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Thursday, 11 July 1946

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill is intended not only to give effect to undertakings given to unions and employers when dilution agreements were made between the Federal Government, employers organizations, and trade unions in the early days of the war, but also to assist in the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. Whilst dilution necessarily involved a lowering of trade standards to meet war requirements, the normal standards of the trades were to be restored as soon as dilution was no longer essential. The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) headed the Government of the day which was a party to those agreements. Both Labour ministries since then accepted fully the terms of the agreements. In 1942 the late Mr. Curtin, as Prime Minister, re-affirmed in the House the promise to restore normal trade practices at the end of hostilities. The present

Government considered that this agreement would unduly prejudice the rehabilitation prospects of a number of returning servicemen, and therefore undertook negotiations with employers and unions. As aresult of these negotiations," the scheme provided for in this bill was evolved, and whilst it adequately fulfils the earlier agreement in regard to the protection of recognized tradesmen, it will also make a material contribution to the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen by making it possible for a number of them to enter the skilled metal trades.

It will be recalled that with the fall of France in May, 1940, it became obvious that Australia would not only have to depend on its own resources for the production of arms for its own forces, but also would have to help to supply the munitions required by the mother country and allied forces in the Middle East. However, the huge munitions programme contemplated could not be carried out without considerable increase of the number of tradesmen in the engineering and related trades. The Menzies Government approached the trade unions and employers organizations, and agreement was reached on a scheme of dilution to meet these exceptional needs. Under the dilution agreement, the unions assented to the relaxation of existing trade customs and practices to enable semi-skilled and partly trained workers to perform work normally carried out by fully qualified tradesmen. It was, however, fully understood that this action would not be permitted to prejudice the ultimate rights of the recognized tradesmen. The dilution regulations subsequently made under the National Security Act give clear expression to these principles. Honorable members know that the munitions programme expanded almost beyond recognition after the extension of the war into the Pacific, and the skilled metal trades were diluted, to a far greater degree than had been originally planned. Approximately 50,000 men were added to the diluted trades, and although a large number of these have now returned to their normal occupations, 24.000 still remain in employment as added tradesmen.

The temporary need which brought these men into this field developed in

Australia new industrial activity, a part of which at least is likely to be permanent. It is only right and proper that these new avenues of employment should not be closed to men who have been absent in the armed forces. The bill, therefore, makes provision for the admission to the engineering, boilermaking, blacksmithing, electrical, and sheet-metal trades of ex-servicemen who have had sufficient training and experience in those trades while in the forces to enable them, after a reasonable period of probation or training in employment, to reach the standard of skilled tradesmen. Honorable members will be aware that the Navy, Army and Air Force needed large numbers of technicians to meet the demands of modern mechanized warfare, and for this many thousands of servicemen were trained in special technical work. Naturally, many of these men will not wish to use this technical skill in civil life. Many have other occupations to which they prefer to return. For others, however, this skill acquired in the services, and the opportunities provided by this bill, will be a means of rehabilitation. At the same time, I must warn honorable members that the Australian engineering industry, despite its expansion since 1939, has not unlimited absorptive capacity, and, therefore, one function of the committees provided for in the bill will be to avoid the overloading of industry, which would result in the ultimate unemployment of both ex-servicemen and recognized tradesmen. To avoid such overloading, some portion of the dilution structure must be retained in the interests of all. Following upon conferences which were held with representatives of the appropriate employer organizations and unions, the provisions of the engineering, boilerrnaking, blacksmithing, electrical, and. sheet-metal trades dilution regulations were revised and amended in March of this year to meet the new situation, and the substance of this bill is, for all practical purposes, identical with th at of the amended regulations.

The bill provides for administrative machinery to control the scheme by central and local trades committees similar in composition and functions to the committees of unions and employers which administered the dilution scheme. These committees will have the additional duty of settling matters concerning the employment of the different categories of tradesmen, and will be Industrial Committees under the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945, in respect of these trades.. First priority in employment is accorded to " recognized tradesmen " - (a) in respect of engagements, by the provision in clause 43 that an employer shall not employ on tradesmen's work any person other than a. " recognized tradesman " if a competent recognized tradesman is available and offering for employment; and (b) in respect of dismissals or retrenchments, by the provision in the same clause that the "recognized tradesman " would be the last to go unless a local committee consented otherwise, and subject to an employer exercising award rights to dismiss an employee for malingering, neglect of duty, or misconduct.

Provision is made for ex-servicemen with training and experience in the trade, acquired in the forces, to become " recognized tradesmen " in three ways : -

(1)   Ex-servicemen who have served in the forces for a long period in a trade capacity, and have so acquired the full skill of a tradesman, may be certified immediately as " recognized tradesmen " by a local committee.

(2)   Ex-servicemen needing a period of employment at the trade, not exceeding twelve months, to attain full trade skill, may be authorized as " probationary tradesmen " by a local committee, and upon successfully completing the probationary period, may be certified as " recognized tradesmen ".

(3)   Ex-servicemen who have gained some trade skill in the forces and are eligible for training benefits' under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme may be authorized as "trainee-tradesmen" by a local committee, and after a reasonable period of training on the job may be certified as " recognized tradesmen ".

It will be noted that both " probationary tradesmen " and " traineetradesmen " will receive the full tradesman's rate of wages, but in respect of " traineetradesmen " a part of the wage will be paid by way of training benefit under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. Applications to a local committee for admission as a " probationary " or " trainee-tradesman " must be made, unless there are exceptional circumstances, within six months after the exserviceman's discharge from the forces or after the 22nd March, 1946, whichever is ' the later. So as to avoid any misunderstanding; I point out to honorable members that the 22nd March is, in fact, the date on which the scheme was brought "into effect by the National Security (Trades Dilution) Regulations No. 2.

I commend the bill to the House, in the hope that it will be treated . as a nonparty matter. Both sides of the House will wish to redeem the pledge to our bona fide tradesmen that pre-war practices and customs would be restored, and will also desire to provide for a just measure of rehabilitation to men who have served in the forces. In concluding, it is fitting that I should pay a just tribute to men who, as skilled tradesmen or added tradesmen, contributed their part in factory and workshop, and also to the trade unions and employers, without whose voluntary acceptance of the dilution principles our munitions programme could not have been carried out. In the name of the Government and the people of Australia, I thank, those employer and employee organizations which so wholeheartedly co-operated in administering the wartime scheme and are now further co-operating in the administration of the scheme that is incorporated in the bill.

Mr Holt - What rights will ex- . servicemen have as against the " added tradesmen " who are now in employment?

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