The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon
Chapter XVI. — Conciliation and Arbitration—The Arbitration Court
Conciliation and Arbitration—The Arbitration Court.
A brief sketch has been given already of the Arbitration Court, with its judge and two assessors and its great powers. It had been in existence for a considerable time before it was called upon to attend to its duties. The Act received the Governor's assent in August, 1894, and came into force on New Year's Day, 1895, but no use was made of it until the end of that year.
Its passing into law, which is one of the most important events in the colony's industrial history, did not raise any enthusiasm whatever, even amongst those who have benefited by its provisions. Before it was passed through Parliament the interest shown in it was not nearly as keen as might be expected, and outside of Parliament it did not meet with as much opposition as was launched against several other labour laws of much less importance.
During the three years between 1891 and 1894 that it was in suspense, as Mr. Reeves has stated, it neither roused the least enthusiasm nor attracted great attention. There was plenty of political excitement in those days, he says, but not about the Industrial Arbitration Bill. “It did not awaken a tithe of the interest and energy expended over a Bill for closing shops on one half-holiday in each week. At the outset the larger newspapers either violently condemned or threw cold water upon it. After a while two or three came round to express guarded approval. A conference of employés from all parts of the colony, held in 1891, objected absolutely to the compulsory clauses and other parts of the Bill.” In a letter addressed to Mr. Reeves, the conference stated that “the employed, quite as much as the employer, require to be protected against the theoretical measures of trade reformers and idealist page 253 doctrinaires whose methods may be mischievous whilst their sincerity is not called in question.”
This conference viewed with the greatest alarm the proposal to apply arbitration to the colony's State-owned railways, and it “most strongly objected to the whole principle of compulsion.” In its eyes, in short, the Bill was “an unwarrantable interference with the freedom of the subject, and most prejudicial to the progress of trade and manufactures.” “Freedom of the subject” was a phrase that was often used in the colony in those days, and it was one of the most effective means of raising feeling against not only the Arbitration Act but nearly all the other Labour Bills as they were placed before Parliament and the country.
In referring to these incidents in his “State Experiments,” Mr. Reeves points with some degree of complacency to the fact that in 1900, after this “most prejudicial” law had been at work for nearly five years, the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, one of the chief mercantile bodies in the colony, published the following remarks in its annual report:—
“Probably at no period in the history of New Zealand can we find such unmistakable signs of general prosperity as we have experienced during the past year. Our industries, almost without exception, have had their capacities taxed to the very utmost, skilled labour has been practically unobtainable, and, except in the case of one or two exceptional trades, there is every prospect of a continued demand for the productions of New Zealand labour. The number of workers employed in our factories in the year 1895 was 29,879. That number has steadily increased until, at March 31st, 1900, the number employed reached 48,938, being an increase of 19,059, or nearly 64 per cent. in five years. No stronger proof could be required of the forward march of our industrial army, and it is satisfactory to note that the industries that have benefited most by the wave of prosperity which we are now enjoying have been able to give to the workers higher wages and improved conditions of employment.”
After the Act was ready to be put into operation, the unions showed some hesitation in bringing themselves under its jurisdiction. Then one came in and then another, until nearly all of them were registered as Industrial Unions of Workers under the Act.
In the latter part of 1895 the Federated Boot Manufacturers' Association, representing the boot-making trade in practically the whole of the colony, was registered as an Industrial Union page 254 of Employers. It was the first masters' association to come under the Act. It was, and is still, the largest and most powerful body of master tradesmen in the colony, with the exception, of course, of the Federated Employers' Association of New Zealand, which embraces all manner of trades.
The boot-making trade was the worst sufferer by the strikes and quarrels of the past, and there was much bad blood between the masters and the workers. According to a manifesto issued in connection with a strike at Auckland in 1894, and signed by delegates from the union and the masters, “during the past seven years the relation between manufacturers and workmen has been one of constant antagonism and dissatisfaction, engendering much suspicion, ill-feeling, and a strong sense of injustice on both sides, until at last some solution of the difficulty was felt to be a necessity, and its possibility was hailed with delight.”
