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Wednesday, 15 September 1971
Page: 1381


Dr GUN (Kingston) - I draw the attention of the Government to the serious situation which has developed in the vehicle building industry in South Australia. It is hardly necessary for me to point out that any setback in that industry means a major setback to the whole of South Australia. This situation has arisen from the announcement of the retrenchment of a large number of tradesmen. A total of 450 tradesmen are to be retrenched from the plants of General Motors-Holden's Pty Ltd and 179 from the plants of Chrysler Australia Ltd. It is true that the tradesmen at the Chrysler plants have been offered work on the production line and that more or less the same thing has happened at the plants of General Motors-Holden's, or rather there will be vacancies which they do expect some of the retrenched tradesmen may be able to take up. The situation is still a very serious one. Even assuming that these men will be able to take up positions on the production line it will still mean a considerable reduction in their take home pay and a considerable under-utilisation of skilled manpower.

Naturally the Trades and Labor Council of South Australia and the unions concerned are taking a very serious view of the matter. They are submitting a number of proposals to the employers. These proposals include a proposal for joint consultations to be held when retrenchments due to redundancy are likely to occur. The unions want an adequate severance pay related to years of service and they want the employers to indemnify retrenched employees against a loss of earnings as well as the payment of accumulated sick leave and other measures. These measures are essential and they are in fact all found in the section under the heading 'Technological Change' in the platform of the Australian Labor Party. It is imperative, of course, that the unions take up this matter in the first instance with the employers, but I point out to the House that the platform of the Australian Labor Party indicates that a Labor government would be very active indeed in problems such as this, not only in resolving problems as they arise but also in doing as much as possible to try to prevent these distressing human situations arising in the first place. What is happening at the moment? The Liberal Government appears to be standing flatfooted.

I would like to ask the Minister - I thank him for coming into the House to hear what I have to say - what has become of the Government's plan for adult retraining. Earlier this year in the autumn session the Minister spoke to the Parliament about this. But as far as I can see the matter seems to end there. The policy of the Labor Party states quite clearly that where redundancy occurs there must be adequate assistance for retraining, re-employment, re-housing if necessary and the provision of make-up pay from the previous employer if the new job is obtained at lower wages. But what is the Government's action? There are several deficiencies in the Government's programme. We have not had a chance to discuss these deficiencies but I could just mention some of them in passing. First of all, the maximum pay that is available if an employee is being trained full time is $46.20. Already many of these employees, if they go on to the production line, will have had a considerable reduction in pay of $17 to $19 a week. If they go on to $46.20 they will be on even lower wages still. The maximum retraining period under this scheme is only 12 months and in many cases this is not long enough.

There is no provision for re-housing and there are many other matters to which I could refer. I draw the attention of all honourable members to the excellent programme on technological change and related issues which emanated from the Launceston conference of the Australian Labor Party this year. Here is one plank that the Government could very fruitfully take out of the Labor Party's platform.

The Government's scheme ostensibly started on 1st July this year. But as far as I can tell, the Department of Labour and National Service, or rather the Minister for Labour and National Service, does not seem to have done anything about it. I do not really think that the Government should wait for events to overtake people in situations like this. I would like to see the Government go in and try to assess the situation. I understand that the present Situtation is due mainly to the decision of the car industries to bring out a new model only every 5 years instead of every 2 years as was the case. The Government should assess what the situation will be, what is going to happen, what is the extent of the problem, what it is going to mean in the future and what really needs to be done about it. I think that both employers and the Government have a responsibility to ensure the future and security of the redundant employees. I believe that employers who after ali will benefit, or expect to benefit, from technological change must carry much of the responsibility for the workers who are displaced. However, the Government must act as well.

I come now to another matter about which I think the Government should alter its attitude. I refer to the 35-hour week. This matter was raised by the present Treasurer (Mr Snedden) when he was Minister for Labour and National Service. He stated that the Australian worker must make up his mind whether he wanted to take the benefit of rising productivity in the form of more goods or more leisure. I think there are a number of reasons why we must start thinking of the latter. In other words, we must start thinking of a shorter working week. Increasing technology and automation are causing a great deal of alienation of the work force. The individual worker becomes a cog in the machine. He finds little cause to identify himself with the goods he is producing or with the company paying him to produce those goods. The worker finds less scope for work of a creative nature during the hours of employment. This can only come outside his employment.

But there is an even more basic question: Do we want more and more productivity? Where will that increased productivity get us in the end? Anyone who saw Professor Paul Ehrlich while he was in

Australia must be aware that we cannot keep basing our society on more and more goods and higher and higher productivity because sooner or later we will either run out of power, energy, metals or the other resources, or pollution will make this planet uninhabitable. I was most disappointed in the response of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to a question asked last week by my colleague the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). It was most distressing to learn that the Prime Minister had taken little or no notice of what Professor Ehrlich had to say and what he had heard he was going to discount. This is another reason why we must be thinking of a shorter working week, not just as a reward for greater productivity but instead of greater productivity. I mention these arguments at this time because the unions have a 35-hour week as one of their proposals to ameliorate the present situation in the car industry. It is a proposal which should not be scoffed at and dismissed. It warrants very serious consideration. 1 am not suggesting that we introduce a 35-hour week across the board tomorrow, but I believe that the time has arrived to start planning for its gradual introduction.

There is another matter which is terribly important and about which the Government has done nothing. If men are eventually to be redundant in the car industry we cannot just shrug our shoulders and say too bad'. We must say: 'What is the best way to deploy these manpower resources'? I think we should be thinking in terms of our run down public transport facilities. Surely it is not a great step for a tradesman to move from building cars to building locomotives, rolling stock and buses, but the Commonwealth is ignoring this terribly important field of public transport. I quote now from an article which appeared in 'Rydge's' Journal of March 1971 and which quotes Mr Brown, Chairman of Commissioners of the Victorian Railways, in a report presented to the 1970 Australian and New Zealand Railway Commissioner's Conference. The article states:

For a tenth of what the Commonwealth plans to spend on Melbourne roads, rail services could be upgraded to provide increased passenger capacity at least equal to that achieved by spending the other nine-tenths on roads. . . .

Over $600m will be provided to the Slates between 1969-70 and 1973-74. . . .

If only 10 per cent of Melbourne's share of this were diverted to the upgrading of fixed rail systems the current rate of expenditure on improving the city suburban railways could be more than treble.

Let us face it. The motor car is here to stay. Thank goodness for that, a sentiment with which 1 do not think anyone would argue. But a little expenditure diverted to public transport from the enormous amount that we are spending on roads will solve many of our urban problems as well as providing security of employment in a gainful way for many skilled workers. This might be part of our answer to the car industry problem. The situation in the motor industry is throwing up many problems. I have indicated some such as adult retraining, a 35-hour week and how far that will help with the problem of automation, the provision of public transport and the whole question of economic planning. There is a tremendous number of problems but thus far the Government has been silent on them. I do not know why it is not bursting to do something about these tremendous problems. It is time the Government faced up to them.







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