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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator KEANE (Victoria) (Minister for Trade and Customs) . - Similar regulations were previously brought before the Senate with a view to their disallowance, and the Government on that occasion listened to the appeal of the Opposition for some revision. That revision has been made by the Government, and the tribunal has gone on working with, I suggest, some satisfaction-

Senator McLeay - To whom?

Senator KEANE - To the community at large. No member of the Opposition dares to suggest that the place of women in industry is the same to-day as it was one, two or three years ago. They are an integral part of the war effort, whichever party may be in power, and the necessity for their work is daily becoming greater. The man-power of this country cannot supply the demands made on it by the late Government or this Government. The increasing number of women necessary in industry makes it imperative that some tribunal to regulate their working conditions should be established, seeing that they are mainly going to replace males, a position which will become accentuated as industries develop. That being so, some tribunal is necessary. Senators Foll and McLeay have emphasized the argument that we are supplanting the arbitration law. I remind them that I personally, when in Opposition, strongly supported the National Security Bill. I said to the then Government, " You want the powers ". The National Security Regulations under discussion at the moment would necessarily and properly override any arbitration awards covering this particular subject, but I challenge honorable senators opposite to contradict me when I say that no arbitration court, State or Federal, has examined this subject. They have not studied it, and so, when the Opposition say that we are supplementing arbitration, they are suggesting a premise which is unsound.

Senator Foll - The Full Arbitration Court was studying it, but the Government stopped it so that this board could be appointed.

Senator KEANE - This board has been in operation for four months. I have as close a knowledge of the practical side of arbitration work as any man in this chamber, and I say that that phase of industrialism has at all events in this country - which is the only country I know - grown as the direct result of our war effort. If these regulations are disallowed, what will the effect be? Honorable senators opposite try to minimize the position by saying that things will go on in the same way. They will not. It was never believed that we would live to see the day when women would go into men's occupations as they are doing now. The Arbitration Court awards gave women 54 per cent, only of the male rate. That is one of the shocking weaknesses of the arbitration system. I have in my possession, although not here at the moment, some data compiled by a clergyman in South Australia. He took a number of single men and single women and compiled a list of their dependants, showing conclusively and clearly that although the women earned only 54 per cent, of the single male rate, they were actually supporting 24 per cent, more dependants. Yet people say that the Arbitration Court has given to this country everything that is needed. I say that it has been an excellent policeman and has done a great deal for the trade union movement, largely on the organization side, and also generally from the aspect of wages. We have now reached the stage when a second application is made to this chamber for a disallowance of these regulations. Surely honorable senators opposite, who when in power were given two years wholehearted support by this party on every war measure, are not going to spoil everything by persisting with this motion? Senator Spicer knows that if these regulations are disallowed they will be brought down again, with resultant confusion to the big section of industrial workers who are vitally concerned.

Senator Spicer - The honorable senator knows that the Government cannot do that.

Senator KEANE - A lawyer is helpless unless he has the book. i. happen on this occasion to have the book. Section 49 of the Acts Interpretation Act refers to the disallowance of regulations in these terms -

(1)   Where, in pursuance of the last preceding section, either House of thu Parliament disallows any regulation, or any regulation is deemed to have been disallowed, no regulation, being the same in substance as the regulation so disallowed, or deemed to have been disallowed, shall bc made within six months after the date of the disallowance, unless -

(a)   in the case of a regulation disallowed by resolution - the resolutionhas been rescinded by the House of the Parliament by which it was passed: or

(b)   in the case of a regulation deemed to have been disallowed - the House of Parliament in which notice of the resolution to disallow the regulation was given by resolution approves the making of a regulation the same in substance as the regulation deemed to have been disallowed.

If the motion before the Senate were agreed to, the position would be ludicrous. In what respect are the employers in Australia placed in a worse position to-day by the appointment of this board ? If women do highly skilled work which prior to the war was always performed by men, it is not unfair to say that they should receive at least up to 90 per cent. of the rates awarded to males. The defeat of these regulations would delay the solution of one of the most difficult problems that has arisen in the industrial life of this country. As the war progresses, woman-power will be increasingly brought into use in order to supplant man-power. Every ex-Minister realizes that my statements are correct.

Senator Foll - Why should not the interests of women in industry beleft to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court?

Senator KEANE - That court is already fully occupied, andI consider that the employment of women can best be dealt with under the plan adopted by the Government. I believe that eventually Australia will evolve a form of industrial arbitration free from legal atmosphere. Such a system would,I think, prove more effective than that now in operation. There is nothing extraordinary in the fact that the National Security Regulations relatingto the employment, of women override the Economic War Organization Regulations. In Melbourne, women are now employed in place ofmen on the Melbourne tramways. They are paid the male rate of wages, and no objection has been taken by the trade union to their employment. The union does not desire to see women employed in industry, but it realizes that many of the men who were formerly employed are now in the fighting services, and that the transport system must be maintained. The establishment of a Womens Employment Board under Statutory Rule No. 236 of 1942 was necessary, because, in my opinion, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was not the best body to investigate an absolutely new proposal such as the granting to women of equal pay to that received by men when they do equal work. , Under State and Commonwealth awards, women have been given a certain position in industry, and the court has awarded to them almost similar conditions to those enjoyed bymen, but new conditions have arisen as a result of the war.

