§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
It was estimated yesterday that the number of men on strike totalled 38,751; there is no material change to report this morning. The two sides of the Joint Industrial Council for the Port Transport Industry met yesterday and the employers' side gave to the trade union side their reply to the trade union claim. These arrangements had been fixed before the present trouble began and were therefore not affected by the present strike. The two sides, however, in accordance with the constitution of the Council, were unable to proceed with the discussions because of the large number of men on strike in breach of agreement. I have been assured by both sides of the Council that they are ready to meet within 24 hours of the resumption of work.
I would ask to be excused from making any comment on the situation at the present moment, except to say this. The decision of the Council that negotiations could not proceed in present circumstances was, in my view, inevitable. A large body of men whose wages and conditions of employment are covered by agreements negotiated on their behalf have stopped work in breach of those agreements and against the advice of their trade unions. The action of the strikers cannot be defended and neither the employers nor the trade unions can have confidence in negotiating a new agreement whilst the obligations of the existing agreement are being repudiated in this way. By remaining on strike the men concerned are penalising both themselves and their fellow workers. I need hardly 1554 say that when constitutional procedure has been re-established and negotiations are resumed, which I hope will be at an early date, the Government in view of the great issues involved, will keep a watchful interest over the proceedings to ensure that there is no undue delay in reaching a definite conclusion.