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Wednesday, 29 April 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Primp Minister) . - The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has put forward what would appear to be a reasonably good case for disallowing these regulations. He has argued that the normal routine of industry would operate if the employer were allowed the right to dismiss, and the employee were given the right of appeal to a tribunal. He overlooks altogether the purposes for which the regulations were framed. They do not apply to a normal state of affairs in industry. The essence of the regulations is we have set up what are called protected industries; and the paramount obligation in respect of industries of that class is that the employee has no right to leave his job. He must not dismiss the employer by vacating the factory. That is a very serious inroad upon the rights of employees.

Mr Holt - We admit that.

Mr CURTIN -- Its justification is the tremendous duty that in the (Government's opinion the nation must accept, namely, that all should do their utmost to maintain production in defence industries. It is in order to avoid dislocation and disturbance in industry, and to prevent the worker from using the bargaining capacity which the present situation enables him to assert by going to another place of employment where he would, perhaps, receive a higher rate of wages, that the Government has adopted these regulations and a number of others. They deprive the worker, who, for centuries has had the worst of the bargaining between the employer and himself, of the opportunity to take advantage of the new state of affairs in which the competition for goods exceeds the capacity to supply them, and rival employers in the carrying out of defence works must outbid one another for labour, particularly skilled labour. The Government considered that in the interests of our defence, such competition must not be allowed. Consequently, it took away from the worker the right to leave his job, that is, the right to advantage himself by transferring to another employer. . That is a fundamental interference with the rights of the employee. It is argued that the employer should still have the right to sack a man who has no right to leave his job. That means that so long as the employer wants to keep that man in his employ, the latter has no possibility of ceasing to be his employee; but at any time the employer wants to get rid of him, all he has to do is to charge him with serious misconduct. Some of us know a good deal about factory routine, and the practice, particularly in large establishments, of spreading the management through a vast number of foremen and superintendents who have no direct personal intimacy with either the employer or the employee as such. I know from experience, and it is the experience of all who are conversant with industry, that it is the easiest thing in the world so to order conditions in a factory as to insult the men who are called upon to carry outeven routine functions. So, we seek to protect the workers, who have lost their own protection, against the boss, and against trumped up, or unjust charges of these too exacting authoritarians who believe that the factory belongs to them merely because they are the agents of the employer. These are defence industries and factories, and at this moment they are not the personal property of the boss. The employer is but the agent of the Government to produce for the fighting forces the equipment which the nation needs. "We have dragooned the employees to stay put, and we think that it, is fair that the employer should act reasonably and justly towards the men who have no remedy now against the discipline which the employer might normally impose upon them. At such a time, the employer has the function of management to discharge; and there may be instances where a workman is behaving badly. Do we ask the factory to continue with such a man at his lathe or bench? No. The regulations provide that the employer may suspend him, that is to say, the employer may order the man out of the factory, not at an hour's or a week's notice, but instantly; and the man must go. Then the employer must report the matter to the Deputy Director who at once decides whether or not the suspension was justified. If the Deputy Director decides that it was justified, the suspension becomes the equivalent of a dismissal, and no further dispute arises.

Mr Prowse - Serious misconduct is the hurdle.

Mr CURTIN - The employer may say that the man has committed serious misconduct. Is the employer always right? The employee has the right of appeal. Whereas the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) says that the man should be put out of the factory with the fact of suspension recorded against him, the honorable mem ber for Fawkner claims that he should go out of the factory with the stigma of dismissal upon him. That is the difference between the two propositions - these regulations on the one hand, and the proposal advanced by the honorable member for Fawkner on the other. In actual practice the regulations work fairly. The Minister has stated that no appeals have been lodged by either employers or employees against any decision of the Deputy Director. There has not been one single appeal. It may be true that the honorable member for Fawkner has received letters from the Associated Chambers of Manufactures. They are couched in general terms. I, myself, have received such communications. But the specific instances in the factories have come before the Deputy Director, and he has dealt with them. I do not believe that there have been long delays. The instances cited by the honorable member show that the employer has not asserted his right to suspend. I go back to my fundamental premise. We are no.t living in a normal age. It is all very well to talk about the established functions of the employer, and how these are being discharged. Normally, I should say, "I shall not interfere with them ". However, the fundamental deprivation in this matter is a deprivation of the rights of the employee. He is the man who, compared to the employer, has no rights. Before he may leave his job, he is required to apply for permission to transfer, and the application must be approved. The purpose of the regulation is to ensure that, broadly speaking, the application will not be approved, because in order to secure stability in industry, the man must remain in his present position. I am prepared, and I am sure that the Minister is willing, to review the regulation in the light of further experience of its working. We recognize that, associated with war industries are problems which call for regular investigation and for the adaptation of the regulations to changing conditions.

Mr Hughes - Why did the Government permit other factories to entice men away by offering higher wages?

Mr CURTIN - The purpose of the regulation is to prevent that practice. That situation prevailed before the gazettal of the regulations. Now, they prevent the workers from leaving their employment because of the declaration of " protected " industries.

Mr Hughes - Then a worker cannot obtain elsewhere a job carrying higher remuneration?

Mr CURTIN - No ; and he cannot leave his employment without the permission of the Deputy Director of Manpower. In those circumstances, the Government contends that the employer should not be given the facility that some would probably exercise, whereby the foreman would impose upon a particular workman a too-exacting kind of discipline. The foreman may, for some reason, have the worker " set " ; we know that kind of thing occurs. The foreman trumps up charges of serious misconduct against the worker. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) appears to consider that that would warrant the dismissal of the employee. The Minister disagrees.

Mr Holt - That is not a fair interpretation of the position.

Mr CURTIN - That is the effect of the regulation, because the man would leave the factory with the stigma of dismissal upon him. The Government submits that the efficiency of industry is not impaired as the result of the regulation.

Mr Holt - Would the Government be prepared to consult with the Boards of Area Management which control the factories? The employees are represented upon those bodies.

Mr CURTIN - Yes, the Minister and I are prepared constantly to review the matter.

Mr Hughes - The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the regulation works smoothly, every one will be satisfied.

Mr CURTIN - That is so. The Government does not contend that everything in industry is working perfectly at this stage, because it is not; and we know that the imperfections are not to be laid at any particular door. Taken by and large, the regulations have achieved their purpose. They have put an end to the capacity to entice workmen from one factory to another, by the offer of higher wages. They have also deprived workmen of the right to use their bargaining capacity for the purpose of obtaining: higher wages. Employees are compelled to " stay put " in their jobs. By those means, the regulations have given stability to the industries engaged in the production of the sinews of war. Thatis an important achievement, and the Government is loath to disturb it at this juncture.

Mr Jolly - Have any appeals been, lodged to date?

Mr CURTIN - No appeals have been lodged against the decisions of the Deputy Director. Therefore, I submit that the proof of the pudding is in the eating and that the regulation is justified.

Question resolved in the negative.

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