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Wednesday, 7 August 1946

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- This is rather an involved measure, and the circumstances with which it proposes to deal may not be known by many members of the Parliament. There are aspects of it, and principles embodied in it, which I believe demand our close scrutiny. The Minister (Mr. Holloway) said, in his second-reading speech, that honorable members on both sides of the House would wish to redeem the pledge given to our bona fide tradesmen that pre-war practices and customs would be restored, and that we would also wish to provide a just measure of rehabilitation for men who had served in the fighting forces.With both of those sentiments, I am certain, all members will agree. The bill purports to give effect to undertakings that were given to unions and employers when the dilution agreements were made, and it is claimed that it will assist in the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. I propose to address myself to both of those aspects.

First, however, I should like to make some remarks dealing with the history of this' matter. Early in 1940, it became clear that Australia would need to expand rapidly and extensively its facilities for making munitions. At that time, the role which Australia was to play in the war had not been so clearly defined as was the case later. Japan was not in the war, and it was believed that large numbers of troops would not be sent from Australia, but that Australia would have an important part to play as a manufacturer of munitions, and in the supply of foodstuffs and goods of various kinds. At that time, reference was frequently made to our position as the arsenal of the Pacific. If we were to expand our capacity to manufacture munitions, it was clear that we could not do so by using only qualified tradesmen in the traditional fashion. Tradesmen in the metal trades group, who were in key positions, had gone through five years of apprenticeship. Some had been elevated by their employers in the workshops, but only if they showed that they had acquired the necessary degree of skill. The craft unions had guarded very jealously and justifiably the rights of their members, as, indie past, had other organizations associated with trades and professions. They had stipulated that those who were to receive the title and the advantages of tradesmen should be properly qualified. However, the war could not wait for everything to be done in the prescribed way. The emergency of war called for emergency measures. Just as in Great Britain an arrangement was entered into between the representatives of the Government, the employers and the employees for what was termed the dilution of the metal trades, so we in Australia tried to bring about a similar result here.

It was my responsibility, as the Assistant Minister for Supply at the time, to preside at discussions early in- 1940 on these important matters. I think I can say with justice to those who attended these conferences that they were worked out with, skill, and certainly to the great advantage of the producing capacity of Australia, especially regarding munitions. The negotiation of the agreements was not easy. Strong views were held by the representatives of the employers and the employees. The early discussions were led, so far as employees were concerned, by representatives of what is, perhaps, the most powerful ' and significant union .in Australia, the Amalgamated Engineering Union. It was largely as the result of the leadership of that union that other trades followed suit, and joined in the dilution arrangement.

The success of the agreement reached is evidenced by the Minister's statement that 50,000 men were added to the various trades. Although many have now returned to their normal occupations, 20,000 of this added number still remain in the metal trades. I have mentioned' the Amalgamated Engineering Union, but there- were five trades con- cerned - engineers, boilermakers, blacksmiths, electricians, and sheet metal workers. Some trades would not come into the scheme, and for that reason we should be more appreciative of those that did. The Minister, when introducing the bill,' concluded his speech by expressing his appreciation of representatives of the organizations of employers and employees who had participated in the negotiations. I, as the Minister who negotiated the agreement at the time, also wish to express my appreciation, and that of other members of- the Opposition. Without wishing to make any invidious distinction, I feel justified in paying a special tribute to Mr. Cranwell, who led the' Amalgamated Engineering Union during the war. That union has given loyal and unstinted service to the Commonwealth. It exercises a position, of great _ authority and importance because its workers are in key positions- in practically every establishment of importance in Australia. In spite of the undoubted power which the union could exercise by departing from constitutional practices in industrial matters, it has consistently " played the game ".

Honorable members will obtain some idea of its importance when I cite the figures associated with the introduction of dilutees. According to information placed before the Arbitration Court by a representative of the union, of the 50,000 dilutees engaged during the war, 37,000 entered the engineering unions, and of those 1S,000 are still employed in the industry. There is, of course, another engineering union, the Australasian Society of Engineers, but the principal union, numerically, and the one which took the lead in negotiations with the Government and the employers, is the Amalgamated Engineering' Union. : In September, 1939, its membership was 28,000. It reached a. peak figure of 72,000 in 1944, and its membership is now, I understand, 64,000.

I now pass on to the statement of the Minister 'that this bill honours the undertaking contained in the dilution agreement. Some honorable members will naturally wish to know what those undertakings were. They were embodied in a comparatively short and simple document known as the Dilution Agreement. If I read some of the clauses of this document, it will be clear what we had in mind at the time. They are ac follows: -

1.   In view of the abnormal conditions created by the war it is recognized that a temporary relaxation . of existing customs affecting the employment of men to do skilled work is necessary, where it can be shown that tradesmen are not available and production may be prejudiced.

To ensure that the full resources of available labour may be organized and applied in the best possible way to meet the demand for skilled labour, and that by careful planning and selection the problems arising when the ti ma arrives to return to normal working conditions will be minimized,- the scheme set out in the subsequent paragraphs is approved.

2.   That all propositions for dilution will be consolidated under one Commonwealth Governmentcontrolled scheme.

3.   All .available engineering tradesmen, provided they are competent' to do the work required, will be employed. No tradesman shall be debarred on the ground of age or minor disability if the local committee is satisfied that he can perform the work required of him.

4.   No skilled man or apprentice will be called up for service in the armed forces unless his skill as an engineer is fully availed of, and those now engaged and not required for skilled work will he discharged.

