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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Bendigo may proceed.

Mr CLAREY - All that I desire to say in this respect is that, since 1931, the wage that has been fixed by the court has been an economic, not a needs wage. Since 1 931, when the 10 per cent, reduction case was heard by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the court has fixed a wage which, in its opinion, has been the highest that the community could afford to pay. Therefore, from 1931 until the present moment, the wage operating throughout the Commonwealth has been one based upon the power of the economy to pay for it. To suggest that it is not within the power of the Australian economy to continue to adjust wages is to fly in the face of all experience. I point out that, since 1931, or, going even further back should any one want to do so, since 1922, not only have wages been adjusted in accordance with the fluctuations of prices in both good times and bad times, but, in addition, the economy, as well as paying whatever wages might be necessary as a consequence of increased prices, has been able to make substantial improvements in the working conditions of employees covered by federal awards.

What do we find happened during that period? We find that between 1922 and 1953, in addition to paying adjusted wages, the economy has been able to reduce the standard hours of labour, first from 48 to 44 and later from 44 to 40. Also, on two occasions the economy has made special, as apart from regular, adjustments of wages - one of 6s. in 1946 and one of £1 in 1950 or 1951. On top of that, the economy has been able to permit the granting of long service leave, annual leave and sick leave, and has increased the margins paid to skilled workers. It has generally reclassified and increased the wages of skilled and semiskilled workers.

So, a study of either period - from 1922 to the present moment, or from 1931 to the present moment - shows that, in the circumstances operating, the economy was able to pay adjusted wages and, in addition, to permit substantial improvements in working conditions. It is simply a case of refusing to recognize facts and of failing to face up to the economic realism of the position for any government to adopt the attitude that, with Australian production increasing at a tremendous rate, with our industries, both secondary and primary, expanding in every direction, the economy has now reached a stage of weakness which renders it unable to pay any increase of wages that may be justified by increased prices.

I point out that we have now reached a stage, as a consequence of the Government's policy, where we are dividing the Australian workers into two classes, first, those covered by State awards, and those who in some cases are receiving adjustments every quarter or who are having their wages adjusted periodically as a result of court decisions and who receive a much fairer deal in regard to the impact of prices on their standard of living; and secondly, those working under federal awards whose wages have remained static from 1953 to June, 1956, despite the increases of prices during that period. There was a small increase of the wages of the latter in 1953, and there will be another, dating from to-morrow, as a result of the recent increase by the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission of the federal basic wage by 10s. a week. The result of the existence of these two different classes of workers is that «.n the same industry, in the same factory, in the same State, one finds persons who receive wage adjustments working alongside persons not receiving adjustments, with the consequence that discontent is growing daily in industry and is bound, sooner or later, to break out in grave industrial unrest.

To look at the matter from another aspect, we can point to the actual loss that the workers have suffered as a result of the non-adjustment of wages. I shall give the figures for the six capital cities and for each capital city individually. The amounts lost by the individual adult worker in the quarter ended 30th April, 1957, because wage adjustments ceased, were as follows: - Sydney, £67 7s.; Melbourne, £79 7s.; Brisbane, £75 6s.; Adelaide, £78 Us.; Perth, £194 5s.; and Hobart, £120 3s. The weighted average for the six capitals was £85 14s. The figures which make allowance for the recent increase of 10s. a week in the federal basic wage show that to 30th July next in every State, with the exception of South Australia, the individual loss will be greater than is the case for the quarter ended 30th April.

These figures, I submit, give a clear indication of the loss that is being experienced by individual workers covered by federal awards as a result of the misguided policy being pursued by the Government. It must not be assumed that the regimen used by the Commonwealth court for the adjustment of wages is weighted in favour of the workers.

On the contrary, it is weighted against the workers, and the Statistician himself realizes that fact at the present moment, when he is investigating the whole question of the rent unit in connexion with the adjustment of wages. His figures show that from 1936 to the present the increase in rent is about 40 per cent. - that is, by from 18s. to 26s. We know that the rents paid by workers in all the capital cities prove that that figure underestimates the actual increase. Further, it takes no account of the fact that in the 21 years since the figures were placed on their present basis there has been an entire change in the position regarding rents. ' Whereas in 1936 65 per cent, of houses were rented houses, to-day the proportion is 35 per cent. I think that in this matter of opposition to wage adjustment the Government has been guilty of double dealing. I have heard members of the Government say on more than one occasion in this House---

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