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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Social Services and Minister for Health) .- One would welcome a debate of this kind if it were confined to the merits of the subject under review. I am disappointed, because I had hoped that a subject such as this would be examined by honorable members on both sides of the chamber with advantage to the people generally. Unfortunately, it is seldom that anything worth whale is examined on its merits. Political prejudices always intrude, and the value of the debate is lost, because speakers insist on trying to work political points on one another. I see no reason why we should not concentrate upon the value of this board, and the reasons why it was brought into existence.

Mr Holt - It is unfortunate that the Minister was not present when the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) made his reply last night.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I have no doubt that the Minister for Labour and National Service replied to charges that had been made against him. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who very seldom indulges in recrimination, could not refrain this morning from doing so although only in mild language. If I were to follow on the lines of speeches made by honorable members opposite, I should waste the time allocated to me for this speech without touching upon the real subject at all. The honorable member for Fawkner tried to draw a red herring across the trail by asking what rates of wages were paid at the Trades Hall. What has that to do with the motion now before the House? I could repply to him by asking what some of the people whom he represents in this chamber are paying to their employees, and by reminding him that the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), when he was Attorney-General, had to appoint an industrial inspector to make sure that the big companies were not cheating the workers by paying them sweating rates.

Mr Menzies - I did appoint an inspector, but he was not a member of my political party.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The right honorable gentleman was requested by the Labour party to make the appointment. The inspector had been operating for only a few months when he found that the working people had been robbed of thousands of pounds by the banks, insurance companies and other concerns. It is foolish for honorable members opposite to criticize the rates of wages paid by the unions to their employees. For years women in the service of the Melbourne Trades and Labour Council have been paid the same rate as men.

The economic background to this subject ought to be examined. The honorable member for Fawkner spoke about the general subject of the employment of women in industry and said ' that the courts had fixed lower rates of pay for women than for men. That does not affect the problem now under consideration, which arises from the extension of the use of female labour to new fields. This leads us to examine the reason why men are hostile to the introduction of women into new branches of industry. The honorable member for Fawkner said that, for selfish reasons, trade unionists generally had been hostile to women coming into industry. There is some truth in that statement as regards some industries. However, the employment of women has become an economic necessity. If we were to permit unrestricted competition and the employment of women and children under sweated conditions, the workers would return to the gutter, where they were 30 years ago. Unrestricted competition of that sort inevitably brings every body lower and lower down the social scale. A line of demarcation had to be drawn, and some years ago. it became generally agreed in Australia that women should not be employed in certain classes of work. One reason for this was the need to retain sufficient work to keep the breadwinners of the nation in employment, and another was that it would have been inhuman to employ women in engineering workshops, iron foundries and other metal trades. The line of demarcation was drawn, and it became the custom that certain industries should be preserved to males only. How did the labour position which confronts us to-day arise? The right honorable member for Kooyong knows that, when he was Prime Minister, all sorts of bottle-necks occurred in industry. Acute shortages of tradesmen developed in the metal trades industries, and skilled engineers, fitters and turners and others could not be obtained for love or money. The right honorable gentleman wanted tens of thousands more of such employees for the war effort, and he asked honorable members on this side of the House to cooperate with the then Government in persuading the handful of men employed in these industries to dilute their forces, to treat fourth-year apprentices as fifth-year apprentices and to reduce the periods of technical training required of apprentices. This was done, but we have reached a stage at which we cannot obtain sufficient men; even by this means, to meet the requirements of war industries. Therefore, we have to bring women into industry to perform work which previously they were not allowed to perform, and we must effect the change as quickly as possible so that our output of munitions will increase hourly. This has raised the question of whether the Arbitration Court can fix wages and conditions for the employment of women in the ordinary way. The answer is that the court has never done so before, because this is a new field of arbitration. It has never made an award fixing equal rates of pay for the sexes for similar work. It has only gone as far as to make awards fixing rates of pay for certain classes of work which may not be varied whether the work be performed by men or women. In the hoot and clothing trades, intelligent judges, who studied the problems of sweating and excessive competition amongst employers in an endeavour to cheat each other and arrive at lower costs of production, fixed for certain jobs rates of pay which were made applicable to both men and women. Some employers have discovered that women can do some kinds of work more efficiently than men, and, therefore, they employ women and pay them the male rate of pay, because the law provides no other rate. Many times, we have discovered that women have been employed on such work at lower rates of pay and we have had to take action through the courts in order to obtain for these employees hundreds of pounds of overdue wages. I repeat that the Arbitration Court has never stipulated that the male rate of pay shall in a general way over an industry be paid to females performing similar work. This has to be done now. The Government had to ask somebody to do the job, and therefore it promulgated these regulations in order to create the Women's Employment Board. The question now under discussion is the wisdom or otherwise of this action. There would be no wisdom in disallowing the regulations, and no wrong can be done by retaining them. They will accomplish what the Government seeks to accomplish. We have asked the engineers to dilute their craft, and to take more and more young men from other industries and put them to work on machines, after a brief period of training. They have done so, but the supply of youths is not inexhaustible, and they have agreed now to allow more machine tools to be manned by women, subject to the condition that women shall receive the same rates of pay as men. Is there anything wrong with that? The men must protect themselves in some way. A few women can do the work as well as men and, in some instances, they are more efficient than men. About 2 o'clock in the morning a few weeks ago, I watched a woman at a munitions establishment operating a machine which previously had been operated by a man. A man was doing exactly similar work on a neighbouring machine. The output of the woman I watched was higher than that of the average man engaged on that work,, but how long she could stand the strain is another question. There is no logic in the contention that a woman who has been called upon to do munitions work because of the great need of the country, should not receive the same rate of pay as a man doing similar work. When an application is made for the right to employ women on any work which previously has been performed exclusively by men, the new board must decide whether male rates of pay should be paid immediately to the women or whether there should be a probationary period in which the women must demonstrate their ability to do the work. The board has decided that women engaged in new branches of industry shall be paid approximately 60 per cent, of the appropriate male rate of pay for the duration of their probationary employment. However, if a woman can show from the start that she is capable of working as efficiently as a man the probationary period is dispensed with, and the woman receives full rates immediately. That is fair. Women have been introduced into these new fields only because of " the necessity for obtaining more employees to manufacture munitions. The change has not been made because the Government wants to .break down the line of demarcation between grades of male and female labour. If I had my way, I should not allow women to work in metal trades. Prior to the war, I had to fight for many years to keep them out of that class of employment. We had ' to stop the employment of women in a department of the Sunshine Harvester Works, where women had been working in a moulding shop. By contact with dirty whale oil, their clothes and their hands and faces became so begrimed that had they remained at such work for a long period they would not have been permitted to ride on public vehicles. We have always tried to keep women out of such work, but the necessities of the war demand that we modify our attitude for the time being. There is no other way of securing the output of arms and munitions needed for our war effort; but honorable members opposite want to prevent us from doing this. To say that the appointment of this board is not an innovation would not be correct; to say that the Arbitration Court could not perform the work which the board will perform would also be wrong. The court could do it, but it would take too long to do the job. It is overloaded with work Mr. Holloway. now. It would have to review at least six awards covering the classes of work affected, and we cannot afford to wait for it to do this, time being of the essence of the contract.

