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Wednesday, 23 September 1942


The PRESIDENT - There is precedent for the simultaneous debating of cognate matters. The two motions may be debated together, but will be putt separately.


Senator McLEAY - I remind honorable senators that some time ago I moved the disallowance of Statutory Rule No. 146. Since then, some of the regulations contained in that Statutory Rule have been repealed, whilst others remain unaltered. That motion was defeated in not only this chamber but a similar motion was also defeated in the House of Representatives. During the debate in that chamber the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies urged that the personnel of the Women's Employment Board be increased from three to five. He made it quite clear that in view of the importance of. the board's work, the board should be free from all suspicion of political control. His contention, as we contended in this chamber, was that the Government set up a board of three members, two of whom were associated with trade unions, whilst not one member was a bona fide representative of the employers.After agreeing to increase the membership of the board to five, the Minister for Labour and

National Service (Mr. Ward) decided that three members should be persons representative of employees, or closely associated with trade unions, whilst only one would be a bona fide representative of the employers. Despite the importance of maintaining harmony in industry at a time like the present, the attitude of the Minister and the Government obviously invited trouble. The Minister declared that Miss Cashman, who had been organizer of the Printing Industry Employees Union in Victoria for eighteen years, would represent the Government, which was the largest employer of women. Miss Cashman is not a bona fide representative of the employers. At one time she was an employee of a government department.

SenatorCollings. - What department?


Senator McLEAY - I think it was the Department of Munitions. In order to explain the position which will prevail should the two motions be agreed to, I point out that awards which have already been made by the Womens Employment Board will stand by virtue of Regulation 9 of Statutory Rule 146. In addition, those awards cannot be interfered with by any industrial tribunal, because Regulation 10 of Statutory Rule 146 provides that industrial authorities shall not make awards inconsistent with decisions of the board. Under these regulations the board is empowered to fix wages, hours and conditions of employment of certain women in industry. I object to the board as it is at present constituted, first, because the appointees have been politically biased in favour of the Government, and, consequently, the employers have not been given adequate representation. My second objection to it is that the powers conferred upon it are far too wide. Honorable senators will remember that this inexperienced, unqualified political board has power to override State and Federal arbitration courts and even State laws, and its decision cannot be upset by any of the other existing tribunals.


Senator Large - Is that new?


Senator McLEAY - It is not new, so far as this Government is concerned ; but it is extremely dangerous, particularly in war-time. My third objection to the board, and to the powers given to it, is that it is a political set-up designed to sabotage the Australian arbitration system. We know it is a plank of Labour's policy, brought in under the guise of war emergency, to appease the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and the political supporters of the Labour party.

I propose now to deal in detail with some of the objectionable features. In doing so, I shall be as brief as possible and not attempt to instance the numerous anomalies that have already been created, but try to establish where, in my opinion, the board is wrong in general principle. Sub-regulation 1 of regulation 6 reads as follows: -

Where an employer has, since the second day of March, .1942, employed, is employing, or proposes to employ females on work which is usually performed by males, or work which was, prior to the employment of females, or is, performed by males in the establishment of that employer (or is work which, prior to that employment or proposed employment of females, was not being performed in Australia by any person) the employer shall, unless an application in relation to that employment has already been made, forthwith make application to. the Board for a. decision in accordance with this regulation.

That sub-regulation has been amended several times since the original one was promulgated. A comparison 'of the provisions of the regulation that now stands reveals the following facts : Under the earlier regulation, a shortage or impending shortage of male labour was a prerequisite to the submission of any matter to the board by an employer. A shortage or impending shortage of male labour is now immaterial under Statutory Rule 294. Under the earlier regulations, the test was whether the work in question " is customarily performed by males ", giving every employer the right to employ females at award rates, on work customarily performed by females, even though he may not himself have employed them formerly. Under the latest Statutory Rule, which is 294, unless that particular employer has formerly employed females on the work, he must apply to the board to have the rates fixed. This gives rise to a purely arbitrary distinction between the employer who has always employed females, and the employer who now employs them for the first time, even though the work in both cases is identical. That position is ludicrous, and whoever was responsible far drawing up the regulations displayed a very limited knowledge of our arbitration set-up and the problems surrounding this important work. Similarly, in regard to the other aspect, work new to Australian industries, even though it be substantially similar to work formerly done in this country, we have another anomaly. I propose to give one or two examples of anomalies and arbitrary distinctions created by the regulations -

1.   Two employers, A and B, both bound by the same award, have for years been performing identical work, A employing male labour and B employing female labour. If A now desires to employ female labour, he must obtain and conform to a decision of the Women's Employment Board, whilst B continues to work under the award of the Arbitration Court- on the same work.

2.   An employer in peace-time has employed both male and female labour under award conditions on work which, though not identical, is done by similar methods. If he desires now to employ females on both classes of work, he must work under a decision of the Women's Employment Board for one class, and under the award of the court for the other class.

