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Wednesday, 7 August 1946

Mr HARRISON - If the honorable "member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) or the Minister could forecast what our industrial circumstances will be during the next two or three years in relation to the absorptive capacity of industry, something might be said for it, but our industrial potential is practically unlimited, and we should anticipate a big increase of employment, particularly in the industries mentioned in the schedules to . the bill. The Minister said, in effect, "We are going to do certain things, but I must warn you that something is going to happen ". I shall show what is going to happen.

I wish to revert for a moment, however, to remarks made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) when the Re-establishment and Employment Bill was before this House. At that time Opposition members' criticized the Government's, proposal to establish an employment service. Our criticism has since been amply justified. The technique of the reestablishment and employment legislation is being continued in this bill, for the exserviceman is being used as a stalking-horse. This is not a rehabilitation bill, as I shall prove before I resume my seat. The measure., has been designed, in . fact, to give to trade unionists complete control of their respective trades, and to apply restrictive measures to ex-servicemen who wish to enter various trades. Our exservicemen have won the right to just and generous treatment, and they are entitled to be re-admitted to industries in which they served, many of them as apprentices, prior to enlistment; but if anything reveals the insincerity of the Government and its supporters in regard to ex-servicemen this bill does.

The measure creates a close preserve in ;the dilutee trades for members of unions, 95 per cent, of whom, were not on active service. Ever since demobilization began, and in fact ever since the passage of the Re-establishment and Employment Act, it has been apparent that Ministers, by instructions given to various committees, Hy press statements and by answers to questions in this Parliament, have been endeavouring to . discourage ex-servicemen from seeking to enter dilutee trades. An answer which the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction gave to a question which I asked him yesterday is further evidence of this fact Government policy, is becoming more positive in this respect as the days go by, for Ministers are saying to exservicemen in effect, " You must not enter this or that trade ". In fact, some trade unions have closed their books even against apprentices formerly engaged in the trades concerned. Consequently these men will be denied the right to resume work in the callings of their choice. A specious reason given to excuse this action is that the absorptive capacity of the industry may not permit of the reemployment of the men. By this means ex-servicemen are being debarred from taking advantage of the provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Only a very limited number of them will be able to secure employment in' the trades mentioned in the schedules of the bill. Do honorable gentlemen opposite take the view that we shall have no development in the engineering, boiler-making, blacksmithing, electrical and sheet-metal trades? That seems to be the assumption on which this bill is based. Actually we should be preparing for a considerable expansion -in these industries. lt is true that a handful of exservicemen may gain admission to these trades, but an unqualified preference will be given to members of the unions concerned to the disadvantage of ex-servicemen who may desire to obtain such employment. This, of course, is in line with the policy of the Australasian Council of TradesUnions, the body controlling this Parliament for the time being. That policy has also been expounded from time to time .- by honorable gentlemen opposite, but it is unjust and a complete violation of the promises ma'de to the men of this country when they entered the armed forces. Such a situation' should not be tolerated by the great body of men and women who rendered such glorious service to Australia in its hour of need. In view of what I have said it will be realized that the promise of preference that was given to servicemen when they were fighting has been so emasculated that the preference is now nothing more than a sham. This is particularly so in view of the exclusion of ex-servicemen from the dilutee trades.

