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Thursday, 18 September 1958


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This is a bill to amend the Tradesmen's Rights Regulation Act 1946-1955.

This act was first passed in 1946. It dealt with the situation which resulted from the operation during the war of the agreements for the dilution of skilled labour made with the engineering and other unions concerned. There was, at the same time, the problem of the orderly introduction into trades where this dilution had occurred of those ex-servicemen who qualified for training under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. The act contained regulatory provisions giving to " recognized tradesmen ", including exservicemen, a measure of preference in employment in the skilled trades to which the act applied. Provision was made for a system of central and local trades committees which had power, amongst other things, to issue certificates to those who satisfied the criteria of " recognized tradesmen " provided for in the legislation.

It was, of course, never intended that this legislation should operate indefinitely.

Primarily the legislation was concerned to protect the tradesmen who had given up something of their traditional status and position to aid the more effective prosecution of the war - but to protect them after the war in a transition period that was expected to present special employment problems, and against the competition of the dilutees brought into the trade during the war. So, the 1946 act was expressed to have the same life as the preference provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act, which had somewhat similar protection objectives.

Things worked out rather differently from what had been anticipated. I mention two points only. First, all the feared unemployment of the post-war transition did not materialize. Second, we embarked on the massive migration programme, and that meant the arrival of many tradesmen. It was against this background that, when in 1952 the act was due to expire, the Parliament decided instead to extend it, but with some changes. Shortly, what was done was as follows: The rights of " recognized tradesmen " were modified so as to restore greater freedom to the employer in relation to engagements and dismissals. The dilutees, or added tradesmen, who had worked as such for not less than seven years, were given tradesmen's status. Provision was made for the entry into the trades of Korea and Malaya veterans. But the most notable of the amendments was that which enabled the machinery of the act to be used for the assimilation of tradesmen migrants. The local trades committees were empowered to grant a " recognized tradesman's " certificate to a migrant when they were satisfied that he qualified in his own country for employment in one of the dilution trades and possessed the skill necessary for the performance in Australia of the work of a recognized tradesman.

Criteria were subsequently worked out by the central trades committees in consultation with my department for the selection of migrant tradesmen abroad, including trade testing, which ensure that migrants will be accepted as tradesmen on arrival here. The problem was, of course, that in some overseas countries tradesmen are trained differently from the normal Australian method of apprenticeship. The problem was to equate the methods used elsewhere to Australian methods. Throughout, the purpose was to avoid any lowering of our trade standards. By and large, the arrangements made have worked extraordinarily well. They have done much to allay the fears of governments of countries of emigration, and of the migrants themselves, as to their acceptance for work at their trades here, and have avoided obvious difficulties which could have arisen if some such arrangement had not been made.

I am bound to say that the present machinery under the act is largely devoted to dealing with migrants. There are, of course, some veterans who are still being trained. In addition, arrangements were recently made by the central committees to extend tradesmen status to members of the Permanent Forces, who receive trade training in the forces. We need to validate this, and I will return to it later.

There is one other general observation that I would like to make about this legislation. [Quorum formed.] It is that, throughout, we have been able to get a high degree of co-operation among the Government, the employers' organizations and the trade unions concerned, in the administra-tion of the legislation, and of agreement about the provisions of the legislation as extended from time to time. Much the same spirit has been evident in the lengthy discussions my department has been having with the parties as to what should be the future of this legislation. In this current case, there was finally only one point of real difference between the employers and the unions, and this the . Government has resolved in a way which I hope will commend itself to all concerned.

I come now to what this bill proposes to do. In the first place, it proposes to continue the existing machinery of central and local committees which will have authority to issue tradesman's certificates in respect of those who satisfy the criteria provided for in the legislation. This will mean that it will be possible for the good work that is now being done, particularly in respect of the assimilation of migrant tradesmen, to continue. All parties have agreed that this machinery should be kept. There will be no time limit on the operation of the provisions that are involved in this.

