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Wednesday, 7 August 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) . - This purports to be a bill for the regulation of tradesmen's right of employment in certain trades, the employment of members of the forces in those trades, and for other purposes. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), in the course of his second-reading speech, laid great emphasis on the obligation of the Government to promote rehabilitation. He also emphasized the provisions of the existing dilution agreement, -entered into in May, 1941. He said that that agreement, was a legacy from a conservative govern-' ment, and that the present Government now had to " clear up the mess ". We are becoming' used to talk of that kind. But a brief examination of 'the dilution agreement will lead us to the conclusion that there is no substance in the Minister's arguments. He said that the Government' believed that the agreement unduly prejudiced the prospects of rehabilitation of a number of ex-servicemen, and that therefore it had negotiated with employers and'' employees and that this bill was the result. The agree- . ment was signed on the 8th May, 1940, and is expressed in very simple language. The Government says that as thu result of the agreement, it must now bring down this legislation. I point out however that this bill marks an entirely new departure and establishes a completely new principle in Commonwealth legislation. The Government has said, in effect, " We must bring down this legislation because, as the result of the dilution agreement, it has become almost impossible for us to provide for the rehabilitation of exservicemen ". The agreement is contained in twelve short clauses, which read -

Memorandum of agreement between Commonwealth Government, Amalgamated Engineering Union and Employers' Association regarding temporary relaxation of existing customs to overcome difficulties due to shortage of engineering tradesmen for war requirements.

It is hereby mutually agreed -

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 ami selection the problems arising when the time 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 tradesmen shallbe debarred onthe 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 Force's unless his skill as an engineer is fully availed of, and those now engaged and not required for skilled work will be discharged.

5.   If sufficient tradesmen are not available, applications will be called from persons of eungineering or appropriate classifications willing to undergo an intensive course of training on engineering work: Provided that after a 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 basic wage, 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 provisionsof clause (5) not being sufficient to meet the demand for skilled tradesmen, applications may be called from alternative classes of workers willing to , be trained and paid as provided in clause (5).

7.   A register will be kept of all men so 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 "trademen are employedwithin 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 under the administration of the Department of Supply and Development consisting of a representative of the Department, the employers and employees.

9.   A Local Committee comprising equal representation of employers and of the employees, with a representative of the Commonwealth Government as Chairman, will be set up in each State for the purpose, subject to the direction and control of the Central Committee, of determining any matter arising in the State under this scheme, and without limiting the scope of the functions of such Committee, the duties will include: -

(a)   The disposition of' men training and trained in accordance with the provisions of this scheme;

(b)   The approval of industrial establishments desiring to be utilized as training establishments;

(c)   The determinationas to whether any and what number of trainees should be allotte to any factory, and whether such numbers should be increased or decreased;

(d)   The recommendation of the persons who shall be registered, or, if registered, who shall be removed from the register; and, in collaboration with the local Technical Education Advisory Committee -

(e)   The exercise of a general supervision over the theoretical and practical training under this agreement;

(f)   The determination of the degree of proficiency of trainees.

Any dispute regarding matters of principle, on which agreement cannot be reached, will be referred by the Chairman of the Local Committee to the Central Committee.

10.   The number of tradesmen added in any establishment or factory by the provisions of this agreement shall not be included in the number of tradesmen on which the proportion of apprentices is based for such establishment or factory.

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 proceedings before a Federal or State wage-fixing tribunal, and/or in any other way.

Signed on behalf of -

The Commonwealth Government - F. H. Stewart. Minister for Supply and Development.

The Amalgamated Engineering Union - Joseph Cranwell, President.

The Metal Trades Employers' Association - John Heine, President.

The Victorian Chamber of Manufactures - P. C. Oake, Secretary.

The South AustralianChamber of Manufactures Incorporated - H. H. Winterbottom, Secretary.

Melbourne, 8th May, 1940.

It will be seen that in May, 1940, when this country was in the gravest danger, an agreement was made under which the unions wereto relax existing customs so as to permit the introduction of dilutees under such conditions aswould afford absolute protection to recognized tradesmen; There is, as will be seen from a perusal of the document, no foundation for the claim that there is need for this legislation, or that there is any problem of rehabilition as the result of the dilution agreement.When the war came to an end theonly task that had to be undertaken was to preserve the rights of recognized tradesmen as against the so-called added dilutees.No one disputes the necessity to do that. But is it necessary to approach that task by legislation of this kind? Not at all; it could be carried out effectively, as indeed it was intended to be carried out, by the Arbitration Court. An examination of the bill shows that it goes vastly further than the mere carrying outof what the Minister agrees was the real essence of the. problem, namely, the preservation of the rights of recognized tradesmen as against dilutees. There was no question, arising from the agreement, of the preservation of the rights of recognized tradesmen as against those of men who served in the war, and it is well that that should be made plain. Under the bill, the rights of the recognized tradesmen will in substance be extended and consolidated above the rights of all other people, including dilutees or ex-servicemen. Dilutees are not in terms referred to in this legislation; but they are already in the trade. The only way in which people will be able to get into the trade now will be by permission of a local committee. That is the substanceof this legislation. In simple language it means that the Government will establish what I understood Labour always fought against, namely, a monopoly more vicious than those usually made the subject of its attacks, a mon opoly of men inside a trade who will keep it a close preserve for themselves. The bill is divided into parts covering, amongst other things, the engineering, boiler-making, blacksmithing, electrical and sheet-metal trades. Each of those trades is made the subject of a definitions clause. All of the trades are then brought within the provisions of Part VII. of the bill . which is headed " Incorporated Provisions ", which is the very essence of this legislation. It will be observed that it is intended that the recognized tradesman in the sense of the man who was engaged in the trade before the dilution agreement was made, shall be protected against everybody; the only persons who are given no rights at all, and indeed, from whom rights are to be subtracted by the bill, are exservicemen. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has said that this Government is desirous of assisting ex-service-: men. If that be so all I can say is that in this legislation it has been very much overborne by the union. If the unions themselves had been given the task of drafting a bill to protect the interests of their members, I can not imagine that they would have produced a more satisfactory measure than this. No doubt they' were consulted and their lawyers had a good look at the bill before it was brought before us.

