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Wednesday, 30 November 1960

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) has spoken in fairly glowing terms about the activities and, I believe, the success of the rehabilitation section of the Department of Social Services. Some years ago, I had the good fortune to be associated with that section and was able to introduce some amendments to provide further opportunities for the medical rehabilitation of those who needed help and also to increase the opportunities to have them placed in employment. Few things gave me greater pleasure than the passing of the amendments to the principal act. I think most of us will agree that rehabilitated persons trained for a particular job are peculiarly able to carry out jobs to which they are allotted when they are suited to their abilities. These people do the work extremely well, and stay on the job and their employers find them to be the best types of employees.

There has been some criticism about employment of rehabilitated persons in the Commonwealth Public Service. My answer is that it must be the responsibility of the permanent head of each department to decide how many rehabilitated workers he can employ in his department.

Mr Pollard - Then we would have variation of policy between the departments.

Mr McMAHON - It might be necessary. The same procedure cannot be applied to all departments. Each department has different responsibilities and different types of activities, and it is far better to leave the decision to the permanent heads provided that we let the permanent heads know that we want them to employ these people if it is practicable. The Department of Social Services and the department under my administration employ these people to the maximum possible extent. Admittedly, on occasions it has been necessary to pose the question whether or not there might be enough rehabilitated persons in a department and that there could be an imbalance. If this were so, it might be necessary to say, "I think you should look to another department to see if you can place them there ". Notwithstanding this, I believe that most, if not all departments, practise this policy of employing rehabilitated people to the best of their ability.

The honorable member for Kingston has said that private industry does a magnificent job. I agree with him. I think that private employers do well. The answer is to be found in the employment figures themselves. Only recently I had an opportunity to look at the statistics relating to rehabilitated persons who had been placed in employment. I was pleased to see that with few exceptions, most of those who had passed through the Department of Social Services and were employable were placed in employment fairly quickly. I think it is fairly correct to say that the departments and private industry do make a maximum effort to place these people in employment, and I think most of the employable are successfully placed. So while I agree with the sentiments of the honorable gentleman from Kingston, I also think the Government is doing a good job and so also is private industry.

I rose to answer an amendment foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) in connexion with the employment of women on the basis of equal pay for work of equal value. I think the House will know that the International Labour Organization passed a draft convention relating to equal pay. What I want to make clear to the House is that there is a reservation in the resolution of the I.L.O. That reservation relates to the normal method of wage and salary fixation in the country concerned and to the normal methods employed in that country for determining standards in industry. In accordance with the policy of the International Labour Office and our practice here, the former Minister for Labour and National Service made it clear that whilst the Government believed in equal pay for work of equal value, we believed that there was only one proper method of incorporating that principle in the wage structure of this country and that was by the trade union movement applying to the Arbitration Commission for a variation of the relevant awards.

Consequently, the Government's approach to this problem is clear. We believe in the principle. Equally, we believe that it is for the Arbitration Commission itself to determine how and when the principle shall be applied. It is up to the trade union movement, if it thinks it desirable, to apply to the Arbitration Commission. The Liberal Party has adopted that principle in its constitution, but always subject to a reservation that it believes in the law of the land being applied and the normal method of wage fixation being followed. I think that I have correctly stated the Government's view: We believe in the principle of equal pay for equal work, but we do so subject to the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Commission, which must determine both the timing and the application; and we think that that application should be made on the initiative of the trade union movement itself.

Recently, I had a conference with the trade union movement relating to this question. I put it to the representatives that they knew the convention. I put it to them that they knew the procedure involved in approaching the Arbitration Commission; and that if the Australian Council of Trade Unions was really sincere in its proposals it could make an application to the Arbitration Commission and let the commission decide the matter. The decisive point was reached when a representative from, I think, the Victorian Trades and Labour Council asked a woman representative of the Teachers Federation how much the introduction of equal pay for women would cost. I am relying a little heavily on my memory, but I think that she said £90,000,000 a year. The consequence of this increase should be clear. Under our arbitration system, wages are increased according .to the capacity of industry to pay. If equal pay were introduced at a cost of £90,000,000 a year, we would not be able to afford an increase in the basic wage for about eighteen months unless there was an enormous increase in work. The moment the figure of £90,000,000 was mentioned, not by me, but by the woman representative at this meeting, the Victorian representative of the Trades Hall Council abandoned the case completely and had no further interest in pushing the proposition.

I finish on this basis which I put to the trade union movement itself: The responsibility belongs to the trade union movement if it cares to stand up to its responsibilities. Of course, it will not because it knows very well that as wages are fixed on the basis of the capacity of industry to pay, a substantial increase in the basic wage of women would prejudice a basic wage increase, perhaps for some time to come. I think I have set out the Government's approach to the problem in terms of principle, the practical application of the principle, and what I believe to be the trade unions' approach to this problem.

The only other two matters that arise are these: First, there is the Commonwealth's approach. I have mentioned that the basic wage is a matter for the Arbitration Commission. Margins of women employed in the Commonwealth Public Service are treated on exactly the same basis as the margins of male employees. The difference occurs in the basic wage and not in the marginal element of the wage. Finally, I think that we have to answer one other question: Should we permit an amendment to be made to Public Service legislation to provide for equal pay for work of equal value? The answer to that, I think, is quite simple: Certainly not. We do not think a government, whether it be Commonwealth or State, should legislate, either in terms of principle or in terms of an actual wage determination, on the wages of males or females. We do not think that there should be politics in wage fixation. The Arbitration Commission should determine wages, both of males and females. It is up to that tribunal to decide both as to timing and amount. Consequently, on behalf of the Government. I say quite emphatically that if during the committee stage an amend ment is moved such as has been foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition it will be rejected. I think that I can sum up in this way:

While we believe in the principle, we certainly also think of the secondary principle of wage fixation by the tribunals. Those principles must be taken together. If the Australian Council of Trade Unions wants an increase in female wages it is up to it to make an application to the commission. As to the foreshadowed action of the Leader of the Opposition, I think that most honorable gentlemen will now accept the fact that this will be a purely political action on his part. He knows that it is not a function of the Parliament itself to legislate in these matters. He knows that it is the responsibility of the Arbitration Commission. He knows only too well that the Victorian Trades and Labour Council would not for a moment consider making an application to the commission. He knows only too well that the Australian Council of Trade Unions has had abundant opportunities to do it but has neglected those opportunities for many years and will do so for many years to come. Consequently, I think it wise that I should again make it clear that, whilst the Government believes in the principle of equal pay for equal work, we think that the matter is one for the Arbitration Commission. Therefore we consider that this is not a bill in which any amendment of the kind proposed should be incorporated.

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