In 1895, a “statement” under which the trade had been working was running out, and there were several differences of opinion, each side holding strongly to its own view of the position. For years the trade had never been free from trouble. The workers made demands at the most inconvenient times, and threatened to strike on the slightest provocation. In one city, a large boot-manufacturing firm in 1889 had its business thoroughly disorganised by a strike brought about on account of a change in the dinner-hour. It was not proposed to curtail the time allowed for dinner, but the hour was put further back in the day, and a strike took place. The whole policy was to strike or yield. Conciliatory measures were thrown to one side, until at last conciliation was not thought of and was not considered possible.
At that time, there was no federation among the employers, who were placed at the disadvantage of having to fight single-handed large and powerful unions. The position became so serious in 1891 that the boot-manufacturers throughout the colony federated, and then met the men on fair terms. The federation of the employers led to the adoption by them of a uniform statement of wages and conditions of labour. For a time the parties watched each other. Neither knew the page 255 other's strength, and as one was afraid to fight and the other did not like to begin, there was a period of armed peace, which lasted until the Act was brought into use by mutual agreement, and the parties went first to the Conciliation Board for Canterbury and then to the Court. This dispute, the first of a long list settled by the Act, is interesting for several reasons.*
Statements were submitted to the Board by both sides. They are long and technical documents, and need not be dealt with here. The employers' statement, in its first two clauses, claimed the right of the employers to employ any worker, whether he belonged to a union or not, and set forth that there should be no distinction between organised and non-organised labour, both to work under the same conditions and to receive equal pay for equal work.
The employers regarded this point as of greater importance than any other in the statement they submitted. “It is not right,” they said, “for the union to force its services upon us, any more than it would be right for an individual to walk into a shop and demand employment as a right. We submit that the employers invest their money in their businesses, and if the union's demands are adopted, their capital will be at the mercy of the workmen. If the views of the union are to prevail in this case, they ought to be given effect to in every shop in which workmen are employed. We submit that no employer could carry on business under such conditions. He must be able to select his own workmen. If he is limited, he will risk his capital without being able to control the operations carried on by it. No man would be foolish enough to risk his capital under conditions of that sort. We also submit that the rule demanded by the union would be very unfair to the large body of men who do not belong to the union. Unions, we contend, exist for the benefit of those who belong to them, and not for the injury of those who do not. It would be very unjust to deprive a man of his employment because he does not wish to belong to a union. The ten manufacturers belonging to this Association employ 1174 persons; of these 535 are page 256 unionists, and 639 non-unionists, and yet the union demands that we should employ only union men. All persons joining the union must be proposed and seconded by two members. This means that the union has power to refuse membership. It also has power to impose fines which a man cannot pay, and may thus practically expel him. The union accepts no responsibility. It is not prepared to guarantee either the capability or the honesty of any man. In this respect we are entirely at the mercy of those people. Under one of the rules it would be possible to ruin any manufacturer, as in brisk seasons the union could withdraw its men from our shops, and we would be unable to bring any men from Australia unless it first gave permission, which might be withheld. Summing up the matter, you might say that the union's argument is: ‘Let law and learning, trade and commerce, die, but God preserve our union!”
The unionists, on the other hand, contended that, if freedom of employment was allowed to the employers, the union would be destroyed, in violation to the spirit of the Act. “The employers,” they said, “ask for the right to employ or dismiss whom they like. They would take away the right of the employé to refuse to work with one who did not belong to the union. Men would leave the union if they could do so without losing anything. The employers, by demanding these clauses, must aim at breaking up the union. If no rule is made, the employer will favour the non-unionist in preference to the unionist. He will offer such conditions that men will be prevented from joining the union. It has been proved that wherever unionists and non-unionists have been compelled to work together, the result has been unsatisfactory.”
