draft convention in respect of the 40-hour week adopted by the 1935 International Labour Conference should be ratified by Australia, and every honorable member can vote in favour of the proposal which this Government instructed its delegate at Geneva to support. Speaking to the original motion, honorable members opposite went to great pains to show that the proposed censure was unjustified, because, not only were they wholeheartedly in favour of a 40-hour working week, but they also were doing their best, having regard to all the difficulties, to support it. Indeed, so strongly were they in favour of a 40-hour working week, that they had actually approached the State governments about it, and, further, had proposed that an inquiry be held with a view to making it a reality. The scene has now changed, and honorable members opposite have an opportunity to vote in accordance with the views they expressed yesterday. To-day the Government is no longer in danger of being censured for failing to promote a 40-hour week, but it is faced with the proposal that because it has said that it is in favour of a shorter week, it should ratify the convention. Every Ministerial supporter who has spoken to-day has pointed out the danger to Australia of adopting a 40-hour week. Arguments have been advanced to show that in certain countries it is doubtful if unemployment has been lessened by a reduction of hours. The Minister who spoke to-day said that costs would be increased, and that the social and economic consequences to Australia could easily be disastrous. Yesterday, the Government was in favour of the 40-hour week, and was doing its best to promote it, but to-day it is gravely perturbed concerning the wisdom of adopting such a proposal. These two voices are in conflict. The speeches to-day are entirely at variance with instructions given to the Government delegate who attended Geneva a year ago. It may be interesting to review briefly the history of this proposal, and to go back to the time when the Government instructed its delegate at Geneva to support the 40-hour week. We were informed by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), who was the delegate, that before he left Australia he informed the Government that he must be free to advocate what he thought was in the national interest. The Government, knowing the honorable member’s views on the subject, and professing to have the same opinions itself, sent its delegate to the convention with explicit instructions to vote for a 40-hour week. But to-day, it is back-pedalling and placing every obstacle possible in the way of its adoption in Australia. When the delegate returned, his public speeches, in which he advocated a 40-hour week, received considerable publicity. He also received some degree of publicity because, as a large employer of labour in New South Wales, he had adopted the principle in his business. Municipal councils and other bodies, particularly in New South Wales, were harassing members of Parliament to secure copies of his report. Yesterday the honorable member told us how he browbeat the Government into giving him a free hand, and that it was absolutely necessary to introduce a shorter working week. But when the honorable member had an opportunity to implement the convention which he supported at Geneva for the benefit of the workers, he fell down on his job by voting against a principle he was supposed tn sup-port. The honorable member for Parramatta will now have another opportunity to support a shorter working week by voting for the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Hindmarsh. Remarkable to relate, this Government, which professes to be in favour of the 40-hour week, and which instructed its delegate to support the principle, made his position intolerable as Under-Secretary for Employment. Almost coincident with the publication of his report, the position of Parliamentary Under-secretary for Employment became redundant, and he resigned. That was a polite way of saying that his services were no longer required. The honorable member for Parramatta, and other honorable members opposite, have now been afforded an opportunity to ratify the agreement reached at Geneva. The Prime Minister said that the committee proposed to be appointed was to consider the merits of a 40-hour week. Surely the Government did not take upon itself the responsibility of instructing its delegate to the International Conference to vote for a 40- hour week without first considering the merits of the case! The Government, realizing that it was in difficulties yesterday, arranged for the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who was the second speaker on the Government side, to further the case for- the Government. He said in contradiction of the Prime Minister that the inquiry was for the purpose, not of considering the merits of the case, but of investigating the practicability of putting it into operation. The Prime Minister also referred to the negotiations with the trade union organizations for the purpose of securing their co-operation. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) said that there was a conflict between the Australasian Council of Trade Unions aud the Australian Workers Union as to who was to represent the workers. There was no such conflict at any period during the negotiations. It is true that the Australasian Council of Trade Unions represents largely industrial workers in the cities, and that the Australian Workers Union represents, to a large extent, the organized rural workers. It is quite conceivable that both these organizations desired to be represented. The objection of the union was not based on who should represent the workers, the Australasian Council of Trade Unions or the Australian Workers Union, but on the manner in which the Government proposed to select the representative of the workers, and also the unweildy nature of the proposed conference. In a letter sent by Mr-. Strahan, Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, to the secretary of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, the following appeared : -
I am desired by the Prime Minister to invite your council to be good enough to nominate a panel of eight persons from which it is .proposed that four shall be selected for inclusion in the personnel of the conference.