3.   In many cases it is certain to be found that the regulations require the Women's Employment Board to fix rates of pay for females on manual work in the factory far in excess of those payable to female clerical workers in the employer's office.

4.   Employers employing females in trades where their employment is conventional, such as the clothing trades and boot trade, will not have a fair chance of retaining employees at award rates against the competition of industries in which the Women's Employment Board allows rates approached or equalling full male rates.

5.   The board's decisions will largely have effect in industries which aTo not concerned with munitions, yet employers in such industries will be competing for female labour with employers in some munitions industries whose rates of pay arc fixed on " female " standards by court awards.

Sub-regulation 5 of regulation 6, establishes what Judge O'Mara designates " the doctrine of comparative efficiency ". It provides -

The Board shall decide a rate of payment under sub-paragraph (vi) of paragraph (b) of sub-regulation (4.) of this regulation which it considers to be just and proper in all the circumstances and shall, as far as is practicable, assess that rate by reference to the efficiency of females in the performance of the work and any other special factors which may be likely to affect the productivity of their work hi relation to that of males.

Under the earlier regulations, efficiency and productivity were merely factors " to be taken into account" when fixing the remuneration of females. The board is now practically directed to assess such remuneration by reference to relevant efficiency and productivity. I quote the following extract from a decision given by the board on the 17th July, 1942, upon au application made to it by the Ministry of Munitions-^

The Board's jurisdiction to fix wages is not at large. Regulation ti, sub-regulations s> («) and 5 (6), indicate the limitations and prescribe the matters to which the Board is to apply its mind when fixing a rate of payment for females. The Board must as far as possible measure the efficiency and productivity of females in relation to males and fix a rate based upon the percentage of such efficiency and productivity to that of males within the lower and upper limits of 60 per cent, and 100 per cent.

That appears to me to be an erroneous view of the board's functions, but the fact remains that it has decided to act. Economically, it is a mischievous view, for it takes no account of the fact that the basic wage for males is based on the responsibility of a male for the maintenance of a wife and children. If women are paid the same rate as men for the same work, they will be paid at rates out of all proportion to their needs, and out of proportion to the wages received by other women engaged in other occupations which are purely women's work, but work which is certainly of equal value from the point of view of the community. If the principle of equal pay for equal work be adopted, why not have unequal pay for unequal work? I draw attention to the conflict between the Economic Organization Regulations, promulgated "by the Government in Statutory Rule No. 76 of 1942, the industrial provisions in Part 5 of which impose a legal restraint on people whether they are employees or employers, and peg all wages. It reads -

Subject to this part, an employer shall not pay or offer to pay and an employee shall not accept or seek to accept any remuneration in respect of the employment at a rate different from the rate prescribed by an award, order or determination of an industrial authority or industrial agreement in force in relation to that employment on the 10th day of February, 1942.

The board has already heard and determined rate3 for females and awarded male rates, or near male rates, although an industrial award in that industry prescribes rates for females for that work. No better example can be given than that of the British General Electric Company Proprietary Limited, Clarencestreet, Sydney, in which the board prescribed that two females selling electrical equipment across the counter are to be paid the male rate of £5 lis. a week. The award for warehouse employees, other than softgoods and drug warehouses, has for many years prescribed rates for females doing identical work. The female rate is £3 9s. a week, and, according to law, females doing identical work in other firms are paid the rate prescribed. Clearly there is a conflict between the regulations and government policy. If an employer or an employee is to observe the board's decisions, then he must act contrary to regulation 15 of the Economic Organization Regulations, because that provides that an employer shall not pay, and an employee shall not accept, more than is laid down in the appropriate award as at the 10th February last.


Senator Keane - These women have different jobs.


Senator McLEAY - They are doing identical work under the same roof, but are working under different awards.

We all admit that the arbitration courts of Australia have done exceptionally good work under difficult circumstances. They have not always pleased both political parties, but, during the years that they have functioned, the principal political parties have agreed to abide by the arbitration system as we know it in Australia. Up to the present we have not been able to suggest anything better. Those of us who have had an opportunity to watch the work of the arbitration courts, and to consider the judgments and comments of the various judges, must be guided largely by them with regard to intricate industrial disputes. With all due respect to the new board, we must admit that it is inexperienced. The fact that the Commonwealth and State arbitration courts have already given 150 or 200 decisions in New South Wales alone indicates the complexities and difficulties of industrial arbitration. A new political board has been set up by the present Government to displace the present system with regard to the employment of women, and it is not surprising that the position has become chaotic. I refer honorable senators to the following comments by Judge O'Mara in the metal trades award for female employees, delivered on the 17th August, 1942:- "... The latest amendments, if they have the meaning which the Women's Employment Board must he regarded as having placed upon them, in the Munitions Factories decision, apply to a far wider field, than that of women actually replacing men who have been taken out of industry by the war.