I suppose that the greatest prospects of industrial expansion in Australia areto be found in these trades, yet the Government is doing its utmost to prevent or- discourage ex-servicemen from entering them. It is well that this fact should be made clear at this juncture. The policy that is being applied in these dilutee trades is similar to that' being applied to the coal-miners. The Government is seeking to sectionalize the industries of this country. It is separating certain classes of the community from other classes. I do not desire to discuss in detail .the dangers inevitably associated with such a policy, but it is deplorable that such a procedure should be applied not only to coal-mining. as is shown by many provisions of the Coal Industry Bill which we passed yesterday, but also to the dilutee trades referred to in the schedule to this bill. Only a few ex-servicemen who possess certain qualifications will be able to enter these trades, as I shall later show. Secondly, he may apply for the status of probationary tradesman and, having had sufficient experience, apply for that of recognized tradesman. Thirdly, he may apply for admission as a trainee tradesman and, when proficient, apply for the status of recognized tradesman. These three grades are hedged round with all possible qualifications, which render them almost abortive in relation to ex-servicemen. Let us consider the effect in four of the five trades. Up to the 2nd August, 1946, HS8 applicants had been accepted in New South Wales for entry to the " dilutee " trades, and 253 applicants had been rejected. I invite ministerial supporters to explain to the House and the country the figures I am placing before them, because they refute the Government's claim that it is anxious- that exservicemen shall be rehabilitated. In the engineering trade, 344 applicants were accepted and 207 applicants were rejected. In the blacksmithing trade, two applicants were accepted and no applicant was rejected. In the boiler-making trade, 13 applicants were accepted and 27 applicants were rejected. In the electrical trade, 29 applicants were accepted and 20 applicants were rejected. These figures do not take into account the many hundreds of ex-servicemen who had had technical training prior to and during their war service, and whose applications have not seen the light of day because they- did not come within the restricted categories prescribed by the regulations.

Mr Sheehan - Does the honorable, member claim that every applicant should bc accepted ?

Mr HARRISON - That is not my suggestion. I am pointing out that the preference provisions of the Reestablishment and' Employment Act give to ex- servicemen with the necessary qualifications the right to enter ana' be trained in their -chosen trades and callings. It seems obvious that the Government does not propose even to facilitate entry to trades of apprentices who relinquished their articles to join up with the armed forces. Men who did not possess the necessary qualifications would not apply for admission to a trade.

Mr Sheehan - They do.

Mr HARRISON - I propose to show that very few of the many who have had experience, and who desire to enter a trade, will be allowed to do so. A recognized tradesman must have secured the whole of his experience during the period of his war service. That means that he must have had five years' service in the , trade concerned while he was in the armed forces. Where could experience for that length of time have been gained ? Lt appears to me that it would have been possible only, in an engineering unit.

Mr Holloway - There is no five years' limitation. Where does the honorable gentleman get that?

Mr HARRISON - He must have gained the whole of the experience while he was a member of the forces, usually a- period of five years. I assume that the Minister 'does . not propose that the provisions of industrial awards shall be violated, by allowing these men to be classed as tradesmen' after training that has lasted for only three years. If that be. his intention, I should like him to state it. If he agrees that a man. could become a tradesman in the armed forces in three years, vast industrial possibilities will be opened up. If we accept the principle that only men who have had. five years experience during their war service shall be accepted as recognized tradesmen, what number of men will be brought into industry? Only in engineering units could such conditions exist. But we do not accept that principle. As the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) nas pointed out, this bill places a premium on the non-fighting branches of the services, because a man who had had some experience in any of these industries prior to enlistment would be precluded from deriving any advantage from the provisions of this bill if he had been so -unfortunate as to enlist in the Air' Force as a- pilot, or in the Army as . a commando or in an artillery unit. Unfortunately for his civil rehabilitation, he fought with arms for the preservation of the conditions that are now denied to him. On the other hand, a man who belonged to a unit that did not have active service experience, such as workshops in an area not even subject to bombing, may come under this bill.

Let us consider the position of probationary tradesmen. In order to qualify for admission to that grade, .an exserviceman must have' had training and experience in the forces during the period of the war, and be so experienced in the trade concerned that he can acquire the skill of a recognized tradesman in that trade within twelve months. In this in- ' stance, the duration of the experience while in the forces is to be four years.

Mr Holloway - Not necessarily.

Mr HARRISON - I am interested in the Minister's interjections; because, if a' man who has had two years' experience in the forces can become a recognized tradesman after twelve months training, what becomes of the principle that has been established in .regard to training under industrial awards?

Mr Holloway - The honorable gen-' tleman does not worry about that.