The Conciliation Board felt that the question was too far-reaching for it to deal with, and referred it straight to the Court. The Court, however, ruled that the Board could not pick out any item and refuse to consider it, but must consider the dispute as a whole, and make a recommendation in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
The Board, after hearing evidence and argument, decided in favour of freedom of employment. Neither employers nor page 257 workers were satisfied with the recommendation as a whole, but the former agreed to wave minor points and to accept it. The latter, however, after submitting it to all the federated unions, rejected it, and referred the disputed points, including freedom of employment, to the Court.
The case was ably and exhaustively argued for eight days, and on the ninth day Mr. Justice Williams announced that the Court had decided to give the workers the famous preference clause, which is included in most of the awards that have been given since, but not in all of them.
The first preference clause placed in an award is sufficiently interesting to be given in full. It is as follows:—
“Employers shall employ members of the New Zealand Federated Boot-makers' Union in preference to non-members, provided there are members of the union who are equally qualified with non-members to perform the particular work required to be done, and are ready and willing to undertake it. When non-members are employed there shall be no distinction between members and non-members; both shall work together in harmony, and both shall work under the same conditions and receive equal pay for equal work. Any dispute under this rule shall be decided by the chairman of the Conciliation Board for the district, under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, or, if he shall be unable or unwilling to act, by some person nominated by him, not being connected with the trade, being a manufacturer or employed in any trade.”
In laying down this precedent, Mr. Justice Williams explained that the Court had been led to its decision by the fact that for three years the bootshops had in practice been filled solely with unionists. Laying stress on this, he indicated that in later cases the Court would give weight to what appeared to be the custom of each trade. It would reserve the right to decide each case strictly on its merits.
There was a battle over the preference question in the Legislative Council in 1898. In that year, an amending Bill was brought down somewhat late in the session. In order to facilitate its passage through the Legislature, it was introduced into the Legislative Council first. In the original Act, as stated before, the title set forth that it was “an Act to encourage the formation of Industrial Unions and Associations.” In the amending Bill, those words were omitted, on the ground that they might be taken by the Court as an indication that unions page 258 should be encouraged. When the Bill was dealt with in committee in the Council, members went further. By seventeen votes to eleven, they inserted a clause setting forth that it was not lawful for the Court, by any award, to order that members of a Trades Union should be employed in preference to non-members, or to fix any age for the commencement or termination of apprenticeship.
In due course, the amending Bill came before the House of Representatives, which, by twenty-six votes to thirty-eight, rejected the clause. Otherwise, it accepted the Council's amendments, together with the alteration of the title.
On the Bill being sent back to the Council, that body dissented from the decision of the House in rejecting the clause, and it drew up the following “Reasons”:—
That the fact that both branches of the Legislature have agreed to amend the title of the Act of 1894 shows that the Act was intended to make provision for the settlement of disputes, and not for the purpose of enabling unionists to obtain preferential right of employment.
That unionists form only a small proportion of the workers of the colony, and it would be unjust to those outside the unions that the Court should have this power.
That the unions are trying to get the Court to fix a minimum age of apprenticeship, and it is desirable to declare that it was not the intention of the Legislature that the Court should have the power to fix a minimum age.
Managers appointed by both branches were unable to come to an agreement, but fresh ones, later on, agreed that the words “making it unlawful for the Court to order that members of a Trades Union must be employed in preference to non-members” should be struck out, and that the remainder of the clause should be retained. In that form, the Bill was adopted. Reference to the encouragement of unions was struck out of the title, but no direction was given to the Court that it should not give preference to unionists in making its awards. The Court, therefore, has pursued its original course, and has continued to grant unionists preference where it thought they deserved the privilege.