The regulations now require an employer to obtain permission from the board to employ females upon work, upon which their employment 1ms long been authorized by awards of this court, and- they create the possibility of work being permitted in one establishment and the same work being prohibited in another, a.nd of work being under one set of conditions in one establishment and under a different set in another.

There are many people whoso views of a war economy are not. on the lines of Part V. of the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations. The board appears to have taken the view that it is not bound by the Economic Organization Regulations and that it may select any date as the ' critical date ' for the purposes of applying the regulations. If that is the law then either directly through the .operations of the regulations or indirectly through the trouble which will result from discriminations., the adult male wage may become the universal wage.

If the doctrine of comparative efficiency is to be the vital test, and the economic effect of the decision is to be disregarded, then it is difficult to see why junior females should not have the same principles applied in their case or why junior male workers, apprenticed and unapprenticed, should not be entitled to ask for a fixation of wages on the same basis. The argument in favour of equality of wages irrespective of sex is a strong one if the wages are fixed on a true economic basis and the responsibility for a minimum family wage is transferred from employers to society generally. By adopting a system of universal child endowment we may have progressed far towards a fixation of wages on the basis that the wages should bear a proper relation to the value produced by the employee. Such a fixation would probably result in a higher wage for women and a lower wage for men, but it is a fixation which is unsound, for so long as the responsibility for the minimum family wage has to be borne by the employers.

With all respect, I must say that I find myself in definite disagreement with the opinion of the Minister's advisers, that the amendments do no more than simplify the procedure of the board and define the jurisdiction of the board more clearly. They impose restrictions on the employment of females where none previously existed, and they require applications to be made where none previously were necessary. They overlook the many safeguards which have been inserted in awards, to reserve certain work for adult male employees, and they direct employers who are required by award to pay the adult male rates to certain females, to apply to the board for a fixation of wages. The application of the regulation is no longer conditional upon the employment of females being because of a shortage or impending shortage of male labour or consistent with the plan of stabilization."

Some notice must be taken of those comments made by a judge who has had wide experience. I do not propose to describe further the chaos that will be caused or the injustices that will arise if this body continues to function in this manner. As a practical example I cite the case of one industry in which women have been employed for many years. These women are now skilled or semi-skilled, and are working under an arbitration award. Today more women are being taken on to do similar work, and although they are unskilled, inexperienced and work in the same factory, they will be paid a higher rate than the experienced operatives. At a recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) is reported to have said that in his opinion the board had made a wrong decision in one case. In the Adelaide press on the 19th of this month, there appeared a statement by Mr. Hunkin, Deputy Director of Man Power in South Australia, who, despite the fact that hp was appointed by this Government, voiced criticism of the Women's Employment Board which also was appointed by this Government. He has wide experience in the industrial field, and I think that his comments are worth noting. The press report stated -

Difficulties in providing more labour for hospitals and equally essential services were Vicing aggravated by decisions of the Women's Employment Board in fixing female rates of pay at or near male rates, the Deputy Director of Man Power (Mr. L. C. Hunkin) said yesterday.

One of the results, Mr. Hunkin pointed out, was that highly skilled nurses were getting less pay than women in comparatively unskilled jobs. Host of the female labour offering was being diverted to munitions works, and 2,500 women could be placed if they were available.

Hospitals and munitions works needed the women, and the board should reconsider whether high wages should be granted to women in non-essential industries.

SenatorCameron. - Munitions industries are not non-essential industries.


Senator McLEAY - That is so, but this board has paid a higher wage to women engaged in non-essential industries than to women engaged in munitions production. That is the point which was emphasized by Mr. Hunkin and Judge Foster. It shows clearly the anomalies that have arisen, and the discontent which exists between women engaged in these particular industries. I have no desire to make any comment in regard to the judge. In the course of a previous speech I did mention that he was once a Labour candidate, but I wish to make it clear now that I do not cast any reflection upon him in that regard, and perhaps I should not have made that statement. However, I wish to make it quite clear that when he made the following statement during the hearing of a case affecting the leather tanning industry, he was either writing in accordance with instructions, or his appreciation of what he was appointed for is quite clear to me: -

It is clear that the history of the regulations, considered from the beginning, indicated a movement to equate female rates of pay to those of male rates of pay, andwe cannot ignore the history.

In spite of the fact that on the 10th February, the Government declared that wages wore to be pegged in these industries increases are being permitted by the board. I moved for the disallowance of the regulations, because it is obvious that this inexperienced, unqualified, political board, will create chaos, disorder and discontent amongst female employees. Its appointment displays political partisanship of a very low order, and if it be allowed to proceed further, it will interfere with the work of the arbitration courts. Industry is faced with two tribunals fixing female rates on a different formula. This is highly unsatisfactory as between industry and industry, workshop and workshop, but when the wages of employees under the same roof are assessed by both tribunals with a different result it is an industrial absurdity.







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