Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 21 May 1942


Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) has moved for the disallowance of the regulations under Statutory Rule No. 146, the purpose of which is to set up a tribunal to fix wages and conditions for women employed in industry. The right honorable gentleman first suggested that the setting up of such a tribunal would be an interference with the normal functioning of the Arbitration Court; then he attacked the constitution of the tribunal in a manner which indicated, I think, that his desire was to attack the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) rather than the tribunal itself. The right honorable gentleman has seldom been heard to worse advantage than he was last night. He was most unconvincing, and did not even express the views of most honorable members on his own side of the House in the course of the cunningly conceived arguments which he advanced: He was horrified at the proposal to improve the method of computing women's wages. He pointed out that, up to date, the Arbitration Court had, in computing women's wages, worked on the basis of 54 per cent, of the male wage, and he apparently dreaded the thought that the Government proposed to increase that figure to 60 per cent, for the purposes of the special tribunal. One fact emerged clearly from his speech: He is a keen advocate of the employment of women in industry, but he is very anxious that female labour should be cheap labour.

The appointment of a special tribunal has become necessary because of the manpower difficulties facing the country at the present time, and because of the need to gear up the country's war industries to greater output. A great many physically fit men are in the fighting forces. Many more must remain in the .primary industries, and, applying the lessons which we learned during the last war, we must, as far as possible, retain skilled male labour for war production. For those reasons, women have now been introduced into heavy industries through channels that were previously undreamt of by the trade union movement. The trade union movement has yielded a very important principle in acceding to this dilution of labour by females. They are now entering spheres of heavy industry in which their presence 50 years ago, both in this country and abroad, was the real cause of struggle in the trade union movement. The only reason why the trade union movement tolerates the intrusion of women into these industries to-day is the dire necessity imposed by war. Those who make profit out of war should not be enabled to make greater profit by exploiting female labour. The willingness of the trade union movement to make this concession, and the willingness of women to engage in occupations which previously they would not dream of undertaking, should not be exploited by the payment of low wages in order to increase the profits of those who control such industries. Whether women should receive male rates of pay for equal work has long been a bone of contention. The subject gives rise to arguments which evade the real issue. This tribunal has been set up in order to determine what wage should be paid to women in industry. The right honorable member for Kooyong claims that the tribunal will cut across the normal work of the Arbitration Court. I disagree with that view. Regulation 6, sub-regulation 1, provides -

Where an employer, because of a shortage or impending shortage of male labour, desires to employ females on work for which a rate of payment for male employees has been determined by any industrial award, order, determination or agreement and for which a rate of payment for female employees less than the rate for male employees has not been so determined, the employer or an organization to which he belongs shall, before the employer employs females on any such work at a rate of payment less than that so determined for mule employees, make an application to the board setting out fully the nature of the work on which it is desired to employ females.

That regulation is self-explanatory. It does not impinge in any degree upon the work or judgments of the Arbitration Court. It provides for the making of awards in industries in which female labour has not previously been employed, and for which, consequently, no female standard wage has been fixed by the Arbitration Court. In such cases, this tribunal will have the responsibility of fixing the female rates. I could understand the right honorable gentleman's argument, if the purpose of the tribunal were really to interfere with the wage rates fixed by the Arbitration Court. However, these regulations definitely prescribe fiat the tribunal shall not interfere with the decisions of the court, but shall supplement those decisions by fixing a proper wage for females. This principle is not new to our arbitration system. For instance, in various States, wages boards are already operating within the framework of our general arbitration system. The Arbitration Court fixes the living wage for a State, and the wages boards dealing with particular industries, fix the margins for skill in those industries. It has never been contended that the wages boards have interfered with the normal functioning of the Arbitration Court. As a matter of fact, the work of those- boards has been regarded as some assistance to the court in dealing with the great mass of work confronting it to-day. In nearly every State, the Arbitration Court fixes standard hours and wages, and the wages boards work around those decisions, supplementing the work of the court and not conflicting with it.

This tribunal has been constituted for the purpose of doing much the same kind of work in respect of females as is now performed by wages boards in respect of males. These regulations specifically provide that it shall fix the wages for females on the basis of the wages fixed by the Arbitration Court for males. The test that the tribunal will apply will be the degree of efficiency in respect of both output and skill, of women; and, upon that basis it will decide the proportion of the male wage to be paid to females. How the right honorable gentleman can contend that that will cut across the work of the Arbitration Court puzzles me.