– Where were the others coming from?
– Presumably from the Australian Workers Union. The Government had the affrontery to say that the unions should not have a voice in selecting their representatives. I would not, of course, question the bona fides of any person nominated by the council. I strongly contend, however, that when unions are asked to take part in the conference they should be allowed to select their delegates. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), having already hand-picked the other delegates, ought not to have the right to hand-pick those who should represent the trade union movement. That should be entirely the prerogative of the unions concerned.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has already dealt with the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, whom the Prime Minister proposed to appoint as chairman of the committee, or what I might call mass meeting. I say nothing about this gentleman in his judicial capacity. But prior to his appointment to his present position, he was a representative of the employers in the arbitration courts of this country, and, as such, had only one outlook upon industrialism. Since his elevation to the bench of the Arbitration Court, he has clearly demonstrated by his utterances from the Bench a bitter opposition to the reduction of the hours of labour, even to 44 hours a week. A person with his convictions should not be asked to preside over such an inquiry, surrounded by a presumption of impartiality.
It was proposed that there should be representatives of State industrial tribunals, and we have been informed that Queensland refused to make a representative available. The Acting Premier of that State has said that this statement of the Prime Minister is only a half-truth. But even if it were true, I could readily understand the refusal of the Queensland Government to allow its principal industrial officer to become embroiled in what would be universally regarded as a useless and an expensive farce.
Then there were to have been five employers representing the primary industries and the manufacturing and commercial industries. Can any one conceive of agreement on the subject of hours of labour among five representatives of those interests? Are there not differences in this House between those who represent the primary producers and those who advocate the cause of the manufacturing industries? The primary producers contend that the country is fleeced under tariff protection by the manufacturers, who in turn argue that the national finances are bled white for the purpose of providing bounties and subsidies for the primary industries.
Next there was to have been an economist. During this debate, the views of economists on this matter have been quoted by honorable members on both sides of the chamber. Their views are as wide apart as the north and south poles. Who would be appointed - a man who was convinced that the -reduction of hours would not remedy the situation, or one whose views on economics definitely lead him to believe that a reduction must be made in order to solve the unemployment problem?
A further proposed appointment was that of a medical man. Of what use would he be in an inquiry of this nature ? One might, of course, presume that, in view of the probable protracted nature of the proceedings, he might be useful in preventing the personnel from dying of old-age before the submission of their report. A woman was to have represented the consuming interests. What consumers in Australia are organized? How could the Government or any one else choose a woman who would be really representative of the consumers of the community? As has already been pointed out, from SO per cent, to 90 per cent, of the community is comprised of those who are workers with either hand or brain. These persons are also consumers, and as such would be represented by this woman who would represent also the 1.0 per cent. of exploiters who do nothing but live on the fat of the land. That would be an impossible position. But even if it were possible for any one woman to represent the whole of the consuming interests of Australia, how would the Government determine from what ranks she should be drawn? Of course, the cat has been out of the bag for some time; the woman selected is one of the “ leading lights “ in the Nationalist organization in Victoria.
– That is not so.
– It definitely is so: her name was mentioned to-day. shall not repeat it, because I do nol believe in advertising my political opponents
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) has asserted that during the debate the Opposition claimed that a 40-hour week should be put into operation willy-nilly immediately. That is not the case. The Opposition realizes that it would have to be gradually worked into industry, as was the 48-hour week, and subsequently the 44-hour week. No honorable member on this side would he so foolish as to argue that it could be introduced in the manner suggested by the honorable member. This gentleman also said that the Opposi’tion further claimed that the reduction of hours would solve the unemployment problem. I have never heard such rot in my life. No member of the Labour party has yet made such a claim. Any man who argues along those lines is either a knave or a fool, or both. Many other factors have to be considered. There would need to be an entire reconstruction of society, with production for use and not for profit. In the approach to that stage, the reduction of hours would prove successful only if the governments of Australia had the courage to reform the monetary system and control the whole of the credi t resources of the Commonwealth. Without these two adjuncts, there could be no permanent solution of the unemployment problem.