In the incorporated provisions in Part VII. clause 34 establishes a central committee which is to have power to give directions on any matters referred to it by , a local committee, to issue directions to local committees, to determine the form of certificate to be granted to any person, and, finally, to advise the Minister generally with respect' to any action considered necessary to give effect to Part VII. of the bill. The decisions of the Central Committee are to be final and it may act on any evidence it thinks fit. Clause 35 prescribes that a local committee shall have power to determine any matter arising in the State in which it is established and without limitation of that very general power it may authorize the employment of probationary and trainee tradesmen, and direct the removal from the register of the name of any probationary or traineetradesman. I point out that in clause 44 power is given to an employee already in the industry to appeal even to the supreme court of a State against a decision of the local committee directing, approving or. consenting to his dismissal. Under clause 35 however, no power of appeal is given to a person who is refused the opportunity to become a probationary or trainee tradesman. What is even worse still, no power ' is given to the probationary or trainee tradesman to appeal if his name is removed by a local committee from the register. Under .clause 35 the local committee is also to have power to issue certificates of recognition as a reL cognized tradesman and to act in any manner it thinks fit without challenge on the part of the man concerned. It is also to have power to consider, and to issue ' directions to employers in relation to any matters in dispute regarding the claims of persons under this Part - and note these words - " or under any other law of the Commonwealth-" to employment in any trade to which Part VII. applies. So, irrespective of any law of the Commonwealth contained in any award, a local committee may issue directions to employers relating to employment in any of the specified trades. When a local committee gives directions - and no doubt ultimately power will be taken to make regulations to- carry out the provisions of the bill - it will have in substance the power of determining the future life of a large number of people, particularly of ex-servicemen, and it is to have power to do that arbitrarily, without any right of appeal against its decisions. The next serious provision is in clause 41 which prescribes that if a local committee . is satisfied, upon application by any person, that that person is a recognized tradesman within the meaning of the definition of " recognized tradesman ", or ' a member of the forces who has, during the period of the war, acquired, by reason of his service in the Forces, the skill necessary for the performance of work ordinarily ' performed by recognized tradesmen, the committee may, if it thinks fit, issue to that person a certificate of recognition as a recognized tradesman. Let us stop there a. moment.

Consider the two sub-clauses. Paragraph a of sub-clause 1 reads -

If the Local Committee is satisfied that be is a recognized tradesman . . .

That is in the case of the boilermaking trades, a person who was employed as a tradesman prior to the 29th of November, 1940, and other dates in ' 1940 in the case of other trades. Whether a man who, prior to this agreement, had . been recognized as a tradesman or not, it should not be left for anyone to say whether he shall be re-engaged in the industry or riot. I should like the Minister to pay some heed to what I am saying. All that the sub-clause provides is that the local committee is not obliged, even if it is satisfied that an applicant is a recognized tradesman, to issue a certificate of recognition.' The committee has complete discretion to say, " No, we will not issue a certificate. We do not see fit ". If that power does not 'lend itself to the utmost abuse, I should like to know any power that does. Is the Commonwealth Parliament to embark on a series of legislative acts, of which this is proposed to be the first, under which so-called tribunals will be able to affect the lives of thousands and thousands, of people .in this community by having the power to determine that they shall or shall not be permitted entrance to the. metal industry or some other avocation. That is what this bill provides. Then,, dealing with other people, the clause says - (2.) If a Local Committee is satisfied that an adult member of the Forces who, during the period of the war, has had training and experience in the Forces in a trade to which this Part applies could, within a period not .exceeding twelve months, acquire the skill necessary for the performance of work ordinarily- performed by a recognized tradesman, the Committee may, on the application of that member, authorize the employment, subject to the provisions of section forty-three of this Act. of that member as a probationary tradesman ...

All that is subject to ' clause 43, with which I shall deal in a moment. What will happen if a man discharged from the forces goes to the local committee and says, " I want to. go into the trade, because I believe that. there is a future in it"? Despite what the Minister has said about the saturation point in the metal trades, the employers have not been consulted .on opportunities for expansion, and I know from experience that there is a great dearth of trained men in the trades. An ex-serviceman in some branches of the metal trades, for example, sheet.-metal work, has no chance whatever of becoming a sheet-metal worker, because I know of no branch of the services in which he could have got the necessary experience. He is out straight away. But a man who wants to .become a member of, say, electrical trades, must first be an adult and then the local committee must be satisfied that during the war he had training and experience in the forces. It does not matter what other experience he may have had. He may have had training as a dilutee and then gone into the forces, where he had no opportunity for further training. He cannot apply.

Mr Holloway - -Nonsense !

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