Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 9 September 1942

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has emphasized, among other things, the necessity to achieve our maximum effort in munitions production and general industrial activity associated with the conduct of the war. With that statement I heartily agree. The right honorable gentleman said also that during the next six months Australia must depend to a major degree on its own efforts. Accordingly, the effort of every individual should be even greater than he is now making. When seeking to increase production, we should not forget the importance of ensuring that physical fitness of the workers is not impaired. Reasonable recreation leave should be granted to enable them to recuperate from their arduous labours in the factories. In framing its policy the Government sometimes overlooks this consideration.

War-time holidays, or what can be properly described as " war-time leave ", are of major importance to the great mass of Australian people. This statement is borne out by the fact that, of Australia's population between the ages of fourteen and 65 years, 68 per cent, are working full time in the production of war materials, are in the armed forces, or are engaged in essential civil occupations. Every one of them is playing a major role in the war effort of the nation. Each individual works hard for long hours, and large numbers are doing work entirely different from that which they undertook in peace-time. Consequently, their work is most arduous, and imposes a severe physical strain upon them. To enable them to give their most efficient service to the nation, it is essential that they shall receive reasonable periods of leave. As the war has progressed, the Prime Minister has made frequent declarations regarding holidays. Restrictions that were placed upon holidays last Christmas, which was shortly after Japan's entry into the war, were entirely justified, in the same way as every justification exists for the elimination of unnecessary holidays, or any interruption of essential war activities. Whilst it is generally recognized that Christmas and the New Year are the most popular periods for holidays, there must be no dislocation of the war effort.

The Prime Minister should consider the advisability of announcing at once the Government's intentions regarding leave at Christmas and the New Year. Should the war situation deteriorate before December, any plans that are now announced by the right honorable gentleman could be cancelled; but an announcement at this juncture would be at least an indication to a large number of people of their prospects for obtaining recreation leave. Unless they are granted some leave, their efficiency will be affected, production will decline, the risk of accident through fatigue will be intensified, and absenteeism will increase. If the Prime Minister will examine this matter now, there will be nearly three months in which to formulate plans for the granting of leave, which, no doubt, will have to be "staggered ".

To put this matter in proper perspective, I cannot do better than recall to the House the epic evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk in 1940. This feat was accomplished with an enormous loss of guns, munitions and supplies. In fact, practically everything that the British Army possessed was left on the Continent by the retreating force. Germany captured the channel ports, and France capitulated. The fears of a century had been realized in one terrible month. England was facing the darkest period of its history. But there was no surrender. Enemy successes, and fear for the future, did not produce panic. The British stood to their guns, and to their jobs. Factory workers played their part on the industrial front just as the soldiers who behaved so bravely on the beaches at Dunkirk played their part in actual warfare. In Great Britain working hours were increased ; the workers gave up their holidays. They were prepared to sacrifice conditions in order to defend their principles and democratic culture. No criticism can be directed against the masses of Britain for their behaviour in those critical hours. The men and women of Britain showed the world the stuff of which they were made. Important, therefore, as is the part the .people of

Britain played in defence of their country, I am concerned at this moment with the lessons to he drawn from war-time policies on holidays and working hours. Australians need have no fears concerning the men of the fighting services. What we have to consider, however, is the position of those who are rendering such noble service on the home front. This vast army is playing a vital part in backing up the fighting services. Consequently, we, in this Parliament, should pause to consider whether the policy governing their conditions of labour is calculated to give the nation a war effort which is 100 per cent, effective. The health of that great body of Australians engaged on the industrial side of our war effort should be a major concern of the Commonwealth Parliament.

To illustrate what I have in mind, 1 remind the House that in September, 1915, the British Government set up the Health of Munitions Workers Committee. This committee published two reports, 21 memorandums and a handbook as evidence of their concern about the dangerous tendencies being revealed in industrial conditions. Those tendencies included the development, to an alarming extent, of sickness and loss of efficiency among British munition workers in the war of 1914-18. The committee was therefore instructed - . . to consider and advise on questions of industrial fatigue, hours of labour, and other matters affecting the personal health and physical efficiency of workers in munitions factories and workshops.

An emergency report concerning the present war, Industrial Health in War, recalled the problems of those days m these words -

During the war of 1914-18, an increase in output of munitions became of primary importance. To this end hours of labour for men were increased, 70-90 hours a week being common and over 90 hours not infrequent. The assumption was that if one unit of work could be done in one hour, then (i could be done in G, 12 in 12, and so on. A simple calculation would give the expected output per week, per month, peT year.

The actual results were found to belie this assumption, for output did not increase pro- portionately in time and effort expended, Other disturbing symptoms appeared, for instance, sickness and disease increased. The calculations had gone wrong - the worker had been mistaken for a machine.

The agreement among the investigators on the remedies was as unanimous as on the evils. The report stated that -

(   1 ) Holidays should not be interfered with in the mistaken belief that production would bc increased 'by eliminating holidays.

In 1914-18 when the strain industrially was much less severe than it is to-day when intricate machines are being used to an infinitely greater extent than in the years of the Great War the committee stated -

The committee consider it most important that ordinary factory holidays should be maintained. The evidence leaves no doubt as to the beneficial effect of such holidays both on health and output. " The official findings as regards periodic holidays are quite unequivocal ", states Science in War. "Ordinary factory holidays should be maintained and limits must be placed on the extension of hours."

