Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1607

(Question No. 1105)

Senator Watson asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 5 September 1984:

(1) Can the Minister for Industry and Commerce advise whether the Government is aware that the seven-year program currently being pursued by the textile, clothing and footwear industries could result in retrenchments which are most likely to affect migrant women with negligible future employment prospects due to their poor English language skills and limited work experience.

(2) Will the Government extend the labour adjustment training arrangements program (LTA) to offset the projected social and economic dislocation the retrenchment victims will suffer.

Senator Button —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) The seven-year program of assistance for the textiles, clothing and footwear industries was announced on 15 August 1980 and commenced operating under the previous Government on 1 January 1982. On 15 March 1983, I announced the present Government's decision to continue with the operation of the seven year assistance program. This decision was consistent with the Government's pre- election commitment to preserve the basic features of the plan, and was taken in recognition of its central principle of providing a predictable policy framework , bearing in mind that people in those industries had made plans for the future on the expectation that the program would continue unchanged.

In broad terms, the seven-year plan is designed to provide a stimulus for these industries to concentrate on the more efficient areas of local production, to encourage cost reductions and to promote greater responsiveness to changing consumer needs. The plan is also designed to provide a balance to the often conflicting interests of Australian consumers, those involved in the industries, importers and Australia's trading partners. The stimulus for improved industry efficiency comes from a number of measures including progressive exposure to import competition under the quota expansion provisions of the plan. Progressive exposure to the discipline of international competition will encourage these industries to become more attuned to the reality of the market place and become less dependent upon Government support in the longer term.

The Government is, of course, conscious of the employment significance of the textiles, clothing and footwear industries and the fact that a significant proportion of their workforce is composed of female and migrant employees. The Industries Assistance Commission has estimated that the level of assistance accorded these industries is substantially higher than that accorded manufacturing industry generally. The provision of relatively high levels of assistance by the Government under the plan in large measure reflects its appreciation of the social implications associated with assistance arrangements for these labour intensive activities.

The Government is aware that some employment reductions are likely to occur both as a consequence of additional import competition and probably to a greater extent, as a result of productivity improvements as these industries move to improve their operating efficiency and competitiveness. Employment reductions may also occur from time to time with sudden, unforseen downward movements in domestic demand. In these circumstances, while for a variety of reasons one cannot rule out the possibility of employment reductions, it would be grossly misleading to attribute any employment contraction in these industries solely to the seven year assistance plan. Indeed the gradualism inherent in the quota expansion provisions of the assistance plan should provide a buffer against excessive import-induced employment reductions. In many ways, the seven year plan provides employees in the textiles, clothing and footwear industries with a greater degree of predictability than those employed in many other industries which operate with much lower levels of assistance.

(2) The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has considered a request from the Clothing and Allied Trades Union for extension of the Labour Adjustment Training Arrangements (LATA) to workers retrenched from the clothing industry. After weighing up the issues he has concluded that under current circumstances the provision of LATA assistance would not be appropriate.

LATA is a special program intended to assist workers displaced by large scale industry restructuring to retrain, and/or upgrade existing skills, so as to facilitate re-employment. To date the only industries declared for LATA purposes are the steel industry (and firms supplying it) in the Hunter, Illawarra and Whyalla regions, the NSW coal industry, the agricultural equipment industry in Geelong and the passenger motor vehicle industry. In each case eligibility has been related to decisions by the Government on assistance for the sectors concerned with the primary determinants being the scale and pace of employment reductions. The request for extension of LATA to the clothing industry was given careful consideration but considered inappropriate. In this context it should be noted that clothing industry employment appears to have increased somewhat over the last year.

In such circumstances, any displaced workers would appear to be adequately catered for by the Government's range of generally available employment and training programs. A further relevant factor is that the findings of the current Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs may result in changes to the Government's approach to retraining assistance, both generally and in regard to specific areas of adjustment such as the clothing industry. Employment trends in the textiles, clothing and footwear industries will continue to be monitored over the remainder of the seven year plan.