The next point upon which the right honorable gentleman took the Government to task was in respect of regulation 6, sub-regulation 4, which provides that the female rate fixed by the tribunal shall not exceed the male rate, and shall not be less than 60 per cent, of the male rate. The right honorable gentleman found fault with this sub-regulation also on the ground that it would interfere with the standards set by the Arbitration Court. I emphasize that the tribunal will endeavour to do something which the court has not yet attempted to do. or been asked to do, because women are only now coming into heavy industries in which no wage has previously been fixed for them. The right honorable gentleman is upset really because this provision gives a little more generous treatment to female .labour, to which he himself has given considerable lip service but no practical assistance. Whilst the Arbitration Court has fixed the general female rate at 54 per cent, of the male rate, these regulations stipulate a minimum female rate of 60 per cent, of the male rate.

Much argument has taken place from time to time on the subject of equal pay for the sexes in respect of equal work. It is generally admitted that females perform with equal efficiency some classes of work which had come to be regarded as being reserved to males; and, at the same time, it is a physical impossibility for women to do much of the heavier classes of work with ' equal efficiency. However, when a woman does work to a standard of 60 per cent, of the efficiency of males in respect of both skill and output, she is entitled 'to at least 60 per cent, of the male rate. In each industry to which women have just been introduced, the tribunal must discover the degree of efficiency of women in relation to male workers, and remunerate females on that basis. The right honorable gentleman said that he is not opposed to the principle of equal pay for equal work. However, he introduced a very ingenious argument in respect of the basis on which the male living wage is now fixed. I suggested by interjection, that if his argument were carried to its logical conclusion, there would never be equal pay for the sexes; we should find ourselves up against a stone wall, because his argument is this : The existing living wage is based on not only the work performed by a male, but also the male-worker's family needs. That is to say, the living wage is not merely remuneration for the man's work, but is intended to make it possible for him to become a family man. The right honorable gentleman claims that it is a family maintenance wage; and, because of that fact, it should not be paid to a woman. He says that women workers should be paid only that proportion of the basic wage which directly represents the remuneration for work done. I have no doubt that he would favour the fixation of a wage for bachelors solely on the basis of remuneration for work done, and exclusive of any payment in respect of family needs. I point out that women are now working side by side with bachelors who have no family responsibilities, but are paid the basic wage, which includes an amount allowed in respect of family needs. Is it not right that spinsters who work side by side with bachelors in war work should receive the same rate as the bachelors, provided the females give equal efficiency and output?


Mr Holt - Would not the ideal basis be a wage for a man and his wife with loadings in respect of family needs?


Mr Blackburn - Not unless every body was guaranteed employment.


Mr ROSEVEAR - The fixation of the base wage as suggested by the honorable member would not overcome the point raised by the right honorable member for Kooyong, namely, that as the woman employed in industry has no family responsibility, she should not receive a wage which takes family responsibility into consideration. Although the right honorable gentleman puts his argument very subtly, his real contention is that, regardless of whether a woman in industry is the equal of a male worker in respect of quality and quantity of work, she should never be allowed to receive the same wage as a man. That will not get him anywhere.


Mr Holloway - That is the real conflict.


Mr ROSEVEAR - There is no doubt about that. The right honorable gentle man put it very subtly, but he has slammed the door against equal pay for the sexes.

I now propose to examine the constitution of the Women's Employment Board. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) spoke at great length upon this motion, but his speech, like " the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la", had nothing to do with the case. He concentrated, as did the right honorable member for Kooyong, on the constitution of the board. Among other things, he delivered a veiled attack on the chairman, who is a member of the judiciary in Victoria.


Mr Baker - It was a very open attack.


Mr ROSEVEAR - Yes ; he charged the chairman with being partial. He also accused the Government of making political appointments, as if political appointments to the judiciary were something new. If that is to be the basis of the condemnation of the board, let us examine some other appointments which have been made to the judiciary. First, I mention Judge Drake-Brockman. Whilst I do not suggest that he is partial to one side, his political antecedents would never have justified his appointment to the Arbitration Court, according to the standard set by the right honorable member for Kooyong. Prior to his elevation to the Bench, Judge DrakeBrockman was a partisan in the Arbitration Court as the representative of the employers, and later as a United Australia party senator he was a political partisan. In the eyes of honorable members opposite, that did not disqualify him from appointment by them to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. His appointment was unquestionably a political one; but now, the Opposition finds fault with the Women's Employment Board because the judge who is the chairman, many years ago contested unsuccessfully an election as a supporter of the Labour party.

From time to time, Australia has been represented at the conferences of the International Labour Organization at Geneva. On one occasion, the Government denied to the trade union movement the right to select its delegate, and appointed the representative from a panel of names which it had invited the unions to submit. The employers having selected their delegate, the Government then appointed, as its representative, Mr. Heath, who had been a prominent figure in the timber workers' strike as an advocate of the employers. By that means, the Government secured two representatives of the employers and one handpicked representative of the trade union movement to represent the people of Australia. With a record like that, honorable members opposite still have the temerity to talk about political patronage.

