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Thursday, 17 September 1942

Mr CALWELL (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) . - I bring to the notice of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) the fact that without his knowledge, and certainly without his authority, some official in Melbourne has issued an order for 300 members of the staff of the District Finance Office to be removed from their present positions. Their places will be taken by members of the Australian Women's Army Service. Most of these men are veterans of the last war, and for several years have been engaged in clerical duties. They have the rank of sergeant or corporal; but, as the result of this order, they will be reduced to the ranks and will be put into labour battalions. Most of these men are unfitted to lump goods on the wharfs or railway stations, and they are physically capable of doing only clerical work.

Mr Forde - What is the average age?

Mr.CAL WELL. - Most of them are old diggers, and their ages range from 45 to 55 years. It appears that noncommissioned officers may be reduced to the ranks, although no charge has been levelled against them, if there is no suitable work for them, or if they are transferred to positions which carry no equivalent status for them. Whilst officers cannot be reduced to the ranks in similar circumstances, the pay of noncommissioned officers can be reduced, even after they have earned their promotion, for no offence whatever. For the remainder of the war these men will work for 6s. a day on jobs for which the award prescribes a substantial weekly wage. This action is very high-handed. I can give the names of three of the persons concerned, namely, Sergeant J. Waite, Corporal V. J. Kavenagh, and Corporal F. B. Brown. They are typical returned soldiers, and have been employed for two years as enlisted men on clerical work. They have clean records in their present occupations, and in their service in the last war. That they all enlisted as clerks is an important fact to bear in mind. Last Thursday, they were informed that they must report for duty in a labour corps, andthey are now stationed at Royal Park awaiting transfer to a labour battalion, I ask the Minister to ensure that they shall not be reduced to the ranks.

Mr Rosevear - Will they be employed on purely military work, or will they be competing with unionists ?

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