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Friday, 16 April 1915

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator can see from that list what the men have to do. I saw the men at work at the armoury works at military headquarters, Perth. I saw where they were even engaged in tempering "bayonets, which are made of the very best steel. That work requires very skilled and experienced men to do it properly. .From my experience in working in these trades, I know that an ordinary man without experience could not do it. They have to work lathes, planes, slotters. milling and drilling machines. I have here a small sample of the spring gear of a gun - this is the spring sight aperture. This is a little thing, but an ordinary unskilled man could not make it. It requires a skilled tradesman to do it. These men are not getting a proper rate of wages for the work they are doing. If they were dismissed no ordinary man taken from the street could do the work. They are not being paid even at the same rate as men engaged in similar occupations in the Old Country, nor have they the same rank. If this practice continues, it means practically evading the principle of preference to unionists, to which the Government and party are pledged.

Senator Millen - Is it intended that that principle should be applied to those enrolled under the Defence Act?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am contending that every man. in the employ of the Commonwealth Government should have the principle applied to him.

Senator Pearce - Not to soldiers.

Senator NEEDHAM - The principle of preference to unionists should be applied to the men employed by the Government in making these parts, just the same as to any other men.

Senator Millen - But these men are to all intents and purposes soldiers. They are given military rank, and come in as soldiers under the Defence Act.

Senator NEEDHAM - They are practical mechanics, working in the armoury branch of the Department.

Senator Millen - They are soldiers in the sense that: they are under discipline.

Senator NEEDHAM - Even if that is so, why should they not be paid as well as their comrades of similar rank in the Old Country?

Senator Millen - I am not referring to that question. The point you raised was the application to them of the principle of preference to unionists.

Senator NEEDHAM - Even admitting, for the sake of argument, that they should not get preference to unionists, why not pay them as well as men who are doing similar work in Great Britain.? I have received the following letter from the secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Perth : -

If you would ask for the regulations controlling the engagement of assistant armourers and armourers, you will find that they are expected to pass an examination in fitting, turning, and a few other trades, yet when they are engaged they receive the magnificent wage of !)s. per day. In fact, they were reckoned on the same grade as the electrical mechanics in the Postal Department until the latter came under the notice of Judge Higgins, when their pay advanced to Ils. 3d. per day with holidays, clearly proving that the Public Service Commissioner was not capable of assessing the value of such workers.

I know that it will be said that these men require only u very slight knowledge of the trades mentioned, but the fact that they are examined in them is a clear proof that they should be paid the wages of the trades they work at. I might say that the matter is rather mixed up, as the armament artificers in the regular forces are paid at a higher rate than the one mentioned, but the men working at the Perth drill hall are the men I refer to, and they are paid less than the artificers' labourer with the regular forces.

I think you will see the force of the argument for higher rates for these men when they were classed the same as the Postal electricians, showing that it was thought their work equal; and now, when a competent tribunal takes the matter in hand, they, the electricians, get a good increase.

For your information, I may state that these men are sent all over Western Australia to inspect and repair rifles for the Citizen Forces, a clear proof of their responsibility. In addition, they repair and make new parts for pom poms, maxim guns, Colt guns, and other expensive arms.

The work is similar to that performed by the men in the Army Ordnance Corps in Britain, for which a rate of pay is given that more than equals the ruling rate for engineering mechanics there, when all allowances are taken in. The Army Ordnance men are sent along with a regiment, and classed as staffsergeant, with regimental pay, 4s. Gd. per day for seven days per week; working pay of ls. 6d. per day; quarters equal to 6s. 6d. per week; uniform equal to ls. 2d. per week; fuel and light equal to 2s. 6d. per week, and rations in sergeants' mess, equal to 10s. 6d. per week; if married, 8d. per day for his wife, and 2d. per day for each child.

It is worth the while of the Minister to go into the matter again.

Senator Pearce - I am prepared to do so, but when I quoted those conditions and allowances here I was told that they should not be considered in fixing the wages.

SenatorNEEDHAM.- I was not aware of that fact, but the secretary of the society rightly contends that the men should get better wages. This would enable them to . be members of the union in connexion with that trade. The document presented to us by the Treasurer is generally satisfactory, particularly with regard to the Commonwealth Bank. We ought to be proud of the work that the Bank has accomplished, and the statement will relieve the minds of many people as to our financial situation. It proves to the world that, although we were faced suddenly with the greatest crisis in our history as a young nation, we stood the testwell, that we can look forward to the future with great confidence, and that we shall continue to take a nation's part in the great struggle. There is only one other matter in the Ministerial statement to which I desire to refer, namely, the amount whichhas been expended by the Commonwealth during this trying period in the relief of unemployment. Under the heading of " Additions, new works, and buildings," Parliament last year voted £4,303,870, but out of that amount only £1,513,250 has thus far been expended. If that represents the full spending capacity of the Government upon our public works, it is not altogether satisfactory. It might be all right in normal times, but we must realize that today there are great armies of unemployed in the various cities of Australia. In these circumstances I would like to know why only £1,513,250 has been expended out of a vote of £4,303,870? I sincerely hope that the day is not far distant when this Parliament, with other Parliaments of the Empire, will meet under happier auspices, when the crash of shell and shrapnel will have ceased, when the cause of the Allies will haveemerged victorious, and when the liberty of the world will have been assured.

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