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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) is under a misapprehension as to what the Man Power Regulations do provide and as to the Government's intentions. To discuss these regulations it is necessary to know their background. When the regulations were brought down they imposed great restrictions upon the use which workers might make of their powers of labour. They have no choice in leaving their employment or in transferring to another establishment. They, surrendered that right, because they 'recognized the needs of the Government in carrying out ite intensive defence programme. The unions quite rightly said that if the workers were entirely to forfeit their right to change their employment, it was only logical that the employer should likewise be limited and have no- right to dismiss. Under the regulations as originally framed, an employer could dismiss an employee for serious misconduct, and it was left to the employer to determine what constituted serious misconduct. It would have been possible for an employer to' say that an employee had been guilty of serious misconduct if he had been attending to legitimate trade union business on the works, and for doing so he could have dismissed the employee. Therefore, the trade unionists, who were vitally concerned about the effect of the regulations, said that if their freedom of action in changing their place of employment was to be limited, the power of the employers to dismiss them should be similarly restricted. The amending regulations, to which the honorable member for Warringah has taken exception, offer a much more effective way of dealing with such cases as they arise= There is no case that would not be covered by the regulations as now amended. If an employee arrived at his work in an allegedly drunken state, or was alleged to be guilty of embezzlement, the employer would have the right to suspend him. The matter would then be reported to the Department of Labour and National Service and an investigation of the circumstances would be made. A report on the matter would be submitted to the department and a determination made by it as to whether the suspension was or was not justified. If either party was dissatisfied, he would have the right to go to the appeal tribunal. Both employer and employee still have that right. The manpower regulations practically amount to industrial conscription, but industrial conscription cannot be carried out without the co-operation of the organized workers. We can assign men to certain jobs, and compel them to remain on them, but we cannot compel them to maintain production at a satisfactory level, because there are many methods by which- they could defeat the objects of the Government.

Mr Hughes - That would be serious misconduct.

Mr WARD - Although we can compel men to remain on certain jobs, it would, be difficult to compel them to continue production. Co-operation of the organized trade unions is essential. In- some instances, . disciplinary action against individual trade unionists is essential. Workers may occasionally defy both the Government and the trade union officials, but the Government is anxious to obtain maximum production. It desires efficiency in the workshops, and the trade unions are prepared to co-operate with it. The employees have made reasonable requests that restrictions similar to those imposed on them with regard to their right to change their places of employment should be placed on the employers in respect of their right to dismiss workers. If an employee is suspended without reason, and the department determines that the suspension was unwarranted, the employer, will be required to reinstate the suspended person in his employment and pay him the wages of which he was deprived during the term of his suspension.

The honorable member for Warringah has asked why either party should not have the right to go direct to the appeal tribunal. Many of the disputes that arise from time to time are of a trivial- nature, and, if we provided for immediate access to the appeal tribunal, its work would be so congested that a long series of delays would occur in reaching determinations. In many cases submitted to the department no appeal will be lodged by either the employer or the employee. Only in cases where disagreement arises over the decision of the department will there be an appeal. This practice will speed up the procedure in arriving at decisions. The Government has said that it desires to streamline the arbitration machinery, in order to prevent delays that cause unrest in industry, and the amended regulations will have a good effect. They apply to the Government, as an employer, as well as to private employers.

At a trade union congress held in Melbourne on the 12th February last, these man-power proposals of the Government were discussed with representatives of practically every important trade union in the Commonwealth. Very few unions were not represented either directly or indirectly. It would be safe to say that it was the most representative trade union congress ever held in this country. The Government's proposals were discussed by the delegates because the Government wanted to have the co-operation of the trade union movement. As I have said, the Government's industrial programme would not have' been worth the paper on which it was printed without the co-operation of the trade unions. The delegates submitted a number of requests, some of which are embodied in the regulations under consideration. They pointed- out how easy it would be for employers to victimize employees. As honorable members know, there have been instances of victimization of employees in the past, and employees have had great difficulty in having their grievances rectified. Indeed, in some instances matters in dispute have not been rectified, with the result that industrial unrest has been caused. The Government wanted to avoid such causes of " unrest. Honorable gentlemen will agree that it is preferable to place some restriction on unscrupulous employers in order to prevent upheavals in industry. Employers can be divided into two classes - those who would not stoop to unfair practices, and those who are unscrupulous enough to avail themselves of every opportunity to serve their own interests. Many employers strongly object to the presence of union representatives in their works, and, at times, disputes have arisen because employers have endeavoured to restrict the activities of union organizers and officials. The adoption of the proposals put forward by the honorable member for Warringah, would mean that we would go back to those days when the employer was a law unto himself in his own establishment.

Mr Spender - That is not my proposal. .

Mr WARD - I listened carefully to the honorable gentleman and that is the impression that I gained from his remarks. He wants us to go back to the old system under which an employer was supreme in his own establishment.

