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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr RILEY (South Sydney) .- I hope the Government will abandon their proposal. I am in touch with labour organizations in New South Wales, and I can inform the Committee that the whole of the building operatives in that State work forty-four hours a week, with no work on the Saturday. For several years in the same trade in

Victoria the week has been made up of forty-four hours; in short, that is an established principle. The proposal of the Government means a retrograde step, and with the present demand for houses, and the scarcity of, labour, it constitutes a direct challenge to those who support the shorter week. In the iron trade, too, the' rule is forty-four hours, and owners of factories have voluntarily closed on Saturdays in order to avoid the expense of getting up steam for a short day. The whole tendency in the industrial world is towards a reduction in the hours of labour, and that is only natural. What is the good of the inventive mind of man, if the workers do not reap some of its advantages? The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) has urged that production ought to be increased; but I can meet that gentleman's argument with an illustration from the boot trade, which has been completely changed by the introduction of machinery. In my early days, every boot was made on the knee, and it took a man a day to turn out a pair; but now, if we go into a factory, we see a dense mass of machinery, and find that the cost of labour for turning out a pair of boots is only 3s.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Yet boots to-day are dearer than ever.

Mr RILEY - Yes, and we know the reason. It is not because of increases in wages, which have been cut almost to the minimum. As a matter of fact, only about half-time is being worked just now, owing to over-production. The operatives went to the Arbitration Court for a forty-four-hour week, but were refused on the ground that production ought not to be hampered. The result, as I say, is that, in my district, where there are many boot factories, only half-time is being worked, due to lack of orders.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - At the same time, with high prices, there are less boots.

Mr RILEY - That is because the Government have neglected to deal with the profiteers. I find from the English journals that all over the Continent there have been, since the war, large reductions in the hours of labour. We were told that the war was waged to " make the world worth living in " - to make it " safe for Democracy " - and surely the workers of Australia should not be confronted with a counter attack represented by the present proposal of the Government. Why is this proposal made? Is the present Judge an imbecile?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - When an appeal is made to the High Court, is the inference drawn that other Judges are " imbeciles "?

Mr RILEY - No; but I think the Government are imbeciles for introducing this proposal.

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