5.   If sufficient tradesmen are not available, applications will be called from persons of engineering or appropriate classifications willing to undergo an intensive course of training on engineering work. Provided that after period of training, determined by the local committee, in a technical school, or in an approved industrial establishment, during which he will be paid by the employer the basicwage, the trainee will be entitled to be paid by the employer not less than the wage prescribed in the appropriate industrial award, agreement or determination for the work to which he is allotted: Provided further that the trainee shall be required to sign an agreement to serve if and as required by the local committee constituted under this scheme for the period of the war in the performance of the duties for which he is trained.

6.   In the event of the provisions of clause (5.) not being sufficient to meet the demand for skilled tradesmen, applications may be called from alternative classes of workers willing to he trained and paid as provided in clause (5.).

7.   A register will be kept of all menso trained, a copy of which will be supplied to the union and to the employer organizations concerned. Changes of trainee personnel made under this scheme will be registered by the employer on a standard form; a copy of which will be supplied to the worker affected, to the local representative of the union, and the Department of Supply and Development and the employer organization concerned. No " recognized " tradesman is to be discharged because of a reduction of work in his section whilst any of the " added " tradesmen are employed within that section, and when skilled labour becomes available restoration of the pre-agreement practices will be made.

8.   There shall be a central committee functioning tinder the administration of the Department of Supply and Development, consisting of a representative of the department, ' the employers and the employees.

11.   Nothing in this agreement shall be taken to deprive any employer of any rights under any existing award, agreement or determination.

12.   This agreement having been approved to meet the exceptional circumstances referred to above will not be used or cited in any pro- ceedings before a Federal or State wage-fixing tribunal, and/or in any other way.

Clearly, there is a good deal of misunderstanding in the minds of many people, including members of Parliament, as to the arrangements made at that time. It willbe seen that, in the first place, we set outto add to the number of men working in the munitions industry, and secondly,to provide that recognized tradesmen would not be dismissed before dilutees - in other words, the first to come should be the last to go. I emphasize this because some persons have sought to read into the agreement a limitation on the capacity of the Government to provide for the rehabilitation of servicemen. Quite clearly, it would have been impossible at that time to lay down any hard and fast rule regarding the rights of servicemen. Nobody could predict what would have to be borne by those who worked in the factories. It might be, and proved to be the case in other countries, that the factories would be subject to attack from the air; or that, in the event of invasion, they might even be in the battle line itself. Thus, no one could determine the rights of factory employees as against members of the services. We could not tell for example how long the men who enlisted in the forces would be required to serve. The war might be over in twelve months; it might not be over for ten years, and consequently no government with any sense of responsibility would have endeavoured to determine where its obligations ended. We did not attempt to do that, nor has any government since we were in office done so until this measure was brought before us. Whatever this Parliament believes should be done with respect to the absorption of certain members of trades or professions among returned servicemen, nothing that wasdone by the government of which I was a member would limit its capacity to do so. The Minister told us that the purpose of this bill is to honour the undertakings given under the Dilution Agreement. Honorable members will find that it goes much further than that. I do not criticize the unions for pressing for the restrictions which they believe should be imposed. They have a very considerable membership to look after; they know that their trades have expanded under the impact of the munitions programme, and they may foresee difficulties in maintaining in constant employment during a period of possible declining production all those who have come into the metal trades. It is natural that as far as practicable they should seek to restrict the admission of other persons into their callings. They may regard the limited absorption provided in this measure as a gesture of willingness . on their part to rehabilitate ex-servicemen. I shall examine how extensive that absorption is likely to be. By this bill the Government is establishing a very much greater protection than was contemplated in the Dilution Agreement, a greater protection than has ever been known before in the history of this country. We are limiting not only the right of the employer to revert to pre-war practices and, if he so desires, elevate or up-grade his employee as in the past, but we are also, making it virtually impossible- for certain groups of persons to find their way into .the trades covered by this bill. " I have already mentioned that there are five important trades so covered. If honorable members wish to get a quick view of how extensive that limitation is likely to be, I suggest that they examine the schedule to the bill where they will see that the trades come under the headings of engineers, boilermakers, blacksmiths, electricians and sheet-metal workers.

Mr Holloway - -In fact the whole of the dilution trades.

Mr HOLT - -That is so, but their members comprise a very substantial section of industry. They constitute not merely the heart, but also most of the body of the metal trades group. The protection accorded to the members of the unions by this bill will create an unchallengeable vested interest and impose a serious limitation upon the rights of thousands of young ex-servicemen to enter the trades and trade classifications set out in the schedule to the bill. This limitation on the entry of members might almost be- described as a reversion to the practice of the mediaeval guilds.

I turn now to the position of exservicemen. As I pointed out earlier the Minister has claimed that one of the principal functions of the bill is to provide a measure of rehabilitation. I am certain the Minister is -fully aware that the bill would have a very doubtful constitutional validity if it were not purely a rehabilitation measure. Consequently we must examine just how sound and warranted is the claim that the bill does in fact provide a measure of rehabilitation. The num bers of those who have had trade experience in the services within the respective categories- is enormous. We would get some idea of the problem that would confront us should all of them, desire to engage in those classes of work. Quite clearly many thousands of them will not wish to do so. Indeed the applications already received suggest that only a very small proportion of those who had experience during the war, either in the Army or the Air Force - I have not been able to obtain the figures for the Navy - will seek employment in the metal trades group.

Mr White - Could a migrant tradesman secure employment .under this bill ?

Mr HOLT - The honorable member refers to a fully qualified tradesman from Great Britain ?

Mr.- White.- Yes.

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