Mr Spender - As to the right of dismissal.

Mr WARD - The original regulations placed no restrictions whatever on emp1 overs, although at first glance it would appear to be otherwise. The honorable gentleman spoke of the rights of employers, but neither employers nor employees have rights which are greater than the right of the Government to have its programme for thedefence of this country carried out.

Mr Spender - I conceded that point.

Mr WARD - Men who talk about an all-in war effort have in mind only the contribution which they think should be made by employees; they consider that the employers, and the wealthy sections of the community generally, should continue to enjoy all the privileges that have been theirs in the past, whilst other sections of the community should make sacrifices. The Government believes that in accepting these regulations the trade union movement has made the greatest sacrifice of personal liberty that any section of organized workers in any country has ever made voluntarily. These trade unionists have voluntarily relinquished many hard-won rights; therefore, the Government is not prepared to alter the procedure that has been laid down. It believes that that procedure provides the most effective way of dealing with the matters covered by these regulations. The honorable member for Warringah has placed on theseregulations a certain legal interpretation, but other legal gentlemen may give entirely different opinions. My experience is that it is just as easy to get as many legal opinions in favour of one view as can be assembled in favour of another view.

The Government will not deprive the employer of his right to suspend an employee for serious misconduct. The employer will, in the first instance, determine what constitutes serious misconduct. Should the suspension prove to be unwarranted, the employer will be penalized by having to reinstate the employee and pay him for the time of his suspension ; but should the suspension be held to be justified, the services of the suspended employee shall be deemed to have terminated on the date of his suspension.

The honorable gentleman also referred to the power of the Government in respect of unemployed persons. Another great sacrifice of liberty which the workers have accepted is that registered unemployed may be directed to proceed to any place, and there to carry out any work of which the Government considers them to be capable. As compensation for that loss of liberty those who were unemployed are to be protected by being guaranteed award rates of pay, suitable accommodation, and generally trade union conditions of employment. They are also to be provided with free transport to and from their place of employment. What objection can there be to that?

Mr Spender - I do not object to it.

Mr WARD - Men so protected may not leave their places of employment without the authority of the DirectorGeneral of Man Power; in practice, that means that they may not leave their employment without the permission of the Government. A further condition of such protection is that men directedto undertake certain work must stay on the job until the work has been completed, unless they are permitted to leave earlier. That power is necessary because otherwise men on reaching the place to which they were directed to proceed could immediately leave without commencing work.

Another question that arises is the treatment of men who have been employed on work that has been completed. The honorable member for Warringah said that they could not leave, and that their employer could not dismiss them.

Mr.Spender. - I did not say that. I pointed out that a man could not leave his employment without the permission of the Director-General of Man Power, and that if such permission were not forthcoming he could not be dismissed by his employer.

Mr WARD - I disagree with the honorable gentleman. In my opinion, the employer would retain his right to suspend, but not to dismiss, any employee. In most cases which will come under this heading, the employer will be the Commonwealth Government. So far, no case has arisen in which unemployed workers have been directed to proceed to any given place to undertake work. I doubt very much whether such a case will arise. However, provided unemployed men are offered award wages and conditions of work with suitable housing, and free transport to and from their place of employment, they will be. willing to proceed to such places as they are directed to go. However, the occasion to apply this provision may never arise. The honorable member for Warringah, therefore, is only shadow-sparring. He is dealing purely with hypothetical cases. In any case, should unemployed men be directed to go to a certain place is it feasible to suggest that the Government would he so foolish as to continue to hold them at any centre after they had completed their work? Obviously, it would be to the advantage of the Government to return them immediately to their place of engagement, or to find work for them elsewhere.

Mr Spender - I did not raise that argument at all; that was raised by interjection.

Mr WARD - At any rate, it was raised by an honorable member opposite. The honorable member for Warringah has endeavoured to make a good case out of poor material. I emphasize that we are only beginning to apply these manpower regulations. We have not yet completed the compilation of the manpower register and, therefore, cannot give full effect to these proposals. The honorable member for Warringah now asks this Parliament to destroy the machinery we have just set up before it has been given a fair trial. I ask the House to give the regulations a trial. The Government will watch the position closely. We are determined that, in applying the laws of this country, no privilege will be preserved for any section of the community. We shall not give to employers any privilege at a time when employees are being asked to give up practically all their rights. Co-operation cannot be secured by coercion. It can be obtained only by winning the goodwill of the trade union movement and the workers as a whole. The Government must co-operate with the workers. With this object in view it has discussed its man-power proposals with the representatives of the workers, and has removed from its original proposals this feature to which the workers have taken serious objection. The honorable member for Warringah now asks us to reinsert some of those objectionable features in these regulations. If that be done, the trade union movement will withdraw its guarantee to co-operate to the greatest possible degree in the Government's plans. I hope, therefore, that the House will allow these regulations to remain until they have at least been given a fair trial.

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