The honorable member for Macquarie and his colleagues have said that there are constitutional difficulties in the way of the introduction of a 40-hour week in Australia. I put it to the House, that if these constitutional difficulties exist to-day they existed twelve months ago when tlie Government instructed its delegate to the Inter national Labour Conference at Geneva to affirm the principle and vote for it. If it now believes that its adoption is not constitutionally possible in Australia, it must have held that belief twelve months ago, and consequently it hoodwinked not only the people of this country but also the representatives of other nations at the conference, because our delegate told them that Australia was ready to make the alteration. The honorable member for Macquarie also criticized the proposal of the Queensland Government for the appointment of a committee consisting of the chairmen of arbitration tribunals, and said that these gentlemen had not established a 40-hour week in their own States. There is an excellent reason for that. Where Labour governments are in office, but not in power, the Upper Houses would make impossible the passage of legislation for the reduction of the hours of labour.
– The honorable member himself is now raising the constitutional issue.
– These are facts, and the honorable member knows it. The fossils in the upper Houses of the States would have thrown the measure out. Here, however, the position is different. The Government controls a large majority in this House and in the Senate, and by virtue of its treaty-making powers, it could introduce the 40-hour working week if it so desired.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) drew attention to the fact that there were two sections of labour opinion, one which advocated a 40-hour working week, and another which advocated a 30-hour working week. That is so, and for the sake of the virility and progressiveness of the Labour movement, I hope that such divergence of opinion will always exist. When a 60-hour working week prevailed some members of the Labour party advocated a reduction of the number of working hours to 4S, while others sought a 44-hour working week. All alike were termed revolutionaries and “ reds but what they advocated then has come to pass. Advanced Labour thinkers in every country in the world will always be a step or two ahead of the main body.
The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. /Nock), in opposing the 40-hour week, quoted figures to show that the reduction of tlie number of working hours would result in the employment of 70,000 more men. Does he object to that? Surely that would be a very desirable result, and one to which he should have no objection. Surely it would be better for those 70,000 to find a place in industry than that they should be walking the streets in a hopeless search for work. He went on to say that an extra £14,000,000 would be taken out of the wages pool without there being a corresponding increase of production, or any hope of that money returning to the wages pool. That is simply nonsense. What does he think the workers do with their wages? Do they keep them in their pockets, or do they spend the money so that it goes ba’ck into the wages pool ? As a matter of fact, if employment were found for an additional 70,000 men, 70,000 new buying units would be created, and that would be a good thing for the primary producers. There would be an increased demand for commodities, and the employment of those 70,000 workers, far from widening the gap between conditions in the primary and secondary industries, would close it by creating an improved home market to take the place of the markets that have been lost overseas. The honorable member said that the Government must have patience; that the 40- hour working week would eventually come. Of course it will come, but not with the assistance ofthe honorable member. It will come in spite of him, and in spite of the Government. At least the honorable member was frank. He was quite honest in stating that he opposes the introduction of the shorter working week. I have no doubt that he is one of those who would support the reintroduction of daylight saving so that farmworkers might be worked even more hours each day than at present.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) said that mechanization of industry had created new avenues of employment to absorb the workers displaced by mechanization. If that be so, where have the unemployed come from ? Did they appear like rabbits out of a hat, or have they, like Topsy, “ just growed “?
The amendment now before the House has been drawn in such a manner that no honorable member who has expressed himself in favour of the 40-hour working week can honestly avoid voting for it. It seeks to remove not one word of the amendment of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), but proposes to add to it the following words : -
That the House is of opinion that the draft convention in respect of the 40-hour week adopted in 1935 by the International Labour Conference should bo ratified by Australia.
We invite honorable members on the Government side of the House to vote straight out for the ratification of the convention, and in support of the very thing which the Government itself advocated twelve months ago. The amendment does not propose to censure the Government, but it gives those honorable members who yesterday expressed themselves in favour of a 40- hour week, but who to-day are placing obstacles in the way of that principle being approved by Parliament, an opportunity to vote for a proposal which their own Government instructed its delegate to support at Geneva twelve months ago.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted in the proposed amendment (Mr. Makin’s amendment) be so inserted - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. j. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Amendment of amendment negatived.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Archie Cameron’s amendment) - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the motion, as amended, be agreed to - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. j. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
House adjourned at 12.54 a.m. (Friday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 May 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1936/19360507_reps_14_150/>.