The committee stated that it was - convinced that the maximum limits of weekly employment, provisionally suggested, are too high except for quite short periods, or perhaps in cases where the work is light and the conditions of employment exceptionally good. In the great majority of cases, however, the hours of work should now be restricted within limits lower than those quoted. . . . The Committee desires strongly to emphasize their opinion that the time is now ripe for a further substantial reduction in the hours of work. . . . ' They are satisfied that reductions can be made with benefit to health and without injury to output.

That opinion was confirmed from many sources.

To return to the evacuation of Dunkirk. Not for a century had the British people been in such a dangerous position. Every emotion was heightened; every tendency exaggerated ; every sacrifice was demanded and freely given. Morale was high. The Government made a strong appeal for extra work. Factories worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and bank holidays -were cancelled. Britain was in danger. Production increased enormously and has continued at an exceedingly high level. But the human factor had to be considered. Two months of extreme effort could not be sustained without problems arising. The ill effect of excessive hours of work became most evident after the heroic spurt of June- July, 194'0, when, the

British Minister of Labour and National Service said -

Owing to the situation in the country following the collapse of France, it was necessary to call upon all those engaged in war production to make an intensive effort by working longer hours to speed up production to the utmost extent.

Nevertheless - and this is my point - on the 23rd July, 1940, the Minister issued a leaflet drawing attention to the essential necessity for " an adjustment in the present long hours of work ". The leaflet pointed out that the maintenance of maximum output on war production was essential. To achieve this the hours of work must be adjusted to prevent tiredness. The continuation of seven-day working with an average working week of between 70 and 80 hours, would quickly cause a rapid decrease in industrial productivity owing to the abnormal strain. The leaflet recommended, for the time being, an arrangement of work by shifts, which would give an average working week for the day shift of 60 hours, but, it added -

As soon as the necessary labour force has been acquired and trained, steps must be taken to institute a permanent scheme to achieve the two primary purposes in view which are -

(a)   reduction in the working week to the optimum hours, which experience in many manufacturing fields shows to be in the region of 55 or 56 hours;

(b)   an increase of man-hours and the productivity per man-hour.

Theevils associated with the last war were thus being repeated. Once again, a Health of Munitions Workers Committee recommended the reduction of hours, the continuation of the Sunday rest and ordinary holidays. Therefore, holidays had to be restored, hours had to be reduced and detailed attention given to the human factor in industry. Mr. H. M., Vernon in Science in War, to which I have already made reference wrote as follows : -

In the interests of health and efficiency it is important that the workers should be allowed occasional holidays of a few days' duration, as well as the regular Sunday rest. The statutory bank holidays may be sufficient if supplemented by one or two extra days, but these brief holidays ought not to be withdrawn, except in cases of dire emergency. If possible, a full week's holiday, with pay, should be granted every year. As it was put to the Health of Munitions Workers' Committee, "If once in two or three months a man could have two or three days off it would prove the finest medicine, much bettor than a bonus as extra pay ".The committee specially emphasized the need for giving periodic holidays to members of the management and to foremen.

Let me now turn to an Australian authority on Australian conditions to-day. Dr. H. M. L. Murray, Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Munitions, in writing of industrial fatigue, says -

In Germany the hours of work have been cut down in consequence of numerous reports that workers in munition factories are showing signs of over-fatigue. The Times, of 20th December, 1939, quoted an order by the German Minister of Labour that the working day must not exceed ten hours.

In Australia the position is much less satisfactory; when it comes to organizing shifts, there seems to be a fatal fascination about multiples of the figure " four ". If sufficient labour cannot be obtained to keep all the machines in a shop going on three shifts of eight hours, then the only alternative which seems to occur to any one is two shifts of twelve hours each. If a suggestion is made that two shifts of ten hours might produce a greater output, the only reply is : But then some of the machines will be idle for four hours a day". I think it is fair to say that two years ago, most of the industrialists tumbled over themselves to fall into the trap baited with the words " increased hours mean increased output ". And the whole body of public opinion was behind the general, rather vague, idea, that the way to get maximum production was to work everybody in factories as long and as hard as possible.

Now many enlightened employers are alive to the folly of the position, and realize that this business of long shifts is hopelessly inefficient. But now it is too late. Employers arc powerless to reduce working hours. The employees have taken charge, and any attempt to reduce overtime in a factory results in employees leaving that factory in search of more overtime elsewhere. The only remedy lies in Government action, fixing a maximum number of hours per week, which must not be exceeded in any industry. And since Government action seldom precedes public opinion, there is a great need to educate the public in this matter. As far as I am aware, there has been no attempt by any organization to talk plain facts at the present time; and I suggest that it is a task which devolves upon us all. Surely the efficiency of production should be everybody'? business, not just anybody's.

Especially at the present time is this need for education urgent; for now we are being stampeded into doing things which are hope- ' lessly inefficient. A typical example of this is the proclamation prohibiting the ten-day break at Christmas. Many production staffs have worked long hours at high pressure throughout the year; and a break-down in production will result if the pressure were kept up indefinitely. It would be far better in the long run to retain the usual Christmas break; and the fact that this is not generally recognized illustrates the immense task in educating public opinion which lies ahead of all of us who have a knowledge of the actual facts.

The Ministry of Labour in Great Britain, advised on the 25th February, 1942, that holidays in industry should be one week in summer, and if possible to be staggered to include Easter and "Whit Mondays, August Bank Holiday and two days at Christmas or New Year. The following is an extract from the Daily Herald, of the 2nd May last : -

Suggest corrections