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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - In view of the fact that a motion similar to those now before the chamber was moved by an honorable senator opposite only a few months ago and defeated, I expected to hear something new in the course of to-day's debate. On a previous occasion, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) based his argument on three main points. The first was that the personnel of the board which has been set up under these regulations was weighted in favour of the employees. He used that argument to-day. Secondly, on the former occasion, he argued that the work of the board cut across our arbitration system in an undesirable manner; again he has used that argument. In fact, he based his speech almost entirely upon it. The only argument that he used previously, but omitted to-day, is that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) is incapable of administering the regulations. Apparently he now has a different opinion of the Minister from that which he entertained four months ago. That was one pleasing feature of his speech. After the motion to disallow a similar regulation was defeated in this chamber four months ago, the matter was debated in the House of Representatives. The motion was defeated there also.

Senator Spicer - It was a different regulation.

Senator AYLETT - I admit that. Immediately after the debate in this chamber the Government attempted to meet the wishes of the Opposition' by introducing amending regulations. To those regulations the Opposition is now objecting; but its arguments to-day are the same as were used four months ago. I ask honorable senators opposite whether it is possible for the Arbitration Court to investigate every case that may arise, and every phase of trade and industry which comes under the control of this board. Have Arbitration Court judges the time to make the investigations necessary to obtain the evidence on which to arrive at proper decisions?

Senator Spicer - Two or three more judges could be appointed.

Senator AYLETT - How many more judges would be necessary to do the job properly? The board to which the Opposition objects has already given decisions in respect of 46 separate cases. In no instance has its decision been disputed.

Senator Spicer - What the board can do, a judge could do.

Senator AYLETT - The honorable senator should make a patient calculation of the number of judges that would be required. I remind him that the metal trade workers tried to get a decision from the court, but it took them approximately twelve months to get a hearing, and a further three months passed before a decision was given. If that delay occurred in respect of each of the 46 cases with which this board has dealt, many years would elapse before the cases were decided. The body to which objection is taken has been dealing with these cases only since the 10th June last.

SenatorSpicer. - One judge dealt with all those cases.

Senator AYLETT - Yes; with the assistance of a full-time board and advisers who obtained first-hand knowledge of the matters being inquired into. The cases were not held up for many months as has so frequently happened in connexion with cases before the Arbitration Court. The Opposition has also objected to the personnel of the board, but it is not necessary that I should say much on that subject, seeing that it has already been adequately dealt with by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings). The Opposition's chief objection appears to be the appointment; of a woman to the board. The person appointed represents the Commonwealth Government, which is not only the largest employer of labour in Australia, but also is the largest employer of female labour in the Commonwealth. Surely, in such circumstances, the Opposition will agree that the Commonwealth Government is entitled to representation on the board. If so, whom would it expect the Government to appoint as its representative?

SenatorMcLeay. - A judge.

Senator AYLETT - The Government has appointed a judge to be the independentchairman of the board. He is not the representative of the Government as an employer. Theonly person more suited to represent the Commonwealth Government on the board would be either the Minister for Supply and Development or the Minister for Munitions, but as it is impossible for cither of them to act in that capacity Miss Cashman has been appointed as a substitute. It may be correct, as the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Foll claimed, that women working in the same industry work under different awards and are paid at different rates. If so, the matter can easily be rectified. The regulations provide that any woman, or organization of women, can apply to the board for an adjustment of rates of pay, or of any anomalies that may exist. If honorable senators had read the regulations they would not have advanced the arguments that have been employed in this debate.

Senator Foll - We did not say that such adjustments could not be made. They are being made.

Senator AYLETT - They are made whenever an organization applies to the board to bring it into line with others.

SenatorSpicer. - Under which regulation is the board empowered to do that?

Senator AYLETT - Under Statutory Rules 1942, No. 294. Before honorable senators opposite move for the disallowance of regulations, they should carefully study the relevant regulations. Neither of the honorable senators opposite who have spoken in this debate has indicated the real reasons for their objection to these regulations. The Government which they supported was in office for twelve months, but it made no attempt to provide adequate machinery to deal with the employment of females in war industries.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Machinery to do so was already existence.

Senator AYLETT - If that was the case, how does the honorable senator explain that this board has already dealt with 46 applications, and a total of £500,000 is to be paid to female employees by way of back pay? From that fact, it is obvious that, previously, these employees were being sweated. Therefore, adequate machinery to deal with this problem was not in existence when the previous Government was in office. I have no doubt that the main objection of honorable senators opposite to these regulations is based on the fact that they prescribe equal pay for the sexes for equal efficiency. However, the board has power to prescribe different rates of pay for males and females whenever it deems fit. Many anomalies arise in respect of which the board is obliged to hear expert evidence. It obtains that evidence quickly and gives its decisions quickly. Thus, the friction which would arise if women employees were obliged to await decisions of the Arbitration Court, as was the case with the metal workers, is avoided.

Senator Herbert Hays - Why not substitute this system entirely for our industrial arbitration system, and do away with arbitration courts altogether?

Senator AYLETT - The Government simply asks that this system be given a fair trial. It has been operating for four months, and the board has already done a very good job. Honorable senators opposite have not cited a single case in which the board's decision has caused dissatisfaction among either employers or employees. If the system be given a fair trial and the board is proved to be more effective than the Arbitration Court, it can be implemented on a wider basis. Any vote in this chamber to disallow these regulations may not appear to be of much concern to honorable senators, but such a decision will have serious repercussions outside. In the past, the Arbitration Court has been unable to cope with the volume of claims referred to it. Obviously, therefore, it cannot be expected to deal expeditiously with the problems arising from the introduction of females into industry on the present extensive scale. If the board be abolished, serious dissatisfaction will be caused among this vast army of female employees. The Opposition attempted on a previous occasion to disallow regulations dealing with the subject. Subsequently, those regulations were amended. Honorable senators opposite now seek to disallow the amended regulations. I repeat that if this board be abolished, and these female employees are obliged to have recourse to the Arbitration Court, the court will not be able to decide scores of applications for at least two generations. The board is working efficiently. Therefore, honorable senators opposite should suggest an improvement upon this machinery. I fail to comprehend the reason for their attack upon Miss Cashman, who has been appointed by the Government as one of the employers' representatives on the board. Nothing can be said against her character. Are honorable senators opposite afraid that she may be too sympathetic towards her sex ? It is clear that they have not divulged their real reason for their opposition to this woman. To-day, she represents on this board an employer who employs the greatest army of female employees in the history of the Commonwealth. She is rendering yeoman service in that capacity. The other employers' representative is Mr. Johnson, who was chosen by the Chamber of Manufactures. The board also consists of two representatives of the employees, and an independent - a judge - as chairman. It would be hard to imagine a better balanced body, or one better equipped to deal with the various matters which will come under its consideration. Further, in the case of special industries, the board is empowered to co-opt the services of an additional representative of employers and an additional representative of employees.

The PRESIDENT - Two hours having elapsed since the meeting of the Senate, Standing Order No. 127 requires that the debate be interrupted.

Debate interrupted.

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