Mr HARRISON - I do. The Minister's interjections are most illuminating, and I should like him. to elaborate on them. It will be noted that a large number of ex-servicemen who obtained experience as dilutees or added tradesmen prior to enlistment, but whose actual experience in the trades during service in the armed forces, lasted for less than four years, . will be excluded from the benefits of this legislation. In this connexion, it should be noted that there has been a serious departure from the terms of the regulations to which the. Minister now seeks to give effect as a permanent peace-time measure, because those provide that the experience of probationary tradesmen need have .been secured only during the war period. The bill, however, provides in effect that only some of his experience need have been secured during his war service.

I pass on to the trainees. In order to qualify for admission to this grade, the applicant must have received in the forces during the period of war training and experience in the trade concerned.

That is interesting. If honorable members can grasp the full significance of it, they will realize how restrictive- it is in its incidence. The next requirement is that the applicant must be certified by a regional training committee as being eligible for benefit under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme. This requirement will necessitate, in most instances, that the serviceman must have been under the age of 21 years upon enlistment. Therefore, even if the intension be to admit many trainees who are. eligible, . vast numbers of ex-servicemen who were over 21 years of age upon enlistment, but who had had trade experience prior to enlistment and either had or had not less than four years' experience during their service in the forces, will be ineligible. Actually, however, it appears that extremely few trainees are being admitted, and that exservicemen who would normally be eligible are turned away when they apply to the regional training committee in the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, being told that the " dilutee " trades are " saturated ". It will be noted that no provision exists for industry to avail itself ' of the valued experience that has been gained by thousands of ex-servicemen, both in civil life prior to enlistment and during their service in the forces, because their experience does not happen to fall within the restricted categories that are necessary to gain admission to the scheme. The experience and training of these men will be lost to industry for all time. This loss should be viewed in the light of the projected expansion of industry. A probationary tradesman or a trainee who gains admission to the scheme will still have difficult hurdles to negotiate. - Let me give a few examples. Trade committees will have full discretion in the matter of the admission of applicant ex-servicemen to a trade. There will be no obligation on them to admit any appli-.cant, even though he may have the neces- sary qualifications. I do not suggest that a trade committee would deliberately exclude an ex-serviceman who possessed the necessary qualifications. But I do say that a committee which has the responsibility of making such a decision should at least have on it a representative of ex-servicemen. The Government has not made any provision for the representation of ex-servicemen on these committees. Under the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act, the endeavour has been made to provide ex-servicemen with representation on bodies that adjudicate on their claims. This is supposedly a rehabilitation measure, yet I have proved that under it ex-servicemen may be prevented from engaging to any great degree in different trades and callings. The possibility exists for , a veto to be exercised against an exserviceman, yet no provision is being made for his protection, which could be afforded by a representative of the exservicemen's organizations, who would have a complete understanding of the problems that are peculiar to exservicemen. The committees will be able to select numerous pretexts for not admitting applicants. Several indeterminate factors can influence their decision. One of them is the " absorptive capacity of the trade concerned ". This expression " absorptive capacity " keeps bobbing up like " that blessed word Mesopotamia It has been mentioned again and again by the Minister and is always associated with attempts to resist the admittance of returned soldiers to trade unions. Even a trained economist would have difficulty in determining what is. meant by the absorptive capacity of a trade. It is to be presumed that the trade committees will be guided by the demand, for tradesmen obtaining at the present time. This takes no account of the needs of industry when it expands as is expected. I- have pointed out that the Government is not seised of the possibility of trade expansion in Australia. The committees will have on them representatives of the employees as well as the employers, and the chairman will- be a government nominee. I have no doubt that they, as Labour spokesmen have said, will be used to keep the unions a close preserve for privileged unionists as against exservicemen.

Mr Barnard - That has never been said on behalf of the Government.

Mr HARRISON - Hansardis full of quotations which I myself have made to that effect. It has been said by representatives of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. These matters are history. The policy of the Government is to protect jealously the rights of unionists, and committees are to be appointed which are to consider the applications. of ex-servicemen for admission to industry. .Between the Government and the committees, the unfortunate exserviceman will be ground as between the upper and nether millstones. If the Government proposes to continue, with this iniquitous measure under the guise of a rehabilitation bill, it should at least give the organizations of returned soldiers representation on the committees which are to decide whether or not they shall be admitted to industry.

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