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Friday, 18 November 1938

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- Once again 1 feel it encumbent upon me to raise a matter of major importance tq the success of the Government's hopes for the assistance of the trade union movement in the implementation of its defence policy. I do so to-day more particularly as the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has repeatedly stated that the trade union movement has turned down a proposal that it should have representatives on the Council of Defence. While I was asking a question regarding this matter to-day, the ex-Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) backed up by the present Minister for Defence (Mt. Street), conveyed the impression that the information I was conveying was untrue. For that reason I take this opportunity to place at the disposal of the House information which I have received in regard to military contracts, and I back it up with the assertion: that if the Prime

Minister or some other responsible Minister of the Government does not see to it that military contracts are carried out under trade union conditions, it is beyond question that the Government cannot hope to secure the co-operation of the trade union movement on the Council of Defence or anything else. My complaint refers to a contract that was to be let for the supply of 13,000 felt hats for the military forces. Before the closing date for the submission of tenders I, and the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan), at the request of trade union officials of the hat manufacturing industry, and at the invitation of one of the biggest manufacturers of felt hats in Sydney, visited a factory to view the process of manufacture and to hear both sides of the question relative to the supply of hats under contract to the. Defence Department. We were told definitely by the managing director of the factory that, although he had in his own office the necessary application forms for the contract, it was absolutely useless for his concern or any other factory observing trade union conditions to tender for this work, because the firm which had previous been given the contract, and which would probably be given the new contract, did not observe trade union conditions. When I raised this matter on a previous occasion the Minister for Defence promised to have it investigated and if necessary to prevent the contract from being let until the full facts had been ascertained. No delay, however, occurred in arriving at a decision as to what firm should be given the contract. It was, of course, given to the firm which the union officials state does not observe trade union conditions, and against which employers in New South Wales assert they cannot compete because of that fact. Statements were made by the former Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) that air examination had been made of the premises occupied by this firm, and that he had provided for the policing of the contract. As a matter of fact one of the conditions precedent to the securing of the contract was that the firm in question undertook to observe trade union conditions. Union officials state that not only is this shop a non-union shop, but also it will not tolerate the presence of trade union officials on its premises. I do not think the Minister for Defence will deny the accuracy of that statement. He must be aware that it is impossible for anybody but an expert in hat making to know whether a hat in the process of manufacture is an ordinary civilian hat or a military hat until 60 per cent, of the manufacturing operations have been completed. The department sent along an officer who knew nothing at all about the manufacture of hats to investigate the matter. It is obvious that he must have been as incompetent as I, or any other honorable member of this House, to determine whether the operations that took place during his visit were concerned with the manufacture of an ordinary civilian hat or a military hat. Yet when he returned to the department and reported that he had made an investigation the department accepted without question the statement 'that this particular military contract was being carried out under the conditions which the contractor agreed to observe when the contract was let!

Mr Beasley - They are "putting it over " the Minister.

Mr ROSEVEAR - I do not blame the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), whom I regard as a reasonable man. When I approached the previous Minister (Mr. Thorby) I had little confidence that he would be concerned about the observance of trade union conditions, or that he would do anything in the matter. I have to-day had an assurance from the present Minister that he will interview the secretary of the union. I think he will find that what I have said in this House, what the union officials in New South Wales have informed us, and what a director of one of the leading manufacturers of hats in Sydney has stated, is true, namely, that the firm which has this contract is not observing trade union conditions, and that it is impossible for any other respectable employer who is doing so to compete with it. All that the department can place against that information is that it sent an inspector to the factory who is not competent to judge as to whether or not our statements are based on fact. The union even went so far as to place at the disposal of the department an expert who could recognize the difference between hats in the process of manufacture, yet all that the department did waa to continue to rely on the inspector. In these circumstances, how does the Government expect any self-respecting trade union to Go-operate with it? It deliberately places the telescope to the blind eye when asked to investigate the circumstances that I have depicted. 'Condemnation has been voiced not only by the trade union, but also by the employers. I have received from the Minister a letter dated the 17th November, from which I shall read certain passages. One passage reads -

The departmental inspecting officers report that an examination of the books, together with an inspection of the work and interrogation of the employees, has failed to disclose evidence of any breach of the award.