Mr Menzies - It would be reviewing its own decisions.

Mr HOLLOWAY - But it would take months to come to a decision, as the right honorable gentleman knows. I remember being opposed to the right honorable gentleman in an arbitration case in the days when he was receiving about 40 guineas a day for his services. Mr. Stanley Lewis was supporting him, and I could not help admiring their cleverness in starting arguments over the interpretations of words and phrases. They could, without difficulty, waste a day in such arguments.

Mr Menzies - And when we had done that, the honorable gentleman usually occupied a week in answering us.

Mr HOLLOWAY - -I could not possibly waste so much time as the right honorable gentleman did over such matters. I am not clever enough to do that. However, after the case had proceeded for three or four months, I obtained a favorable verdict. As I said earlier, the 'court has fixed rates of pay for certain classes of work in the boot and clothing trades, and these rates must be paid to the operatives whether they be male or female, but it has never made an award fixing equal rates of pay for the sexes. The statement that this board will interfere with the Arbitration Court is not consistent with the facts. Every body knows that the wages board system in Victoria has worked in harmony with the Arbitration Court ever since arbitration was introduced.

Sitting suspended from 12.£5 to 2.15p.m.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Summing up: 1 can see no objection to these regulations, but a lot of danger and trouble if they are disallowed. I said in my opening remarks that this is a matter which governs the employment of a number of persons engaged in the manufacture of munitions. No matter to what degree we practise dilution of labour, raise the grade of unskilled men, or reduce the period of technical training, there will not be sufficient male labour to meet the needs of the ever-growing contracts. The only alternative was to introduce female labour into a field where it had not previously been employed. The effects of the regulations are not such as have been alleged by honorable members opposite. There will not be a setting aside of awards of the Arbitration Court, or interference with the efficiency of the court. There is no award of the court covering this matter, consequently there cannot bo interference. There will be no interference with the practice of the court in any way, and neither its status nor its efficacy will be impaired.

Mr.Hughes. - Indirectly, there may be interference with awards of the Arbitration Court.

Mr HOLLOWAY - No. In order to introduce this new element, the Arbitration Court would have to review half a dozen awards covering the affected sections of the metal trades. Anybody who has had experience of the Arbitration Court knows that, because ofits cumbersome nature - not because of its personnel - and by reason of the fact that it has developed a legal status, both sides debating and arguing technicalities in regard to practically every sentence of an award, too much time is occupied by it in the hearing of claims. In this matter, time is of the essence of the contract. Some means have to be devised in order to shortcircuit lengthy and tiring arguments in relation to interpretation.

Mr Hughes - Will this tribunal have the right to fix hours?


Mr Hughes - And matters in relation to overtime?

Mr HOLLOWAY - Yes, if female workers are' physically able to undertake overtime work. Some of them are working a twelve-hour shift. Male rates will be paid for this class of work.

Mr.Hughes. - What class of work is it?

Mr HOLLOWAY - The work of a process worker. These women are operating machine tools and machines that are half the size of the table at which I am standing, which until now have been operated solely by men. The production of machines was accelerated, but a sufficient number of men could not be engaged to work them. Thus, women are being placed in work which had never previously been done by them.

Mr.Hughes. -In Australia.

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