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Thursday, 24 September 1942
Page: 855


Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - by leave - The Government's plans for the defence of Australia and the conduct of the war in the Pacific have involved the making of decisions to build up the numerical strength of our fighting forces to a certain figure, and to carry out a complementary programme of production and of construction of works which will cause a very heavy drain on the limited labour resources available from a nation with a population of only 7,000,000. These decisions can be given effect only by the employment of women in industry on an unprecedented scale. Specifically, the Government expected within the next six months to bring into employment in government factories, in civilian factories engaged on war production, and in non-war but nevertheless essential industries, no fewer than 64,000 women.

The Women's Employment Board has paved the way for the introduction of these women into wider fields of industry, and unless some other machinery be set up to carry out its functions, the estimated additional requirement of 64,000 women for various war industries cannot be met. If we cannot find the 64,000 women and bring them into employment where they are needed, fewer men can be released to the fighting services, and our Army will go short of essential wax equipment.

The replacement of men by women involves the fixing of appropriate rates of pay for the women who are to do men's work. It also involves the fixing of conditions and the hours of work. Machinery is available for the settlement of wages and conditions of work, and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has had its powers and functions enlarged. Industrial peace regulations have widened the scope of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and greater use of conciliation committees has made the procedure much more flexible; but it would be administratively impossible for the Arbitration Court to handle all the numerous individual cases which must be dealt with as a part of the process of absorbing 64,000 women into employment. The Women's Employment Board was specially designed for this purpose. Its procedure is informal, and it is free to specialize on the single task of adjusting conditions of employment for women. Indeed, experience has shown that the task is such as to strain to the full the time and resources of the board, and the Government decided only this week that an appropriate number of subsidiary tribunals should be set up under the "Women's Employment Board to hear applications simultaneously in all the States.

In all States, there have been restrictions upon the employment of women. These have been designed partly to protect the position of men, and partly to protect the health and welfare of women employees. Under the pressure of war conditions, and the need to place women in industry, it is necessary to relax certain of these restrictions. This could not be done by sweeping aside the standards governing women's labour that have been built up throughout the years. What is necessary is a careful examination of each individual case, and a decision in the light of all the circumstances. There are processes on which women have not been previously employed, but on which they should be employed in war-time. Again, although there are general restrictions against night work by women, it is necessary in war-time to make an adjustment of hours, and, where conditions are favorable, to allow women to work at night. The Commonwealth Government has power to override the restrictions on women's employment imposed by the States, and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has power to override State restrictions. But some authority such as the Women's

Employment Board is obviously necessary to examine each individual ease and decide the degree to which such restrictions should be set aside, and the conditions under which women should be employed in each industry. I amplify that by saying that there is a large number of awards of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court which are operative but make no provision for women's rates of pay, having really been designed by the court on the presumption that women would not be employed at the particular avocation to which they applied. Employers will not engage women in those occupations as things stand, because the award prescribes the rate for whoever does the work. Therefore, the extent to which women will be used in such work is less than the Government considers desirable. If the court were to go through even the expedited procedure which the Government has recently arranged for, it would still take far too long to reach a decision in all these cases, while at the same time carrying on its normal functions. When I say that there is strong objection by certain unions to the employment of women in industry, I do not mean thar they do not recognize the necessity for such employment, but they believe that, unless the position be properly safeguarded in regard to women brought in temporarily to replace men engaged 011 other war work, an entirely wrong standard will be set up for women during the war, and the future standard for men will be prejudiced. Realizing how important it is that standards generally should not be brought down permanently in order to meet a national emergency, the Government believes that women who enter industry - not by natural evolution, but for the purpose of replacing men who would otherwise continue in those industries - should be adequately protected, while the rights of the male employees also are preserved. The Government recognizes the authority of Parliament, and it also accepts the obligations of government. We have al-ready brought into industry over 50,000 women not previously employed in their present avocations. At the present time, 100 women are being trained as telegraphists by the Postmaster-General's Department for the specific purpose of making male telegraphists available for service with the fighting forces. Naturally, the telegraphists who are being replacedby women want an assurance that when they come back they will not be excluded from their old jobs because it was discovered, while they were away fighting, that women could be got to do their work more cheaply. Having regard to the experience of labour in every country after the last war, when the record of unfulfilled promises became an important chapter of post-war history, it is understandable that a government which represents the Labour party should be concerned for two things : first, that women shall not be exploited in war-time, and, secondly, that whatever assessment is made of their value in war-time, it shall be based, not on their sex, but on their efficiency. Perhaps it was natural that the Arbitration Court, which has not had much experience of this particular problem, should arbitrarilyassess women's efficiency at some percentage of the male standard. I have a great respect for the Arbitration Court, but any such arbitrary assessment would be unfair to women, and monstrously unjust to men.


Mr Rosevear - Is this not a part of the implied contract with the unions ?


Mr CURTIN - The implied contract, yes; there is no formal contract. The anions are trying to arrange such acontract, but it is extraordinarily difficult. We are trying to make a fair evaluation of the efficiency of women in industry so that the men whose places they are taking will be assured of their jobs when they return, and will not find themselves permanently displaced by cheaper labour.


Mr McEwen - To what contract did the Prime Minister refer?


Mr CURTIN - There is no contract. We have been investigating the possibility of entering into a contract, but the powers of Parliament in this respect are limited to the period of the war, and one year thereafter. Thus, any contract made in pursuance of those powers would be of no use for the regulation of industry during the general post-war period. As the result of action taken in the Senate, the regulations governing the employment of women have been disallowed, thus creating a state of affairs which can only be described as chaotic. There are now many women working in avocations for which the Arbitration Court has not fixed a rate for women. Some are doing work which the State law says shall not be performed by women, and in other instances women are working longer hours than the State law permits. It is necessary that we should at least maintain the position as prescribed by former regulations. The Government accepts the authority of Parliament when regulations are disallowed. Therefore, it is proposed to pass this afternoon a statutory rule, under the National Security Act, to continue in force all decisions, variations and interpretations given or made by the Women's Employment Board up to, and including, the 23rd September, 1942. This statutory rule will remain in force until the Senate rejects or fails to pass a bill, notice of which 1 propose to give today and the general nature of which I shall indicate shortly. However, the statutory rule will not operate for more than one month from this date. The purpose of the statutory rule is to prevent a chaotic position from being caused by the absence of any authority covering the employment of women in all these avocations, with the exception of a few instances where the Commonwealth awards operate. But Commonwealth awards do not cover the field as a whole. The period of one month, during which the regulations will be valid, is considered to be adequate for the purpose of enabling Parliament to deal with the problem by legislation.' Therefore, the Government proposes to submit to Parliament a measure to restore to the statute-book the regulations which have been disallowed, and generally to ensure the encouragement and regulation of the employment of women during the war.I now give notice that to-morrow I shall move -

That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to encourage and regulate the employment of women for the purpose of aiding the prosecution of the present war.







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