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Friday, 25 June 1915

Mr SAMPSON (Wimmera) . - I think the Leader of the Opposition is to be complimented for having brought this matter forward in order that public attention may be drawn to it, with a view to immediate effect being given to the two reports which have already been sent in recommending the establishment of a second shift. The chief trouble in connexion with the Factory, so far as regards the failure of the Government to establish two shifts, has been that first of all the manager was against this course, and that the Minister did not exercise the necessary driving power and tell the manager that it should be done. I do net intend to discuss the position prior to the issue of the report by the Public Works Committee, but the Committee, after the fullest investigation, came to the conclusion that there were no disabilities in the way of an immediate start, not only of a double shift, but of shifts occupying the whole twenty-four hours if need be. That was the unanimous conclusion arrived at by the Committee. It does seem extraordinary that the suggestion of additional shifts should have been objected to by the manager right up to the time the Committee carried on its inquiry. The inquiry found it was quite possible to institute a second shift at once.

Mr Hannan - But what about the supply of steel?

Mr SAMPSON - I will deal with that question shortly. The members of the Public Works Committee were very anxious to make the strictest investigation, so that they might make a reliable recommendation to Parliament. The first witness examined was the manager of the factory, who stated that it was impracticable to work two shifts. When we asked him why, he* gave us a myriad of reasons. He said th.:re was difficulty in obtaining, labour, and that if two eighthour shifts were put on at once it would not increase the output over the twelve hours' shift then being worked. When it was pointed out to him that labour might be supplied as the result of the patriotic offers on the part of the State Governments to supply all the necessary skilled labour, his objection was removed, and he then raised the objection that it would be difficult to house the men in Lithgow. When it was pointed out to him that this objection might be overcome by the residents of Lithgow, he passed on to another objection, and said there was a shortage of material. When we asked him to point out what particular class of material was short, he said that difficulties existed in regard to the supplies of wood. Yet when we asked him whether it was not possible, out of the great resources of Australia, to find sufficient wood of a quality good enough for rifle manufacture, he said he thought it might be possible to get over that difficulty by association with the Home Affairs Department, which has a stock of seasoned timber on hand. We asked him if there was any mechanical difficulty, and that eventually was brushed on one side. It was only by the most searching inquiry and interrogation that we were able to drag from the manager of the factory an admission of the possibility of two shifts being worked, and to brush away one after another the objections that were brought forward. We found that the material was there, that it had been possible to work the double shift for some time, and, that being the case, I think we have reason to be somewhat suspicious regarding the official statement of the supplies of material prior to our inquiry. The agent who supplied the steel, in his evidence before the Committee, did not give any indication that it would not have been possible to increase supplies if the Government had only given an order. He stated that there was a three-years' contract in operation for the supply of steel, and that, though he had only supplied the requirements of the contract, yet his firm was well in advance of supply, and had been for some time. In my opinion, the whole trouble is that the Defence Department has accepted the recommendation of the manager, and has accepted the objections raised by him as being sufficient for delaying the second shift instead of giving the definite instruction that the second shift was absolutely imperative, and that, if that management was not prepared to establish it, other means would have to be taken of doing so. The chief difficulties in regard to the establishment of a second shift are those of men, material, and housing accommodation, but the Committee, as the results of its investigation, pointed out that all these difficulties may promptly be overcome. In its report the Committee state that " it was ascertained, after evidence, that the factory has sufficient steel in hand to enable it to double its output for twelve months without exhausting its' supply. The Committee is also sanguine that further supplies will be available." The clause in the report stating this, which is the unanimous view of the Committee, is clear evidence that with the stocks on hand, and- the stocks on the water, it would have been possible, for some time prior to the Committee's investigation, to institute a second shift.

Mr Joseph Cook - ┬╗How long have they been working one and a half shifts per day?

Mr SAMPSON - For several months.

Mr Joseph Cook - It is longer than that.

Mr SAMPSON - In the face of the evidence submitted, I am naturally suspicious at the present moment of the objections that have been put in the way of the institution of a second shift by the manager, Mr. Wright.

Mr Hannan - Did not the manager of the works state that the institution of a second shift would mean a reduced rather than an increased output for the first three months?

Mr SAMPSON - He said that they were at present working a twelve-hours' shift per day, and that two shifts of eight hours would not mean an increased output. That statement on his part to the Public Works Committee was immediately followed by the evidence of the President of the Skilled Workers Union, Mr. Cornwell, who told us that the men had intimated to the Department their willingness to institute a second shift; that they believed two shifts should be worked and two shifts, not of eight hours each, as suggested by the manager, but of twelve hours each. He went further, and said that, if necessary, in time of war the men were prepared to work for three Sundays out of four. This witness is one of the foremen of the tools branch of the Factory, which is the most skilled department of labour in the whole establishment. He told us that there was no difficulty in the way of the immediate institution of a second shift; that if the necessary additional labour were provided, then, as a practical man, he would say that a second shift could be at once started, and that within a few weeks after they should be able to increase greatly the output of .the Factory. The Public Works Committee has unanimously recommended an increase to the extent of 70 per cent. A lot of the talk that has been indulged in regarding skilled labour in the Factory is, in my opinion, quite beside the murk. Captain - Clarkson, who has investigated the manufacture of small arms all over the world, told the Public Works Committee that only a small percentage of skilled labour is required in such factories. At Lithgow we have half-a-dozen foremen and a similar number of section hands who, outside the tool branch, represent chiefly the skilled labour in the establishment, and, according to the sworn evidence of Mr. Cornwell, the skilled workers in the factory arc prepared to heartily cooperate with their fellow-workmen, when a second shift is started, in making the new hands familiar with their duties. I hold that there was no possible excuse for any further investigation after the reports of the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee had been presented. The Minister should have peremptorily directed the manager of the Factory to institute at once a second shift. The necessary material was in hand, the residents of Lithgow had patriotically promised to house the additional hands required, the State Government offered the skilled labour, the co-operation of the skilled workers was assured, and a second shift should have been ordered by the Minister immediately upon the receipt of our reports. A want of driving power has been shown in the Department, and this is responsible for the delay of a month that has taken place, since the issue of our reports, in starting a second shift. I am glad that the management have at last been instructed by the Minister of Defence to start a second shift forthwith. But something more than a mere instruction to the manager is necessary. An outside business man of organizing capacity should he engaged to get into communication with the States Governments with the object of at once sending to the works the skilled labour necessary to provide for the second shift. If the provision of these additional skilled hands be dealt with in a purely departmental manner there will be further delay. I therefore hope that the instruction given by the Minister to the Factory manager to start a second shift will be supplemented by the organization necessary to supply at once the additional skilled labour required, and that we shall hear very speedily that the machinery in the Factory, instead of running only two eight-hour shifts per day, as recommended by Mr. Davis and the manager, will be set to work for the whole twenty-four hours per day. That is quite possible, and ought to be brought about without anyfurther delay.

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