In several cases preference has been refused. In the North of Auckland timber-workers' dispute, it was refused on the ground that it was impracticable, owing to the sawmills being page 259 scattered through the provincial district. The same attitude was taken up by the Court in regard to disputes in other districts. When the Auckland Carters' Union brought its case before the Court, the employers strongly objected to the demand for preference. The Court came to the conclusion that “in the special circumstances of this particular occupation, preference to unionists is impracticable where the general body of the employers is in opposition to the claim. We think that, where so many different businesses are involved, as is the case in this dispute, to restrict the freedom of employers against their will would be to unduly embarrass them in the conduct of their respective callings.”
Wherever preference is granted, the Court makes stringent provisions that the union's doors must be open to practically all engaged in the trade who wish to join. There is absolutely no fear of a union establishing a monopoly in labour on account of its having been given the preference clause. Always, in dealing with this point, the Court asks for a copy of the union's rules, and examines them, to see if they contain anything that will lead to an unduly restricted membership. If there is any restrictive rule, preference is granted on condition that an amendment is made, and until the union complies with that condition, “employers may employ any person, whether a member of the union or not, but no employer shall discriminate against members of the union, or do anything to injure the union, directly or indirectly.”
A preference clause inserted in a dispute in connection with the Thames gold mines in 1901 was specially framed so as to prevent any hardship to non-unionists. It was provided that all that a non-unionist desiring employment had to do was to apply to be admitted as a member of the union, and, upon payment of an initiation fee not exceeding 5s. and weekly subscriptions not exceeding 6d., the union must admit him. If it refused to do so, the employer was entitled to employ him. The general principle adopted by Mr. Justice Cooper is that where the members of the union form a large majority of the workers in the trade affected, unionists are entitled to preference.page 260
After the Court had continued to insert the preference clause in its awards, in spite of the broad hint given by the Legislature in altering the Act's title, some employers in the colony decided to see if the Supreme Court could do something to help them to have the practice stopped. Although the Act specially provides that none of its awards shall be appealed against or reviewed on any account whatever, a firm of plumbers and gas-fitters applied to the Supreme Court at Christchurch for a mandamus to forbid the Court giving preference to unionists. Mr. Justice Denniston, presiding in the Supreme Court, dismissed the motion, holding that the Court could do as it thought fit. When the employers took the case to the Court of Appeal, they found that it was unanimous in supporting Mr. Justice Denniston. Mr. Justice Williams, as a member of the Court of Appeal, said that “the Arbitration Court has jurisdiction to decide a dispute in such a manner as it considers just. The Act confers no status on workmen who are not members of a union. It was not intended that they should be represented, nor did it contemplate that a decision giving preference to unionists should affect any legal right of non-unionist workmen. The non-unionist has no legal right to demand employment. He can sell his labour on what terms and at what prices he chooses, provided that he can find an employer able and willing to accept his terms; but he has no right to demand that there shall be an employer able and willing to accept his terms.” It should be stated, however, that the Act now takes cognisance of unorganised work-people. It is provided that any non-unionist working for an employer bound by an award must also be bound by the same award, and is liable to be fined if he breaks it.
But preference is only one of the complicated controversial problems the Court has been called upon to deal with. On one occasion it was asked by a Miners' Union to abolish the contract system. It decided that it was not justified in making a radical change in the manner in which employers preferred to conduct their businesses, unless the party which desired the change proved by preponderating evidence that it was necessary in the interests of justice and was fair and equitable. The union, in this case, it was held, had not brought forward the required page 261 proof, and the Court expressed an opinion that the contract system in the industry affected was not unfavourable to the workers.
It once refused to insert a clause in an award requiring employers to give reasons for the dismissal of men. It held that no worker was under an obligation to give reasons for a desire on his part to sever his relationship with his employer, and it was considered obvious that if the Court was to force employers to give reasons for the dismissal of men, it would be inserting a clause that hitherto had not been contemplated by either party.
