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Wednesday, 29 April 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), in moving for the disallowance of the amendments of the National Security (Man-power) Regulations made by Statutory Rules 1942, No. 102, explained that the Opposition was not acting from any desire to embarrass the Government, but because it considered that the Government's proposal relating to the suspension of an employee who had incurred the displeasure of his employer would not give the results sought; that it would, in fact, cause inconvenience to the employee himself, and promote inefficiency in the management of the establishment in which he was employed. At that time, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), who replied for the Government, suggested that the regulations be given a fair trial. He pointed out that the Government had, under a process amounting virtually to industrial conscription, restricted the right of the employee to move freely from place to place, and that the Government was of the opinion that some restriction should also be placed upon the normal freedom of the employer to dismiss an employee. Obviously, if you prevent an employee from moving about in search of better wages or more congenial work, and require him to accept that condition as a part of the regimentation of industry for war purposes, then the employer must also accept some limitation of his right to dismiss his employees for what they might regard as trivial reasons. With this proposition the Opposition agrees, but it says that he Government has, in fact, under these regulations, failed to achieve its objective. lt has caused the employee much inconvenience, and perhaps hardship, and has made it extremely difficult for an employer to maintain discipline in his factory or workshop. An employer is deprived of his right to dismiss an employee even for serious misconduct, the only right remaining to him being the power of suspension. If in his judgement the employee has committed an act of serious misconduct, or has, over a period, committed a series of acts which together amount to serious misconduct, he may under the regulation do no more than suspend the employee. He must then notify the Director-General of Manpower of the suspension, and subsequently the man-power authorities will investigate the facts, and decide whether or not the suspension was justified. If it is decided that the suspension was justified, the employee is in fact dismissed. If, on the other hand, the Director-General finds that the suspension is not justified, the employee is to bc reinstated, and is to be paid his wages as from the time of his original suspension. If the Director-General finds that the suspension was justified, the employee is, as I have said, dismissed, but in the meantime, before the decision is given, the employee just waits about, sometimes for a period of several weeks. During this time he is not able to take any steps to secure employment elsewhere, because, in the event of a favorable decision, he will be expected to return to his previous employment. Moreover, when a man is suspended, the whole workshop is immediately in a state of excitement while the other workers speculate on what will be the result of the tussle between the boss and the employee. I can cite instances in which the work in a factory has been seriously interfered with as the result of such a controversy, and the employer has found, even when his decision has been upheld, that he has been the loser because of the time he has had to devote to the matter, and because of the general upset of factory routine. So far as the employers are concerned, the regulations work unsatisfactorily. The Minister asked that the regulations be given a fair trial. Well, several' weeks have elapsed since he made that request, and I tell him now that the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, which are entitled to speak with authority for a wide range of employers, maintains that the regulations are having an adverse effect - that they are not producing the result which the Government seeks, and that they are imposing hardship upon both the employers and the employees.

Mr Ward - How many appeals have been made against decisions of the manpower authorities?

Mr HOLT - My information is that the appropriate machinery for hearing appeals has not yet been set up.

Mr Ward - That is not true. The facilities have been provided, but there have been no appeals.

Mr HOLT - At the time when my information reached me, no Local Appeal Board had been set up in New South Wales. The Opposition suggests that, instead of the present arrangement, the employer shall retain his normal right of dismissal, but that the employee, if he considers that the dismissal was not justified, shall have the right of immediate appeal to the Director-General, who will then investigate the matter and give a decision,

Mr Ward - That is the position now. The honorable member is merely seeking to substitute the power of dismissal for that of suspension.

Mr HOLT - In practice, it would work out very differently. Under the system which we suggest, the employee, if he were satisfied that he had been dismissed on reasonable grounds, or if for any reason he did not wish to go back to the job, would immediately begin to look around for another position. He cannot do that under the present regulations ; he must wait about in idleness until the decision is given.

Mr Ward - -Such matters are dealt with promptly.

Mr HOLT - The instances which have been supplied to me by the Associated Chambers of Manufactures indicate that the contrary is the case. If an employee believes that he has been unjustifiably dismissed, he should have the right of immediate appeal, but if he does not want to continue in that job he should be able to take the dismissal as final and seek work somewhere else with the approval of the department. It is quite understandable that, in some instances, such feeling may develop between the employer and the employee that the employee, even if he thinks that his dismissal was unreasonable, will still be unwilling to continue in the job. He will prefer to leave it and seek employment elsewhere. I have been supplied with three typical cases which illustrate the points I have been making. They are not the only cases which could be cited, nor are they hand-picked. They are as follows: -

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