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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . -Honorable senators opposite have not advanced one argument to justify the disallowance of these regulations. They have poured forth a volley of abuse against not only the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), who administers these regulations, but also the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Cabinet as a whole. Every member of the Cabinet agreed to these regulations. It would appear that the real objection of honorable senators opposite to these regulations arises from the appointment of a woman to the board. They do not seem to be really concerned whether she is a representative of the employees or employers. The Opposition could very easily have made representations to the Government stressing their objections to the appointment of Miss Cashman. However, in this debate no honorable senator opposite has questioned Miss Cashman's capacity or character. What is wrong with Miss Cashman? I am forced to the conclusion that the jealousy of honorable senators opposite has been aroused simply because a woman has been appointed to the board to look after the interests of women in industry. The functions of the board will be to determine the wages and conditions under which women shall be employed. Honorable senate's opposite say that the board will over-ride the Arbitration Court. They know that many applications to the Arbitration Court have waited for months, and in some instances for years, before being dealt with by the court. Therefore, it is useless to contend that the matters covered by these regulations can be satisfactorily handled by reference to the court. We know that the court is overloaded with work. Consequently, no objection can be taken to the Government's action in setting up this board for the purpose of giving justice immediately to women in industry. I also suspect that another objection of honorable senators to these regulations is that as they empower the board to deal with all matters affecting the employment of women, they preclude any possibility that employers may exploit these female employees, who, as we know, are not yet organized. These employees cannot file a plaint with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court until they are organized in a body which can claim recognition by the court. Consequently, for some time to come they would be at the mercy of some unscrupulous employers, who, no doubt, would accept the opportunity to sweat them. Honorable senators opposite have also contended that representation on the board is unbalanced. These regulations provide that the board - shall consist of a chairman, one special representative of the employers, one special representative of the employees, and in addition two other members to be appointed from time to time according to the subject-matter to be dealt with by it,

That means that the board will consist, not of three but of five members.

Thus the board, when dealing with special subjects, will consist of two representatives of the employers and two representatives of the employees, whilst its chairman is a member of the judiciary. Evidently, honorable senators opposite are inclined to question the integrity of the gentleman who has been appointed to that position. None of them produced any evidence to substantiate the contention that the board will override decisions of the Arbitration Court and State wages boards. The regulations also set out the functions of the board. They provide, inter alia -

6.   - (1.) Where an employer, because of a shortage or impending shortage of male labour, desires to employ females on work for which a rate of payment for male employees has been determined by any industrial award, order, determination or agreement and for which a rate of payment for female employees less than the rate for male employees has not been so determined, the employer or an organization to which he belongs shall, before the employer employs females on any such work at a rate of payment less than that so determined formale employees, make an application to the board setting out fully the nature of the work on which it is desired to employ females. (3.) Upon receipt of any such application the board shall forthwith proceed to consider the application.

In respect of work for which rates for women employees have already been fixed, no application need be made to the board. It is also provided - (4.) The board, after consideration of the application, shall decide - (a)whether the work specified in the application is work for which a rate of payment for female employees less than the rate for male employees has not been determined by any industrial award, order, determination or agreement;

(b)   in respect of the employment of females on work held in pursuance of these Regulations to be work for which a rate of payment for female employees less than the rate for male employees has not been so determined -

(i)   whether females may be employed thereon ;

(ii)   whether the employment of females thereon should in the first place be on probation;

(iii)   if the board decides that the employment should in the first place be on probation -

(1)   the period of probation; and

(2)   during the period of probation the percentage to be paid to females employed on that work of the rate of payment so determined for male employees :

Provided that the percentage to be paid to any adult female employee shall not be less than sixty per centum of the rate of payment so determined for adult male employees on that work;

Those are the main functions of the board. All honorable senators are aware that, as great numbers of females will be taking the place of males in industry, matters such as those mentioned in the regulations will crop up daily. These regulations ensure that their consideration will not be held up for three or six months awaiting hearing before the ArbitrationCourt, but will be dealt with immediately. When any application is lodged, it will be dealt with forthwith by the board, the members of which can, if necessary, investigate actual conditions in respect of the employment of any section of females referred to it. Thus, it will not be possible for unscrupulous employers to pay female employees whatever rate of wages they choose. These employees will be fully protected. Some honorable senators opposite have been through many of our munitions factories. They must admit that, in many instances, women are doing some jobs more efficiently than males. In such cases they are surely entitled to male rates of wages. These regulations ensure that female employees in all factories shall obtain justice.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - From the Commonwealth Government?

Senator AYLETT - The Commonwealth Government alone does not control munitions factories. Does the honorable senator suggest that it should be the Minister's duty to investigate conditions and determine wages in each factory? I have no doubt that he would say that such powers are too great to be given to any Minister. I agree with that view, apart altogether from the fact that the

Minister could not possibly cope with such a volume of work. I have no doubt that the board will assist the Government in the production of arms and munitions by ensuring the smooth working of industry. It has been established for that purpose. Honorable senators opposite seem to be afraid that the board will award rates of wages for women which are higher than the prevailing male rates. These regulations specifically provide that the wages paid to women shall not exceed the male rates. On the other hand, they provide a minimum of 60 per cent. of the male rates. I have no doubt that that provision will protect employees against unscrupulous employers, many of whom would not hesitate to pay women a maximum of only 25 per cent. of the male rate. However, I believe that the board will prescribe the minimum rate only in respect of probationers, and that it will strike a fair margin in respect of women employees generally, at the same time awarding full male rates to women who are performing male work as efficiently as males. The honorable senator said that the scheme aimed at keeping female wages high, so that women would be thrown out of employment after the war. That is not so. If a woman can do the work, and the employer prefers her to a male worker, she will obtain the job. That, however, will rest with the employer. If she can do the work, and if the employer prefers her, why should she not receive the same wage as a male worker? The employer, however, will not be able to say to women, " You are worth only 50 per cent. of the basic wage. We would pay a man £5 to do this work, but we can pay you only £2 10s ".

The board will order that females be paid according to their ability, and it will thus prevent the sweating that has taken place in the past. Members of the Opposition are well aware of the sweating of female employees during the years 1929 to 1934. I would not say that after the war the present Government will not be in office - that will rest with the electors - but whether the Government or the Opposition is in office, and there is insufficient work for both males and females, a determination must be reached as to who shall be the breadwinner? If honorable senators opposite would prefer to see women working in industry while men are idle, I cannot agree with them. For my part, if there is not work for all I wish to see the males at work rather than the females. If the females cannot come up to the standard of the males, and there is not work for all, they will automatically go out, and the males will do the work.

Senator McLeay - Does the honorable senator believe in progress?

Senator AYLETT - I certainly do, and if the present Government is in office after the war, there will be jobs for a certain number of females and for all the males who are eligible for work. Should the present Opposition be in office, however, I am afraid that there will be a repetition of the conditions of 1929 to 1934.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A Labour Government was in office during those years.

Senator AYLETT - When a Labour Government took office in 1929, it did not control both chambers, and hundreds of thousands of unemployed had been thrown out of work during the regime, extending over a score of years, of the party now in Opposition. In the absence of the regulations we are now discussing employers would have the power to reimpose those conditions. When that Government sought to pass legislation to give protection and work to males and females, the bill was defeated by a hostile Senate. The men who blocked that legislation are now objecting to a policy based on equality of the sexes. If any other members of the Opposition participate in this debate, I hope that they will quote something in the regulations to justify their disallowance,' instead of attacking a defenceless woman who has been appointed to the board, and the Minister who happens to he responsible for administering the regulations.

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