The Court was told by the proprietors of Otago brick-fields that the demands of the men, if carried, would increase the cost of producing bricks by 4s. 6d. a thousand. It replied that the people of Dunedin were evidently getting their bricks at a price that would not enable the manufacturers to pay reasonable working expenses or obtain a fair margin of profit. It was shown that bricks were being sold in Dunedin at from 12s. 6d. to 15s. a thousand less than in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland, the other large centres in the colony, and the low prices in Dunedin were attributed to keen competition between the manufacturers. But the Court refused to let this fact weigh in giving an award. It was there, it said, to see that a reasonably fair rate of wages was paid for the class of work required from the worker in that trade. It therefore embodied in the award the scale of wages in force in Christchurch.
The Court was asked by the Waikato Coal-miners' Union to fix the shift-wages for miners at 10s. a day, instead of 9s. a shift. The point was disputed by the company that was working the mine, and the Court ordered it to produce its wages-sheets for each pay-day during the whole of the previous year. After a careful examina tion of those documents the Court came to the conclusion that the tonnage and yardage rates enabled a mine of average skill to make a net wage of about 9s. a shift. The rate, therefore, was not altered in the award.
An industrial agreement was entered into by the Waikato Coal-miners' Union and the Taupiri Coal Company. By that agreement there was a considerable increase in the heavingrates, and the company consequently raised the price of coal. page 262 But it seems that the whole of the increased return was absorbed by the increased cost of production. Later on the company's productions and sales for the year declined by 4000 tons. The Court concluded that the operations of the company would not permit it to pay a higher rate of wages and obtain any reasonable return for the capital invested. The representative of the union contended that the company could again raise the price of coal, so as to meet the demand for increased wages. But “we do not consider that the workers at present are unfairly paid,” was the finding of the Court; “they would, no doubt, as one of their witnesses very honestly stated, like to get a little more if they could, but the circumstances of this industry do not, in our opinion, justify us in making any further increase in wages.”
In 1901 the Court refused to increase the rate of miners' wages in the Auckland industrial district. The President said he was satisfied that, in spite of an increase of gold from the Waihi mine, the industry was languishing, and was in a depressed condition. He went on to say that many thousands of pounds had been sunk in improving the works, and no return from the extra money invested had yet been received. In many cases the money had been absolutely lost. In other cases, the position was so critical that, unless additional funds were provided for continuing development in the hope of payable results being obtained, companies that were employing large numbers of men would have to “slow down,” and the men employed would be thrown out of employment. The conditions were already sufficiently unfavourable, and if the Court, by its award, increased the expenses by one-sixth, as proposed, the chances of further funds being forthcoming would be destroyed. “This Court, in our opinion, is not justified in increasing the rate of wages so as to destroy, or, in a great measure, cripple, an industry upon which many workers now depend for their livelihood, and in which many individuals have invested money. We are satisfied that the mining industry, as a whole, in the Hauraki mining district, is in a very critical condition, and that the Court is not justified, unless very cogent reasons are established, in adding to the present expense necessary for the further development of the industry.”page 263
The Court has been asked to exclude an undue number of youths, and to limit their number in proportion to the number of adults in almost every occupation that has come under the Act. The proportion is generally stated at either one youth to three adults employed, or one to four. In delivering an award in the grocers' dispute in Wellington in 1902 the President said: “We know of no sufficient reason that can justify us in limiting the number of youths to be employed in a grocer's shop. There are some occupations where it is advisable to limit the youths in number. But there are other occupations where no such limit is either reasonable or necessary, and it is our duty to see that the avenues for suitable work are not closed to the youth of the colony. We owe a duty to the boys of the community, as well as to the adult workers of the colony, and that duty we must perform to the best of our ability.”
The Court further holds that if boys are debarred from obtaining suitable employment in trades from which they should not be excluded, a wrong is done to them, and the difficulties surrounding the bringing-up of a family are greatly increased. The interests of the colony, in its opinion, demand that the youths of the colony must not be shut out from legitimate means of earning a livelihood.
It is not necessary to continue quoting cases here to show the vast range of the Court's work, and the problems it is called upon to solve.
