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Thursday, 22 October 1931

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Defence) . - In reply to the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge), I might say that the trouble, if it can be called trouble, arose from the fact that, because of the reduced amount of work available at Garden Island and the reduced amount of money available for my department, it became necessary to dispense with the services of a number of men at Garden Island. Notices of dismissal were issued. Subsequently, representations were made to me by the unions concerned, particularly the metal trades union. I do not say that all the unions made representations, but the majority of them did. They requested that some form of rationing be instituted at Garden Island to obviate the dismissal of men. I quite appreciate the viewpoint of the unions. They did not want their members thrown on the streets at a time when it was difficult to obtain work. We agreed to their request, and rationing was put into effect at Garden Island. Since then complaints have been made by some of the unions that the rationing is too severe. I admit that the rationing of some sections of the men at Garden Island is indeed severe, because it runs from one in three up to one in nine. The officers of my department arc themselves opposed to rationing, on the ground that it does not tend to proper efficiency in the Service. That is the general opinion of most employers, whether private or government. In this instance I agreed to the request of the organization that, instead of dismissing the men, some form of rationing should be instituted. The honorable member for Martin has referred to continuity of service. Certain of the employees, principally those engaged prior to 1924, are entitled to furlough rights, and so that rationing should not effect a break in their service, I gave instructions that the breaks due to rationing were not to interfere with furlough rights.

Mr Eldridge - Did the Minister issue the instruction that the men should apply for leave of absence without pay?

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am coming to that. The point raised by the honorable member was that when an employee had a week off as a result of rationing the officers asked him to sign an application for leave of absence without pay. I am quite satisfied that there was no evil intent behind the action of the officers. They felt that questions might arise, particularly in regard to furlough rights, out of the fact that the men had had time off due to rationing, and they asked the men who were being rationed, to sign an application for leave of absence without pay. They said that that was necessary to protect both themselves and the employees concerned. That question was raised by the deputation from the Sydney Trades and Labour Council which waited on me. We went into the matter and, as a result, I could not see that there was any necessity for the men to sign an application for leave of absence. I have already issued instructions that the men are not to be called upon to sign this form when they are given one week off without pay under the rationing system. I have already said that there was no evil intent behind the action of the officers. I have had a good deal of industrial experience, and I know that men, when called upon to sign forms as they were in this case, frequently suspect that there is some evil intent behind the action of the employers. I am satisfied that the trouble is purely psychological, and I have notified the secretary of the Sydney Trades and Labour Council that the men will not be called upon to sign an application for leave of absence when they have one week off without pay, but are to be given one week's notice that they are to be rationed for a week without pay. That, I trust, will overcome the grievance of these men.

Mr Eldridge - I have not suggested chat the men contend that there is any evil intent behind the action of the officers.

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I realize that. The next point raised by the honorable member related to annual leave privileges, and the instruction that one day must be deducted from recreation leave in respect of each 22 days of absence without pay. That matter was also raised by the deputation, and it was said that this practice had not been adopted by other public bodies. I have since made inquiries, and I find that the Sydney Harbour Trust, the State Public Works Department, and the State Metropolitan Water Board of New South Wales have a similar provision in their rationing scheme, and it is being applied generally throughout the Commonwealth Public Service.

Mr Eldridge - Does the Minister consider that that is fair?

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This provision is fair, particularly in view of the fact that we are being put to additional expense in giving effect to the request of the men that theybe rationed instead of dismissed. The next point raised by the honorable member relates to public holidays, and the instruction that in the event of a public holiday occurring during a period of rationing it must be considered as part of such period of rationing, and not be paid for or granted in any other way. We are not attempting to use this instruction unfairly, and if, as has been suggested, a number of public holidays fall within the week for which the employee is being rationed, we shall consider his case sympathetically. We work on the principle that when a man has a week off and a public holiday falls during- that week, he is not paid for it, nor is it granted to him.

Mr Eldridge - What about award conditions ?

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Nothing that we have done constitutes a breach of an award. Furlough is a privilege, and, as a rule, is not provided for in awards at all. No one who has entered the Service since 1924 receives furlough. It has been suggested that the practice is not operating elsewhere. Let me say that the New South Wales Railways Commissioners, who are directly under the control of the Premier of that State as Minister in charge of railways, have applied the principle that if a man has a week off and a public holiday falls during that week, he is not paid for it. This morning I got into touch with the officers of the audit branch of the Railway Department of New South Wales, who informed me that they have a specific provision to that effect. I think that the trouble arising out of the signing of application forms for leave of absence without pay has been removed. We have adopted the principle operating generally in the State departments of New South Wales, particularly the Railways Department, and also in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Mr Coleman - I understand that some temporary cleaners have been recently dismissed, although they were promised that they would be rationed.

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That point was raised yesterday by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks). I have suspended the notice of dismissal in those two cases, so as to have an opportunity to go into the details. I think that I have covered the points raised by 'the honorable member for Martin. I have given every opportunity to the unions concerned to place matters before me. I have afforded them every facility. Complica tions have arisen as a result of the application of rationing, a system to which my officers are opposed. But the Government is anxious to employ as many men as possible, even at part time, instead of dismissing them and throwing them on the dole, which is, unfortunately, a heavy burden upon the State Governments. I might mention that the Ironworkers Union did not favour the rationing system, because they regarded the rationing, which was one in five, as too heavy; but the other unions concerned were in favour of it.

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