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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr HUGHES (North SydneyLeader of the United Australia Party) . - I support the motion moved by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). I am sorry that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. 'Ward), who dealt with this subject at some length, did not appreciate the point made by my colleague. I agree entirely with the Minister that it is- impossible to expect, or deserve, the wholehearted cooperation of the workers unless they are assured that their interests are amply safeguarded. I agree entirely with the efforts which he and other Ministers have made to attain, and deserve, that cooperation. However, I do not agree that the regulations as framed are likely to accomplish what either the workers or the Government desire. What is it we need? The Minister gave utterance to our wish, namely, to ensure the maximum output. That is what we are trying to achieve ; and no amount of glossing over the matter will hide the fact that industrial conscription is applied under these and other regulations. The workers of this country have lost all right of disposing freely of their labour and, in such circumstances, it is proper that they should be given the most positive assurance that the employers shall not take advantage of them. Admitting that what we need is the maximum output, we are compelled to surrender the right of freedom of contract for which honorable members on both sides of the House have stood for time immemorial, because of the imminent peril to our whole national structure, economic, social and industrial. We now say to Jones, Smith and Robinson, " You will do this, or that ". At the same time, we take away from, employers their right to dismiss an employee for any reason. As the honorable member for Warringah pointed out. that right has always been limited by law or agreement. An employer cannot "sack" a man on the spot except in certain circumstances and unless he pays to the employee so dismissed certain compensation. That aspect, however, does not enter into this matter. The point at issue is something entirely different and I am sorry that the Minister has not recognized it. In dealing with the matter of serious misconduct at such length he revealed an entire misconception ofthe matter at issue. Serious misconduct cannot properly arise out of an industrial matter. A man may be employed in a shop in which women are employed. He may be entirely competent in his work but he may be a pervert or an immoral person, and any immoral offence he may commit can be dealt with under the law. What we need to promote by means of regulations of this kind, or by whatever other means we possess, is the highest possible efficiency in industry. The employer, therefore, should have the right to dismiss an employee on the ground of inefficiency provided the employee has the right to go to a tribunal which is to be created, together with the right of appeal, or, as the honorable member for Warringah suggests, the right to appeal direct. I shall not argue as to which procedure is preferable. Obviously the more direct method is the better. Probably the best method would be to appoint an officer in each establishment of any dimensions bo whom such matters could be referred immediately, providing at the same time the right of appeal. My contention is that this should notbe a question of serious misconduct. An employer should determine whether or not in fact theefficiency of his establishment is being maintained at the highest possible standard. Every body realizes that we are hard put to it at present to get competent labour. Men are going into workshops with only a rudimentary knowledge of the processes being carried out in those establishments. However, the Government looks to the employer to see that he turns out work considered to be of fair quantity. The employer therefore must have the right to say to Jones or Smith: "That will not do; you must stand off". Is inability to turn out a certain number of items per day serious misconduct? I should not be prepared to say so. Supposing that a machine operated by a competent employee can produce 50 articles in a. day, but one controlled by another employee can produce only twenty articles daily. Is the latter employee guilty of serious misconduct?

Mr Ward - Such a matter could be referred to the department for investigation.

Mr HUGHES - That is what I am coming to. All I ask is that " serious misconduct" should be clearly defined.

Mr Ward - There would be no need for a dismissal. The matter could be reported to the department and investigated.

Mr HUGHES - I quite agree with that. It is true that we shall be able to watch how this machinery works and then amend it if necessary. All I am pointing out is that, as the paramount desire to-day is maximum efficiency and output, we should see to it that inefficiency is the gravest delinquency of which an operative can be guilty. But it is not serious misconduct; it is simply inefficiency. Obviously, if the Minister or I were to take on a. job of which we had no knowledge, even with all the will in the world, we could not possibly be as competent as an experienced man. That is all I am putting to the Government. I quite understand the attitude taken up by the Minister.

Mr Ward - In order to obtain maximum production, would the- right honorable member give the department the right to dismiss an inefficient manager.

Mr HUGHES - Yes. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Certainly we must have efficient employers, and as it appears likely that the Government will become the largest employer, if it has not already assumed that role, efficiency on the part of managers and sub-managers who are government servants is of the greatest importance.

Mr Ward - I am referring to private enterprise.

Mr HUGHES - What applies to the workmen should also apply to the managers. The honorable member for Warringah said the right of an employer to dismiss an employee for any reason at all is retained, but is limited, in effect, by the right of appeal to the representative of the department and to a court. Actually, there is not a great deal of difference between our views and those held by honorable members opposite in regard to this matter. If a man be dismissed, he should have the right of appeal; his interests should be safeguarded. I hope that the Minister will give the matter consideration from that point of view, and agree to the suggested amendments.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Brennan) adjourned.

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