Judge Beeby, who in later years was such a profound sleeper on the Bench when evidence was being taken, was also a political appointee, but honorable members opposite found no fault with him. .


Mr Holt - He was a good Labour man.


Mr ROSEVEAR - At one time he was. But like many other Labour men, he forgot his Labour ideals once he had been appointed to the position. Mr. Justice Lukin was also a political appointee. He had retired from the Queensland Bench, and was drawing a full pension. An anti-Labour government picked him out at a. time when an attack on the wage standards of the workers was contemplated, and his first achievement was to reduce wages and increase hours of labour. That action caused the disastrous timber workers' stri'ke. But this gentleman who prescribed for the timber workers reduced wages and longer working hours and who was a wholehearted advocate of the Premiers' plan, refused fo accept a reduction of his pension or remuneration as a judge. What was sauce for the working-class goose was not sauce for the Lukin gander. But honorable gentlemen opposite hold up their hands in horror because they suspect that the judge who was selected as chairman of the Women's Employment Board' is a political appointee. All power to the Minister for Labour and National Service! I hope that he places more Labour sympathizers in similar positions, because they are sadly needed.


Mr Holt - The honorable member is concent-ratine upon the chairman, and is not commenting upon the other members of the board._


Mr ROSEVEAR - The honorable member for Fawkner is too hasty. The honorable member for Wentworth pointed out that the Minister for Labour and National Service did not allow the employers sufficient time in which to select their representative. No sensible person believes that the employers do not have in mind a suitable man when they know in advance that they will be asked to nominate their representative. The honorable member put forward the specious argument that the appointment of the tribunal should have been delayed until the Employers Federation, which represents employers throughout the length and breadth of Australia, had ascertained the views of all its members before it announced its decision. Many employers are not particularly interested in the subject of female labour. Was the Government to wait for the coal-owners to express their opinion as to who shall represent the employers on a tribunal established for the purpose of fixing remunerations for females in industry? Female labour is not used in the coalmines. Countless employers have not the slightest interest in the matter of female labour. Yet, in these critical times, when labour is being diverted from civil to war industries and no proper provision has been made for it in Arbitration Court awards, the Employers' Federation asked to be allowed an indefinite period for consultation of its members. There is not the slightest doubt that the employers were determined to sabotage the Women's Employment Board. Honorable members opposite will doubtless point out that comparatively little delay has occurred in making the 'appointments. butt there is ample evidence that the employers, who had previously caused the failure of the conference that was to establish peace in industry because they declared that the judge who presided was partial, were determined to adopt th* same tactics towards the Women's Employment Board. I give the Minister for Labour and National Service all credit for nipping this scheme in the bud. He was determined at the earliest possible date to get the tribunal functioning, and the employers resolved to delay it as Ions as possible. Their reason is obvious. Any delay in adjusting the wages of female workers would mean greater profits to the employers.


Mr Holloway - And less munitions for the war effort.


Mr ROSEVEAR - That is the position as the Minister for Labour and National Service saw it. When, by their sabotaging tactics, the employers made it evident that they would delay indefinitely the workings of the board, the Minister very properly looked elsewhere for a representative of the employers. His choice fell upon a lady with a distinguished industrial career. She is, perhaps, one of the most able industrialists in Australia to represent the Ministry of Munitions which is, and will be, the greatest employer of female labour in the Commonwealth. Since the employers did not wish to be associated with this tribunal and were determined to make it unworkable, the Government very properly gave the representation to the largest employer of female labour.

Those are the only two points which the right honorable member for Kooyong raised in justification of his motion to disallow this statutory rule. The right honorable gentleman has been heard to much better effect than he was last night. His field was somewhat restricted, because he did not wish to put some of his friends in a false light. For a long time they have given lip service to the principle of equal pay for the sexes for equal work. As a political catch-cry, it is very attractive, but some honorable members opposite were confronted with the problem of having to justify their use of it in the past by supporting the statutory rule. The right honorable gentleman sought, by reasoning that did not do him great credit, to conceal the fact that his motion was a veiled attack upon the principle, and that if his views were carried to their logical conclusion, equal pay for the sexes could never be established in industry. I hope that the House, in its wisdom, will recognize that the statutory rule is not an attack upon the arbitration system, but is supplementary to it. Honorable members should appreciate that the trade unions have sacrificed a very important, principle in opening the gates for the purpose of permitting women to enter industry from which they were excluded many years ago. The statutory rule will do justice to the women who have taken employment in war industries, and will accelerate the war effort by promoting contentment.







Suggest corrections