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Tuesday, 20 October 1964

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - Mr. Chairman, I desire at the outset to speak on Division No. 330, Administrative. I wish briefly to follow up the remarks that Senator Morris has made to the effect that during a period of great unemployment in Australia he could have placed in work hundreds of people who were unwilling to accept the employment offered. With all due respect to the honorable senator, 1 think his statement is a gross exaggeration and represents a libel of the willing working force in Australia. They have accepted employment when employment has been available. It is true that from time to time there is an exceptional person who will not take a particular job because he is desirous of something better, or because he has prospects of better employment. Such an odd case does arise from time to time. But for the honorable senator to say that, during a period of acute unemployment in Australia, there were hundreds of people who would not accept employment which did not suit them is unfair to the working force of Australia whose members are as keenly aware of their family responsibilities as is any honorable senator in this chamber. I say that the occasion has never arisen where work that has been available has not been accepted by a member of the Australian working force.

I accept the proposition that the figures relating to unemployment in Australia today show that the problem is insignificant compared with what it has been in the past. But the review to which Senator Morris referred indicates that there are pockets of unemployment in the country areas where work is not available. This problem is increasing. The last report established that, in South Australia, women in particular cannot find employment. The proportion of women unemployed to women in jobs in Australia is much higher than the proportion of males unemployed to the number of men h* Ā«jobs. This problem needs special consideration by the Department of Labour and National Service so that employment can bc found for these individuals whose circumstances of residence will not permit diem to accept certain employment. It is because of this that their numbers are added to the list of persons unemployed.

I wish to make a few remarks in relation to Division No. 330, sub-division 4, item 6l, apprenticeship training, which was commented on by Senator Benn and Senator Morris. It is obvious from the remarks of Senator Benn that he has some experience of apprenticeship committees, but the same is not obvious of Senator Morris. His reference to hundreds of people who would not accept work showed the bias that will not let him approach this subject in a fair manner and a manner that would enable him to arrive at proper conclusions.

I spent 16 years on an apprenticeship advisory committee. I spent five years as a member of a post-war reconstruction committee which was attempting to train exservicemen to enable them to take their places again in civilian employment. I spent three years on a committee associated with adult training, outside the orbit of either Federal or State Governments. The union to which I belong has an agreement registered in the Industrial Court of South Australia for the training of adult personnel. lt suits an industry to train men from time to time, but no attempt is made to negotitiate agreements between employers and employees to enable this to be done on a permanent basis.

No attempt is being made to attract youth into industry in Australia. The falling off in the number of tradesmen is due to the uncertainty of continuity of employment as a tradesman and the lack of incentive to youths to become apprenticed when they leave school. Many youths eligible for training will not become apprentices because the rates and conditions of employment of apprentices are inferior to those obtaining in dead-end occupations in which young people can remain until they reach the age of 21 years. If we want to increase the number of tradesmen in Australian industry we must first find out why eligible youths are not being attracted to apprenticeship trades. If we find that those trades are not sufficiently attractive to youths, we must try to do something about that.

The Federal Government is prepared to intervene before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to put a case for the nation when an increase in the basic wage, or an improvement in hours and conditions, would be detrimental to the economy of the country. It should rise high enough to intervene on behalf of juveniles in order to see that wages and conditions are such as to attract them into industry. Has it ever done this? The only appearances of the Government before the Commission, apart from appearances for the purpose of giving statistical information, are in opposition to applications made by the unions. Let the Government face up to the reality of the position and help to find some method to attract eligible youths into industry.

The particular industry in which I spent ray working life is unable to take juveniles because of the system of sub-contracting that operates in the industry as a means of defeating arbitration awards. Because of this system, the builders, who have continuity of work, are not employing apprentices. The sub-contractors cannot employ apprentices because they do not have continuity of work and cannot guarantee to complete the apprenticeships of youths who may desire to work in the industry. The apprenticeship schools in the various States have only a handful of building trade apprentices, and this is happening at the very time when the country is crying out for more apprentices. Is the Government doing anything about this problem? Even in jobs which are the subject of Federal Government contracts breaches of awards are occurring and various methods are being used to avoid employers having to comply with the provisions of awards.

The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) met the building trades unions in conference in Melbourne to see whether they would agree to a dilutee scheme. Senator Morris said that we were running out of workers. If that is so, where does the Government expect to find persons to train as adult apprentices? After the conference in Melbourne the Minister for Labour and National Service went to Brisbane and made an announcement, as reported in the Press, that the unions had agreed to his adult training scheme. I asked a question in this chamber about the matter, because the truth is that the unions had rejected the proposal. I think that the building trades unions are as interested as any other unions in providing sufficient manpower for their industry, but it is only two years since there was unemployment in their industry. How can the unions agree to develop a labour force sufficient to meet the immediate requirements of the industry if no guarantee can be given that within a year or two there will not again be unemployment and that unionists will not find that they cannot get employment? If an adult training system is to be put into operation the building industry will have to be planned so as to ensure security and continuity of employment. That is the type of scheme that the Government should be working on at the present time.

At the end of November and the beginning of December youths leaving school are looking for apprenticeships. When they cannot obtain them at that time, they go into dead-end occupations. They settle in these occupations and will not leave them in the new year. Throughout Australia there are few employers who take the full ratio of apprentices provided for by awards. Some employers are simply not taking apprentices at all. There is a responsibility on employers to train apprentices, but because many of them want only quick profits they are not prepared to shoulder their responsibility. They will not accept their full quota of apprentices. They would prefer to employ adult trainees because these are physically strong men who could be used in a more profitable way.

The employment of adult apprentices not only places a responsibility on employers but it also creates hardship for the tradesmen who have to train the unskilled men. In my own industry, in order to provide for the training of adult personnel an agreement was registered in the Industrial Court of South Australia under which supplementary payments were made to the men who had to do the actual training. However, this provision was finally taken out of the award as a result of representations by counsel representing the Chamber of Manufactures in South Australia. Because of the circumstances of particular times employers are prepared to make over-award payments, but they are not prepared to make them for the duration of the time necessary for training unskilled men. The Government says that the employers are concerned about this matter. If anything can be done, the trade union movement will not be found lacking. It is in its own interests to meet the requirements of any planned industry. Let us have a plan. Let us see how we can attract juveniles to industry. If we cannot attract juveniles, let us see how far the employers are prepared to go in the training of adults. A committee was set up which travelled throughout all the States - incidentally, I gave evidence before it - but nothing has been done to implement its report. If there is a matter crying out for investigation and some action it is the apprenticeship system of the various States. Not only is the method of training obsolete, but lads will not devote their spare time to technical training. They will not accept the wages that arc offered under apprenticeships today because the amount is not sufficient to enable them to pay for the purchase of a car and so on. These are problems that the Government must face. If it is desirous of assisting to supply the skilled manpower necessary for industry today it should look into this question and develop a scheme whereby it can co-operate with industry for the purpose of improving the apprenticeship system.

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