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Wednesday, 7 August 1946

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- I did not intend to speak at length on this clause; but the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has given such a distorted version ' of the attitude of the Opposition that I must state the facts clearly for the benefit of the committee. Apparently he did not have the benefit of hearing the full debate on the second reading, because, speaking on behalf of and with the full authority of the Opposition, I said that we intended fully to honour the obligation that we accepted' in entering into the dilution agreement when we were the Government. The honorable member referred to the fact, that the agreement was signed by the then Minister for Supply and Development (Sir Frederick Stewart) ; but, if any responsibility for the agreement is to be taken, I take it, because, as Minister assistin gthe Minister for Supply and Development, I negotiated and carried the agreement through to the point at which the parties, were agreed and the arrangement was submitted to the Cabinet. I have followed it with great interest ever since. "We would not have divided the House on the second reading had the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) not indicated that he would reject the three amendments that I foreshadowed in my second-reading speech, which would "do nothing to prejudice the rights of the unionists under the agreement, but would do something to preserve the rights of the servicemen, whom this bill is ostensibly designed to benefit. The dilution agreement was designed to give us when we were plunged into war the necessary rapid expansion of the munitions industries by an infusioninto the metal trades of a group of men who had not qualified through apprentice-, ship for the work. The. ready lead of the Amalgamated Engineering' Union, which is affiliated with its counterpart in Great Britain, in accepting dilutees, was followed by the other four unions. I assured the unions on behalf of the then government that the main clause of the agreement enshrined the principle upon which this discussion revolves, namely that preference in employment would be given to the recognized tradesman, who was denned as a person who was in a trade and accepted as a tradesman when the agreement was made, over the added tradesmen, on the basis that the last to come should be the first to go. No recognized tradesman was to be displaced while added tradesmen remained- in employment. We are as determined to honour that pledge as is the Government. Although we commented -that the bill gave a stronger right of protection to recognized tradesmen than the dilution agreement gives, our criticism was of the exclusion from the bill of a large body of men with trade experience, not apprentices or qualified, but men like motor mechanics or others with some trade experience, who served in the forces. The honorable member for Dalley says that in effect in that agreement we gave preference to unionists and excluded ex-servicemen. That was never an' element of our discussions. It is to the credit of the unions concerned and to the Government and the employers that they tried to deal with a situation that no ohe at that time could judge with authority. Who knew in 1940 whether the war would last twelve months or ten years, or whether our factories would be in the front line of attack, bombed out ' and shattered as in Great Britain, or invaded as in France and Russia? They were matters that we could not consider as within the scope of reality. We could not even realize how the war would develop. But we could determine the respective rights of recognized tradesmen and added tradesmen, and that is what we set out to cover in the agreement. We have no intention of departing from the principles set out therein. After World War I. the Minister spoke about this. Governments took action to facilitate the entry of returned men into trades and professions. Accelerated courses were given at the universities to ex-servicemen in _ the professions of law, medicine and dentistry, and I have no doubt that in the trades similar assistance was given to them to get back into civil life. Our criticism is of the failure of the Government to give a reasonable opportunity to tens of thousands of ex-servicemen who, during the war were trained in mechanical or technical units and desire to go into the civil counterparts of the trades in which they were engaged. We know that this, is not an easy problem. I earlier cited the enormous growth during the war of the membership of unions associated with metal trades. The membership of the Amalgamated Engineering Union rose from about 29,000 in 1939 to the peak figure of about 74,000 in 1944. Even to-day 64,000 persons are members of the union, and, unless a considerable expansion of the engineering trade occurs, obviously there will not be scope for a vast body of men to enter' it. In the Army and Air Force alone the men engaged in the trades affected by this bill numbered about 60,000. Many of them were tradesmen when they enlisted, and no doubt most of these will want to return to their civil trades. Our strongest criticism has been directed to the three points that I will cover later with amendments. I do not intend to go into those matters now. I merely rose to state my view of the correct position of the Menzies Government and the employers' organizations that negotiated the dilution agreement with the unions. That .agreement stands. We want to honour it, and, as between .the recognized tradesmen and the added tradesmen, the principle the last to come should be the first to igo must apply. But added tradesmen will get practical preferonce, although the bill is discreetly silent on that point, over men with a comparable training and service in the forces. The added tradesman is on the job. There is no proposal to displace him. The Minister has. told us that there are still 24,000 added tradesmen in the trades to-day. In Victoria of 273 applications for training only 27 have been approved. There must be tens of thousands of men with training equal to that of the dilutees still in the services or demobilized. There are 24,000 added tradesmen still in the trades as against the 27 ex-servicemen accepted for training in Victoria. I imagine that the proportion of men accepted in the other States is about the same. If that does not signify practical preference given, to the added tradesmen, I do not know what does. I do not criticize the added tradesmen, who did a valuable job during the war, but they have had no greater training and have no greater rights than the men who were- trained in" the forces. The added tradesman is a member of his union, and under this legislation, without the safeguards of my amendments, he will receive preference in practice over the men whose training was received as members of the forces. He will have absolute preference over added tradesmen with two or three years trade experience before the war who served during the war in combatant units. These servicemen are absolutely excluded from the metal trades group while the provisions of the bill remain unchanged. The Opposition adheres to the dilution agreement, but insists upon amendments that will give nothing short of bare justice to the .serviceman who is entitled to his opportunity in these trades.

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