Secondly, the bill extends the range of people who can be given tradesman's certificates to cover those men in the permanent forces who have received trade training during their terms of service. This will confirm legislatively the practice which has been followed by the trades committees for some little time now.

The third main matter that the bill deals with is the matter of preference in engagement and dismissal, which, until now, the legislation has given to " recognized tradesmen ". As I remarked before, this preference was somewhat cut down in 1952.' It is in relation to this preference point that there was the disagreement between the employers and the unions in the recent discussions with my department. As I have said before, nobody disputes that it was not intended that the rights conferred by this legislation should run on indefinitely. After a good deal of discussion between the department and the employers and the unions, it was agreed that, in future, the provisions of the act relating to preference to " recognized tradesmen !' in engagement and dismissal should only operate in respect of those who were " recognized tradesmen " on 2nd September last. But on their side, the unions wanted this provision to run on indefinitely, whereas the employers said that it should terminate at the end of next year.

As is well known to honorable members, there has been a tendency in the past to associate decisions affecting the future of the preference provisions of the Reestablishment and Employment Act with decisions affecting the Tradesmen's Rights Regulation Act. As the Government has now decided that the preference provisions of the Re-establishment Act will be extended until 30th June, 1960, it has also decided that the preference given by the Tradesmen's Rights Act to tradesmen, in respect of engagement and dismissal, shall run on until the same date.

In short, what this means is that those who were " recognized tradesmen " on 2nd September last will continue to have the preference that they enjoyed under the old tradesmen's rights legislation, against all who are not " recognized tradesmen ". until 30th June. 1960. Those who get tradesmen's certificates after 2nd September last will not. however, have any rights to preference under this act. In other words, the situation for them from now on, and for all tradesmen as from 30th June, 1960, will be precisely what it was before the dilution agreements were initiated in 1940. Nobody can justly complain that these proposals are unreasonable. The legislation conferring rights on tradesmen was originally limited to seven years. In fact, it will, for all practical purposes, have run for more than fifteen years.

There is one further point for which the bill provides. It relates to the powers of the central committee. In the first place, the bill makes clear that the central committees do have power to give the sort of directions to local committees that they have been accustomed to give. This is just a confirmatory provision. In the second place, since the bill provides for continuing legislation, the Government has felt it desirable that there should be provisions which give the central committees power to cope with developing circumstances, rather than make it necessary for further amendments to be submitted to the Parliament from time to time. So it is provided that a central committee may enlarge the categories of persons to whom tradesmen's certificates may be granted. I can illustrate the need for that in this way. Only quite recently, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) brought to my attention the cases of a number of men in his electorate who have been working at a trade for very many years, but have not been given recognition as tradesmen because of the specific provisions of the legislation.

Under the bill's proposals, it will be possible for the relevant central committee to consider whether cases such as those brought up by the honorable member for Bendigo should be cases where tradesman's certificates should be issued. I do not know whether the central committee will do so or not. We have entrusted the question of issuing tradesman's certificates to committees composed of representatives of the employers' organizations and unions concerned, with a departmental chairman. These committees should, after all, be in the best position to deal with matters like this. It will be the employers and the unions, and they only, who shall determine whether tradesman's certificates shall be granted to other classes of persons, because the bill provides that, in effect, the departmental chairman shall have no vote when such decisions are being taken. And since it is somewhat unusual - though I think the circumstances in this case provide a perfect justification for it - for a bill to provide, in effect, for a body outside the Parliament to enlarge the scope of the legislation, 1 point out that the measure provides also that any decision of this sort by a central committee shall not be operative without the prior approval of the Ministers. I only need to add that the bill also removes some redundant provisions from the present legislation, provides a minor extension of the grounds for giving tradesman's certificates in the boilermaking trades, which was asked for by the union and agreed to in the discussions I have mentioned, and makes some minor amendments of a consequential nature, I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.







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