One feature that stands out very prominently is Mr. Reeves's wisdom in providing that the President shall be a Judge of the Supreme Court. This is another of the original proposals which met with great disfavour, but which, in practice, has been proved to be successful. The Judges of the Supreme Court themselves were strongly opposed to the idea. When the Bill was going through its first parliamentary stages, Sir James Prendergast, Chief Justice, on behalf of all the Judges, wrote to Mr. Reeves, as Minister for Justice, begging that the proposal to appoin one of their number President should not be carried out. His Honour said that their time was fully occupied, and that they specially objected to the imposition upon them of duties that were not judicial.page 264
It is now admitted without any reservation that the Judge's legal training is invaluable to the Court. If it was not for his presence, attempts would probably have been made to bring the Court into contempt. At first the President had repeatedly to check actions that had that tendency. “No Judge appointed merely for the purpose of the Act,” Judge Backhouse, of New South wales, said, “would be accepted; the head of the Court must be a Judge of the Supreme Court actually taking part in the work of that Court.”
It has been stated before that there is a wide difference of opinion in regard to the effect of the Act on the colony's industries. Its opponents have given instances to show that its influence has been harsh and bad for trades upon which it has operated. It must be admitted, however, that much of the ill-will displayed towards the Act in these years finds a source in the prejudice created at its birth. Almost every unprejudiced investigator of standing who has come to the colony to see it in operation has spoken in its favour.
The most exhaustive inquiry was made by Judge Backhouse, and he reported to the Victorian Government, under whose instructions he visited the colony, that “the Act, notwithstanding its faults, has been productive of good. It has prevented strikes of any magnitude, and has, on the whole, brought about a better relation between employers than would exist if there were no Act. A very large majority of the employers of labour whom I interviewed are in favour of the Act. Only one did I meet who said out and out ‘I would rather repeal it and have a straight stand-up fight,’ and he, in a letter, has considerably modified his statement.”
A Royal Commission on Factories, sent to the colony from Victoria, praised the Act highly.
Within the colony, a prominent member of the Canterbury Employers' Association, a deep student of all questions touching the relationship between labour and capital, and an employers' representative at one of the largest disputes the Court has held, has said that he did not think that any employer in New Zealand would willingly revert to the method of settling disputes by strikes and lock-outs. “Every page 265 employer would admit that peaceful settlement by arbitration was preferable. It was always a risky experiment to put an untried weapon into inexperienced hands, and allowance must be made for unexpected casualties. There had been casualties, but not more than might reasonably be expected. If they viewed the results of the Act, they might feel fairly satisfied with them. At any rate, if they looked abroad and saw what was being done in America and England, they ought to conclude that they were better off under the Act than other people were without it.”
Mr. G. Blackwell, who is managing director of the largest woollen mill in the colony, and is another man with wide experience of the Court, in representing the Canterbury Employers' Association before the committee of the House of Representa-tives in 1900, said that the association was thoroughly in accord with the principles laid down in the Act. If the amending Bill then before the House was amended in the directions suggested by the association, it was strongly of opinion that it would be impossible to conceive of a more useful measure, properly administered, that would prove of such immense benefit to all sections of the industrial community. “There is no antagonism now,” he concluded, “whatever there may have been in the past; we desire to co-operate in making the present Bill a workable measure.”
