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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator CAMERON - And they are being paid at lower rates.

Senator COLLINGS - Yes. I have it on the word of factory foremen that in some classes of work women possess greater skill. For instance, they are.more skilled in detecting flaws in ammunition of particular types. They also possess greater manipulative ability in intricate processes. We know of many things which women can do at a glance, but at which a man, because he 13 heavier and clumsier, is not so adept. Not the least important objective of tie board is to enable a maximum number of men to be released for war service. Recently, the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) declared that thousands more women will have to be introduced into factories producing war equipment within the next few months if we are to be enabled to carry on the war. I ask honorable senators opposite to ponder on the full significance of that statement. Let them look at the war position, not at distant theatres of combat, but here in Australia. They must realize that slowly, but surely, the enemy is coming nearer to objectives which it was said a few weeks ago he could never reach. Our crying need is not only for men to reinforce our armed forces, but also ito ensure that the men on service are adequately equipped. When honorable senators opposite realize that the primary objective of employing women in industry is to release men for active service, surely they will not go out on to the highways and byways and declare that, whilst the Government requires at least 80,000 more women in factories within the next few months, such women, even though they possess technical ability equal to that of male operatives in similar industries, shall next be paid at the male rate. I cannot 'believe that honorable senators opposite will do that. In the case concerning Asbestos Products Limited thu board declared that neither the applicant nor the union was anxious that women should be recalled to this work, but both appreciated the grave situation created by the present emergency, and agreed that if men can be released for war work, and women can be found to take their places, such a step should be taken. If honorable senators opposite can substantiate any of the charges which they seek to make on this matter, I ask them not to indulge merely in generalizations. There is a responsible Minister, with his representative in this chamber. All that honorable senators have to do is to come along and say, " A decision which was given on such and such a date is wrong, and has created a difficulty ", and we .shall have it investigated immediately. I do not believe that one decision will come within that category, once it is probed. If it does, it will not show a criminal act. At the most it may. show that all the facts were not fully known, but I suspect that nothing of that kind will be found. The decisions of the board have mostly been unanimous. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned a particular case in which he said conflict would happen, and recited, as though it were the last word in industrial horror, the probable spectacle of people in the same factory, working on the same job alongside of one another, receiving different rates of pay. That has been going on for years. It did not require this board to create that difficulty. In the leather manufacturing industry in Queensland - and I can. speak only of the State in which I am sure of the facts - men working under a State award on exactly the same work, making the same articles from leather, and working at the same bench, are receiving 16s. a week more than men working under the federal award. It was not necessary to create this " political, partisan, inexperienced and prejudiced " board to bring about that condition of affairs, which has been in existence for years, and is one of the things which one of these days we intend to remedy.

Senator Foll - We tried to remedy it once, and the honorable senator's party opposed it.

Senator COLLINGS - I know, but at that time the Japanese had not come into the war, and were not marching hour by hour nearer to the possibility of invading this country. Australia is not the only country in the world where this scheme has been adopted. In 1918, the British Parliament decided to set up a War Cabinet Committee to inquire into and report on the employment of women in industry. The terms of reference were announced as follows : -

To investigate and report on the relation which should be maintained between the wages of women and men having regard to the interests of both well as to the value of their work.

That is all we are asking for, yet 24 years ago the British Parliament decided that it was essential to investigate the problem. It was provided further -

The recommendations should have in view the necessity of output during the war, and the progress and well-being of industry in the future.

That war was the first world war. That is almost the same language that we have used in our terms of reference. The committee was to investigate conditions in industry, and remember that that was nearly a quarter of a century ago. One of the recommendations of the committee as to the principles that should govern the future relations between men's and women's wages was this -

That in those trade processes and occupations which the experience of the war has shown to bc suitable for the employment of women, employers and trade unions acting through the recognized channels of negotiation should make possible the introduction of women by agreements which would ensure, in the manner above indicated, that this did not result in the displacement of men by reason of the women's cheapness to the employer.

That is the whole burden of the Opposition's complaint this afternoon, that we must not do anything to interfere with the cheapness of women in the interests of their possible employers.

Senator McBride - The Leader of the Opposition never mentioned that.

Senator COLLINGS - It is true that he did not, but there was not one portion of his indictment of the board! which, if we voted to give effect to it, would not result in the employers of Australia being able to exploit these women during the war period. We shall not allow that. The committee set up in Great Britain in the last war also recommended -

That in every case in which the employer maintains that a woman's work produces less than a man's, the burden of proof should rest on the employer-

We do not go so far as that. We say, " There is the woman, we believe that she is capable of this work, but as we have no proof we put her into your factory for a probationary term. When you are satisfied that she can do the work on terms of equality, so far as efficiency is concerned, with your male operatives then you have to pay her male rates". There is nothing wrong with that. The concluding words in the recommendation are as follows : - who should also have to produce evidence of the lower value of the woman's work to which the fixed sum to be deducted from the man's rate for the particular job throughout the whole of the industry should strictly correspond.

It went on to say -

That where the introduction of women follows on bona fide simplification of process or machine, the time rates for the simplified process or simplified machine should bc determined as if this was to be allocated to male labour less skilled than the male labour employed before simplification, and women, if their introduction is agreed to. should only receive less than the unskilled man's rate if, and to the extent that, their work is of less value.

That was done in the Old Country, yet we hear this afternoon this serious attempt to challenge the righteousness of these regulations. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned one of the women representatives on the board. If ever there was justification for appointing the woman to whom reference has been made, it existed in this case because she represented the greatest employer in this country.

Senator McLeay - She was an employee herself, and on the pay-roll.

Senator COLLINGS - Of course she was. The honorable senator knows where she was and what she was doing. The point is that this woman was not going on to the board representing a huckster's shop or an employer with a couple of hundred hands. She was going on it to represent the biggest employer in Australia, the Munitions Department.

Senator McLeay - She went on to the board to represent the Labour party. She was for eighteen organizer for the printers' union, and the honorable senator knows it.

Senator COLLINGS - We are now apparently getting down to the real reason for this repeated motion for the disallowance of the regulations. The honorable senator says that this woman has no rights in the community, however skilled she may be, because she was for eighteen years a Labour organizer. I came into this chamber directly on the conclusion of fourteen years as a Labour organizer in Queensland. I am making no apologies for it and will tolerate no slanderous statement against Miss Cashman merely because honorable senators opposite hate her.

Senator McLeay - But the honorable senator is still a Labour agitator.

Senator COLLINGS - If the honorable senator pins that label on me, I shall walk down the street and be proud of it, but he must not slander this woman in my presence. If he does I shall refute it. Such conduct is unworthy of him. It is unworthy of this Parliament and of the British institutions of which we are all proud. The honorable senator made an interesting admission this afternoon that I shall remember and possibly refer to on some future occasion. He said that the decisions of the new board override State and Commonwealth laws. Of course they do, because there are no decisions relating to conditions which have been created by the war. Prior te the appointment of this board, there were no determinations providing for the payment of rates for women equal to those ruling for men when women do work equal to that of men. The war has brought about new conditions in industry, but there are people in the community who still think in terms of the Boer War.

The Leader of the Opposition reminded us that arbitration courts have not always pleased all parties. That is one of the statements made by him this afternoon with which all of us can agree. Of course this board will not always please all parties, but up to the present no decisions have been given by it against which the employers have protested. Most of its decisions have been unanimous. When a board, charged with semi-judicial functions, hears arguments in a calm atmosphere, it may be depended upon to forget political prejudices and judge each case on its merits. I ask honorable senators opposite not to cast their votes idly on this occasion. I strongly urge them to reject the motion for the disallowance of the regulations.

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