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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Mr HALLETT (CANNING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The matter of public importance submitted to the House by the Opposition is:

The Government's refusal to grant Commonwealth employees four weeks annual leave, pay rates comparable with those in private industry and outright equal pay.

Labor supporters should explain what is meant by 'outright equal pay'. Equal pay is being dealt with in this debate, but what is meant by the phrase 'outright equal pay'? This has not been explained by any of the Opposition members who have already spoken in this debate. The term 'outright equal pay' is not normally used whereas the term 'equal pay' is common. Members of the Australian Labor Party should explain precisely what is meant by this unusual term and they will have an opportunity to do so when I resume my seat. Earlier, when speaking to this motion the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) outlined the machinery available to the people of Australia, the Australian employee and the Australian employer. For the fixing of wages and other conditions in the Public Service we have available the Public Service Board, the Arbitrator and the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

I am concerned to hear on so many occasions that the final machinery which is available in this country - the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission - is being downgraded. This is a part of the Australian way of life. It is a part of our life which I think the majority of Australians respect. It is all very well for some of the bigger unions in this country to endeavour to downgrade the arbitration system. But let us have a look at the work force across the board - that is, across1 Australia. Let us be realistic. It is all right for the large unions to bargain in their own right with employers, but what about the smaller unions which represent many workers but which have not the power to do this? What would happen to those unions if there is to be a continual voicing of opinions against our arbitration system and a non-acceptance of decisions made under that system? If that is to continue then I fear the day for the smaller unions in Australia.

I, like many other Australians, believe that the arbitration system has served the nation very well and until we can find a better system let us go on with the system that we have. I now want to deal with the issue of equal pay. The machinery which has applied on this occasion consists of the Public Service Board, the Public Service Arbitrator and the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Commonwealth Government has endorsed and is carrying out the principles laid down by the Commission on this issue. The decision made was by an independent authority, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, which is available to both employee and employer to put forward their arguments. The honourable member for Hindmarsh referred to the 9 points stated by the Commission and I think he suggested that the Commonwealth put the 9 points. This could be right. But surely in this field the honourable member realises that in a forum of this nature the employee and the employer have every right to put the respective cases to the Commission, and that when the Commission makes its decision we should abide by it because this is the machinery set up in this country to deal with such matters. The Commission has made its recommendations. The Commonwealth has taken those recommendations and is in fact applying them. The principles have now been set down and as far as the Public Service is concerned if memory serves me correctly, 90% of the male wage is in fact being paid to females now; by 1971 it will be 95% and by 1972 it will be 100%.

I appreciate that the work force in Australia today is doing a tremendous job. I appreciate also the fact that in Australia women are playing a big part in the work force. It is a most important part and it is increasing. Of course, this is so in many parts of the world and I believe that this will continue. If there is to be any alteration to the wage scale or if a decision has to be made in relation to these matters it is very important, particularly in some of those areas mentioned by the honourable member for Hindmarsh, that women should have the protection of the arbitration system. They should have this independent machinery to go to because in many areas in which women are being employed their unions do not have the strength of the very large unions. They do not have the strength, to fight a case in the way the large unions can fight. This is one reason why the Labor Party should urge unions to press for equal pay under the conciliation and arbitration system. It would be a sorry day for Australia if this system were no longer available to us. I am deeply concerned at actions calculated to undermine the system.

I have already said that in my view women constitute an important section of the work force. I firmly believe that well trained women in some professions should be better paid than they are today. The nursing profession is one that has been mentioned in the course of this debate. Sisters and nurses are on their feet for long hours of the day and night. They do not work regular hours. There is merit in an argument that these people should be better paid. But I stress that they have at their disposal the arbitration machinery. They are entitled to go before an independent arbitrator and argue their case. They should avail themselves of the existing machinery. Until a better system is devised - I do not know of one - we should support to the hilt our existing arbitration system.

The Opposition should tell us clearly what it means by its expression 'outright equal pay'. If it has in mind those categories of female employees who perform work that is not normally performed by males, is this not a fitting area to be brought under the scrutiny of the arbitration system? I support to the hilt the arbitration system because in my view it is the right and just system.

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