HC Deb 28 June 1938 vol 337 cc1718-20
73. Mr. John

asked the Secretary of State for Air the number of contractors engaged in constructing the new aerodrome works at St. Athans, the number of workmen engaged and the number of hours worked per day?

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

Fifteen contractors, including sub-contractors, are at present engaged in the construction work referred to, and on 24th June, 3,177 workmen were employed. The hours at present being worked by the majority of the workmen are 10½ on Monday to Thursday inclusive, 8½ on Friday and four on Saturday.

74. Mr. John

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware of the growing practice adopted by the contractors at St. Athans of dismissing their workmen without notice on the plea that parts of the constructional work are not sufficiently advanced, and that whilst these workmen are sent to the Employment Exchange to obtain their cards others are employed at the works; and will he state the number so dismissed in the last eight weeks?

Captain Balfour

I am informed that the practice of contractors and subcontractors is to give workmen the notice or pay in lieu of notice which is customary in work on constructional contracts. In such constructional work being carried out by a considerable number of contractors, it is difficult fully to coordinate the demands for new, and the release of existing, workmen from the very large number of men employed. In the case of skilled labour every man whose services are no longer required on a particular section of the work is passed through the temporary employment office established on the site for consideration for vacancies arising on other sections of the work, and by this means continuity of employment has been ensured for the bulk of skilled men. The case of unskilled men which involves larger numbers is more difficult and this system cannot be worked as systematically as that of skilled personnel. It may be that men have been discharged from a particular operation on one part of the site co-incident with the engagement of other labour for a different operation on another part. The names of men who have been previously employed and whose discharge is not due either to unsuitability or other cause are re-submitted through the temporary employment office with the result that the majority of these discharged men get back to work after a short period. The total number of men paid off during the last eight weeks is about 400 and the number engaged about 900, many of whom were found from among the 400 who had been discharged. If the hon. Member has specific cases in mind perhaps he will let me have particulars.

Mr. John

Is it not possible to establish a similar policy for unskilled men as for skilled? A large number of men are employed? They are employed for four or five days, they pay 9s. for bus fares, they buy working gear, and are dismissed in three or four days without any chance of recovering the expense.

Captain Balfour

As I explained in my reply, there is considerable difficulty in dealign with the large number of unskilled men as compared with the skilled men, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend desires to see the Employment Exchanges used to the utmost in order to facilitate the re-employment at once of any unskilled men who have been turned off. If the hon. Member will bring me any instances I will look into them.

Mr. Jenkins

I gather from the reply that 400 men were dismissed and 900 were engaged during the same period. Surely it would have been easy so to coordinate the proceedings that these 400 men might have continued in their employment?

Captain Balfour

Among the 900 are included 400 who have been turned off by sub-contractors. It is always impossible to deal with the matter exactly, but we keep in touch as far as we can.

Mr. Bevan

Is it not obvious that a clearing house for unskilled workers is far easier than for skilled men, and that the Minister's answer is, therefore, not reasonable at all?

Captain Balfour

No, a clearing house for unskilled men is not easier, because the number of them is much larger than in the case of the skilled men, particularly when 15 contractors or sub-contractors may be taking on or turning off men, according to the particular time at which they are starting work.