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Tuesday, 29 September 1942

Mr CURTIN - Because of the factsbecause of the time occupied by the Arbitration Court compared with that occupied by the Women's Employment Board.

Mr Hughes - A police magistrate deals with ten times as many cases as are dealt with by the High Court. Why not, then, abolish the High Court, and compel all litigants to have their cases heard by police magistrates?

Mr CURTIN - The honorable gentleman is putting my case. He says, in effect, that it would be ridiculous to clutter up the whole of the administration of justice by insisting that every case shall go to the High Court.

Mr Hughes - Oh, no!

Mr CURTIN - The argument of the right honorable gentleman is. that there ought to be an allocation of the dispensation of justice. That is precisely the view that I am putting. The Government says that, instead of every industrial matter having to go to the Arbitration Court, a separate instrumentality would in this instance be conducive to quicker and better results.

Mr Anthony - Rough justice!

Mr CURTIN - If I interpret the honorable gentleman aright, his argument is that, in its awards, the Women's Employment Board has dispensed rough justice. Rough justice for whom? Only for those who do not wish women to be treated decently in the realm of industry. What has the Women's Employment Board done? I have pointed out that it has fixed assessments ranging from 66 per cent, to 100 per cent, of the male rate. The latter rate has been fixed in thirteen cases, nine of which were by agreement between the parties. In the other cases, various percentages were fixed as the result of an inquiry to determine the efficiency of the women relative to the efficiency of the average male. That the Women's Employment Board has made its decisions more speedily than they could have been made by the Arbitration Court, is one of the reasons for the proportions of female employment to which we have attained, on the basis of a reasonable payment for it. In fact, this has been possible only because the procedure of the board has been completely informal, and because it has been free to specialize on the single task of adjusting the conditions governing the employment of women. Experience has shown that the task has been such as to strain to the full the resources of the board. As I have already announced, the Government decided last week, oil the recommendation of the departmental committee on man-power, to establish tribunals subsidiary to the Women's Employment Board in order that applications may be heard simultaneously in all the States. The departmental committee stated, and the Government agrees, that a single tribunal would not be capable of dealing with the greatly expanded volume of applications that will arise out of the transfer of women to industry, in the numbers I have already indicated, as expeditiously as the situation demands.

There has been some confusion as to the nature of the board's functions. In all the States, restrictions have been imposed in respect of 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 setting aside the standard for women's labour already built up. What is necessary is a careful examination of each individual case, and a decision in the light of all the circumstances. Accordingly, the function of the Women's Employment Board is to examine each individual case in order to decide the degree to which any of the existing restrictions shall be set aside and to determine the conditions under which women shall be employed in each particular industry. The board is not an " equal pay " board ; but it is equally not a " cheap labour " board. Its task has been - and under the provisions of this bill it will continue to be - to measure the relative efficiency and productivity of female labour, and to determine what shall be the appropriate rates of pay and conditions of employment for women workers whose services are required in order to release men for the fighting services and essential industries. The Government, accordingly, regards the board as an essential part of the administrative organization for total war in Australia. I hope that by this time honorable members are sufficiently aware of the extent of the reorganisation of Australia's industrial life that is imperative if this country is to be defended successfully. I prefer to believe that most of the criticism that has been directed against the Women's Employment Board and the regulations under which it has operated, has arisen from the failure to appreciate the magnitude of the industrial task that is ahead of this country. An essential part of the performance of this task is the replacement of men by women in war production and essential industries. Therefore, the case for the determination of women's wages during the war by a special tribunal rests on the ground that in this matter, as in many other matters, we are faced with a special war problem. This is not the ordinary industrial routine of peace. On the contrary, we are dealing with a special problem that has arisen as the result of circumstances brought about by the war. These women will be doing work that is normally done by men> and for which rates of pay have already been fixed by the Arbitration Court. The special problem is to determine what rate of pay shall be applicable to women and what changes of the conditions of labour are necessitated by the employment of women. If this problem is to be handled at all, it must be handled expeditiously. The general level of wages is not in question ; that is determined by the Arbitration Court. What is required is an adjustment of women's wages on the basis of the capacity of women to undertake work that is normally done by men. In all these avocations, the Arbitration Court has fixed the minimum rate of pay, and its determinations have been made on the presumption that men will do the work.

The Government has asked that women shall be employed temporarily, in the hope that the war will not last for ever. It says that determination by a tribunal that is accustomed, or at least specially qualified, to make the assessment of the efficiency of a woman - or of two women, as the case may be - relative to the rate fixed by the court for the male worker in the industry concerned, is the most appropriate means of resolving the problem. Its contention is that, if the capacity of women be equal to that of men, they should be paid as much as men; and if it be less, they should be paid proportionately less. It will be the function of a special tribunal to examine each case and make a quick decision. There has also to be considered the degree to which the working conditions should be modified in respect of women. These matters can best be determined by a special tribunal. The volume of work is so great, and the need for urgent action so pressing, that a special tribunal is required. Moreover, the Commonwealth Government is the principal employer of women who are brought into industry, and i3 therefore entitled to special representation on any tribunal that deals with the problem.

Finally, there is the assurance that has reasonably to be given to men who are displaced, that their wage standards will not be lowered. The determination of women's wages by a special tribunal will be a guarantee of this, because the tribunal will be solely concerned with estimating the relative capacity of men and women in work that is normally done by men but is being performed by women during the war. The Women's Employment Board does not fix rates of pay; these are fixed by the Arbitration Court, and that function is not being taken from it. Nor is it being deprived of the function of fixing basic wages and basic hours. The Women's Employment Board merely takes into account the fact that women are being used as a substitute for men in industries previously carried on by males; and without any examination as to whether the male rate is fair or unfair, it says that .the efficiency of women as a replacement force is of a given percentage - 20 per cent., 30 per cent., 60 per cent., 80 per cent., or 100 per cent, of that of men. The other question which had to be decided was whether the prohibition in State legislation of the employment of women shall be set aside under the National Security Act. We have to ensure that the men who are displaced do not have their economic standards eaten into by the incursion of women as a permanent economic feature. We must also keep faith with the women of this country, and ensure that if they are capable of doing as much war work as men, they shall be paid as if they were men. I believe that the Government's method of approaching this problem will safeguard the rights of both men and women, and that is the Government's purpose in introducing this measure.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Fadden) adjourned.

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