The federated boot operators and boot-manufacturers have now been before the Court three times, referring their troubles to it each time that an award ran out. On the last occasion, in 1901, at the conclusion of the case, the President of the Court complimented the delegates from both sides on the manner in which they had conducted the case. He said that the Court sat for the purpose of dealing in the most patient and exhaustive manner with the questions submitted, and with an earnest desire to bring the parties to a mutual agreement, if possible. The Act was capable of being worked in the interests of both employers and employés, and was productive of great good. If the Court lost sight of the central feature of the Act—the mutual good-will which should exist between employers and workmen—and attempted in any way to deal with the system in page 266 a spirit not contemplated by the Legislature, it might do great harm to both sides. It was the Court's desire to do as little as possible to disorganise the conditions of trade in the colony. At the same time, the Court felt that it was there to protect the workmen on the one side and the employers on the other side. It should do justice to all parties and disorganise as little as possible the numerous industries that existed in the colony. Speaking from his own knowledge of the working-classes, he could say that they were not unreasonable, though he believed that they desired to get what they thought was reasonable for their own interests, and sometimes asked too much. The employers, many of whom had sprung from the working-classes, and knew their conditions, would not, he thought, meet the employés in an unreasonable spirit, if they had in their minds the one idea, that the interests of both were to be mutually conserved for the good of the community and of the particular persons engaged in the trade. That was the principle which should actuate both employers and employés.
Mr. T. Woods, a union delegate, in reply, said that it had always been the ambition of the unions to bring about good feeling between the employers and the workers. Mr. A. H. Cooper, another union delegate, thanked the employers' delegates for their courtesy. Each side, he said, had conducted its case in a conciliatory spirit.
Mr. J. A. Frostick, President of the Boot-manufacturers' Association, said that whatever the Court accomplished, it had assisted in bringing about that excellent feeling which had been referred to by Mr. Cooper. No matter what award was made by the Court, if the men would thoroughly co-operate with the employers in competing with the importations, the local industry would ultimately suceed.
In ‘this way, the Court, and the Act as a whole, have earned the colony's respect and appreciation.
One part of the scheme has not been so successful as was anticipated, but the partial breakdown of the Conciliation Boards has not led to the loss of the conciliatory principle. The Court has taken upon itself the duty of conciliating. It would rather conciliate than compel. It is not only a Court of page 267 Arbitration, an ordinary Court of Law, and a Court of Appeal, but also a Court of Conciliation; and the conciliatory element is predominant. In the settlement of a dispute in Christchurch between the Sheepowners' Union and the Shearers' Union, which threatened at one time to disorganise one of the large industries of the colony, the Court undertook the functions of a Conciliation Board. By its intervention, a disastrous quarrel was averted, and an agreement was come to which, apparently, at the time, satisfied both parties.
The Court's proceedings have often been stopped in the course of hearing a dispute to allow the parties to meet in conference. On several occasions, the President has asked representatives of the parties to meet him privately in his room, so that he might, by his advice and legal knowledge, help to bring about an amicable settlement. In many instances these conferences are quite successful; and when that is so, the agreement is entered in the Court's records as an award, and is given the full force of a judicial decision.
The tribunal that was expected to be a tyrant has proved to be a mediator. There are hardly any limits to its powers; but it is as conciliatory as it is powerful, and it leaves no stone unturned to bring parties together without the intervention of the law.
The Court's constant affirmation of the principle of conciliation is one of the discoveries in respect to the scheme's operation. It has shown that both conciliation and arbitration are integral parts of the scheme, and that they may go handin-hand, and, indeed, ought to do so. New Zealand would have found conciliation without arbitration a yielding reed to lean upon in times of industrial strife. Had Mr. Reeves listened to those critics who wanted to strike out his compulsory clauses, the scheme would have been a complete failure from the start. It is only in the iron-bound compulsory clauses of the Act that finality is reached.
If the Act has not helped the colony's progress, as has been alleged, it has not retarded it. Since the introduction of the Act, New Zealand has experienced no strikes or lock-outs, except of a very insignificant character, and the page 268 colony's industrial progress has been uninterrupted and unprecedented.
It is not claimed that the revival of the old prosperity in 1895 and the following years was mainly due to the operations of the Act. A claim of that nature would be absurd. There is plenty of evidence, however, to support Mr. Reeves's contention that the Act has saved employers from strikes and dislocation of trade, and has increased the spending power of labour, and has therefore had a share in bringing about the colony's well-being. As Mr. Reeves points out in reply to his critics, it has not broken down, or become detestable, or been an obstacle to the revival of industry amongst the people with whom it is in constant use.