Both the Minister and the inspector ought to know that this firm is not observing award conditions. It will not allow on its premises a trade union official who knows something about the manufacture of these hats, as well as the conditions under which the men have to work. With Unscrupulous employers, an inspection of books does not furnish a good and sufficient reason to disbelieve the views expressed by the trade union. An employer who is so biased against union inspection of his works or interrogation of his men is capable of compelling the men to sign for wages that they do not receive. Neither an examination of the books nor an inspection of the works is of any value, if the inspector does not understand what he is inspecting. The Minister's letter continues -

It moy bc mentioned, also, that recently the secretary of the union sought permission' for an officer of the union to carry out the necessary inspection under the contract, and it was explained- lt does not say by whom, but I assume that it was by the department- that there ie no provision for either the Minister or the department to authorize an officer of the union, or any person other than an officer of the Commonwealth or of the State, to carry out the inspection- under the contract.

Despite the fact that the Government assures us that everything is aboveboard, and although this firm largely depends upon Government contracts, and consequently would not dare to resist an effort by the Government to have a union official inspect the works, the Minister tells us that there is no power under the contract to enable that to be done* We admit that there is nothing in the contract which compels the firm in question to submit to an examination by other than an officer of the department, who is not in a position to judge; but I do not think it would dare to resist a request by the Government that a union official should be allowed to inspect the works to see that everything is above board.

I said earlier that I had a press cutting dealing with this particular matter. It reads -

The first government contract was given in 1034, the next in 1037, and the latest followed the calling of tenders in August of this year. Thus the Lyons Government, which seeks " co-operation " from the trade unions of this country, is openly assisting the anti-union shop by giving it hig military contracts. Union officials tell the Voice that conditions in tlie Hatcraft factory are bad. Employment of child labour is a feature. There are only five skilled men in the factory, they say, but to fulfil the latest military contract under union conditions it would take at least fifteen skilled men. This is not considering any additional outside work. Most of the employees are boys between sixteen and eighteen years of age. Very few lads are kept on over eighteen years. Other union-condition employers are kicking because they find it impossible to compete with Hatcraft Proprietary Limited under these conditions. One former young employee of the factory has told the union that whenever an inspector visited the factory he was whisked away into another room and handed a broom. The foreman continued with the boy's job until the inspector had gone - the lad was doing a skilled man's job. If the firm were to observe award conditions, union officials say that Hatcraft's could not Complete their present military contract if they worked their present skilled men 24 hours a day. Hours in the industry are fixed at 44 a week. Hours at this factory are hard to calculate, but the union believes them to bc more than 48 a week.

Under these conditions, is it reasonable that the Government should expect any co-operation from the trade Union movement in carrying out its defence programme so far as the supply of materials is concerned, when it has the power to see, by the simple inclusion in the contract of a clause - as the ex-Minister for Defence could have done, when a deputation from the union represented the dangers of giving the contract to this firm-which would give to some authority in a position to know the difference between a civilian hat and a military hat during the process of manufacture, the opportunity to overlook these works and to see, not only that the workers in the industry were getting a fair deal, but also that other manufacturers of hats were not being prejudiced in the matter of securing government contracts. I invite the Minister, before he questions the truth of anything placed before him, to remember that I have heard both sides of the matter. If there are three sides, [ have heard the three; I have heard the views of the union officials in Sydney, of the managing director of the biggest hat factory in Sydney, and of the union officials in Melbourne, where this particular factory h located; and from the evidence placed before me, I know the conditions under which these men must be working. The only evidence the Minister can produce to challenge the veracity of those who raise this matter is that of an inspector, who is not in a position to judge as to whether or not the statements that have been made are correct. If he doubts our word, lot him accept the challenge issued by the union when the last contract was given to this firm, namely, to supply the department with an expert who would be able to watch the process of manufacture of these hats,, and to see not only that these men who work in the factory get a fair deal, but also that other manufacturers of hats throughout Australia, who pay decent wages and work their men reasonable hours under award conditions, shall have a chance to obtain a contract.

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