Under regulation 3 of Statutory Rules 1942, No. 236, provision is made for application to the board for permission to employ females. I sec nothing wrong about that. There should be consultation between the employers and the employees' organizations, because of the necessity for women to take the place of men in the present crisis. Regulation 4 provides for a review of the existing rate of payment for females. I have already said that, with few exceptions, the rate for females is now about one-half of the rate for males. The basic wage is not a fair indication of the cost of living. The trade unions, whether militant or otherwise, are not prepared to accept a wage determined as a result of a sum in arithmetic worked out by the statisticians employed by the government of the day. There are about 100 oranges in a case, and the grower receives about 19s. a case, but when in Sydney recently I was charged 3d. each for such oranges. That is a racket. Yet the people are urged to buy more fruit in order to keep their children healthy. I had occasion recently to confer with thu Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) about the price of meat I had three visitors in my home recently and the steak which we had for tea cost 2s. 3d. per lb. The Minister for Commerce and Senator Gibson, could tell honorable senators the price that was probably paid to the producer of that meat. I do not admit the equity of the basic wage figures which fix such a small proportion of the male rate for female employees. However, the position has altered, and we have now reached the stage when it is imperative that we have more women in industry. They are doing a wonderful job for this nation.

Senator Allan MacDonald - Then why penalize them under these regulations ?

Senator KEANE - Surely, the honorable senator has read enough about the matter to know that the object of these regulations is to give women a tribunal by moan.s of which they can obtain immediate rectification of their grievances. They are designed specifically to cover women who, go into industry unskilled, and eventually become skilled operatives. While learning, they are paid 60 per cent, of the male rate, and when efficient they are paid 90 per cent, of the male rate. The point that honorable senators opposite apparently fail to understand is that in future the big driving force in the factories of this country will be the young women and middle-aged women. That must be so for the very obvious reason that it i;: impossible for us to supply sufficient men for our fighting forces and our industrial services as well. More and more, we shall be compelled to absorb women into our factories. Women cannot bo dealt with under our existing arbitration machinery because their employment raises a new question which has never been handled by our arbitration courts, State or Commonwealth.

Senator Spicer - The matter was being dealt with by the full Arbitration Court, but this Government stopped proceedings so that this board could be appointed.

Senator KEANE - Proceedings were stopped for the simple reason that on this board the employees had representation, and the employers had representation. But honorable senators opposite were not satisfied, and they moved for the disallowance of the regulations. We then went back on our tracks and provided for new representation. The Leader of the Opposition said very unwisely, that this board was a political board. I say that it happens to be a board set up by the Government of this country, which at the moment is a Labour government. I have no wish to say anything out of place about judges, but I point out that from 1916 until a few years ago. the party to which honorable senators opposite belong made all appointments to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. It has been alleged by some people - no doubt I have said it myself - that some of these appointments have been political, but every party which holds the reins of government is a political party, and therefore the same allegation can be made in connexion with any such appointments. However, I claim that in the chairman of this board we have as able, fearless and as fair a man as can be found in any jurisdiction in this country. As Senator Aylett has pointed out, the work of this board has proceeded satisfactorily for a number of months, and is still proceeding smoothly. If the employers are not satisfied with their representation, then that is a matter for consideration by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). Normally, women do not hold up jobs, but in the present crisis, the nation demands that there must be peace in industry. Unfortunately, throughout the ages women have been shamefully victimized in various avenues of employment. To-day, in many spheres of activity they are equal to men. In conclusion, I emphasize that if these regulations be disallowed the machinery will be thrown out of gear. In any case, they could be re-introduced immediately and we would have this debate all over again, despite the fact that more urgent business associated with our war effort demands our attention. I say, in all sincerity, that I yield place to no one in this chamber so far as support for a 100 per cent, war effort is concerned, and I believe that I have done as much as any other honorable senator in this regard. I have a considerable knowledge of industrial matters, and I have not made one antagonistic speech since the war started. No doubt some honorable senators have in mind the personal unpopularity of the Minister for Labour and National Service among certain sections of the press; but that alleged unpopularity is a charge which can be levelled against certain Ministers in any government, and it usually happens that certain individuals are marked men in the eyes of the press. I contend that, in the present Minister for Labour and National Service, we have a man of considerable capacity, who is doing his best to accelerate the production of war equipment. I remind honorable senators of his work on the coal-fields, which I claim, despite any contradiction or criticism, was an epic. To-day the mines are operating, although unfortunately we have not the shipping or railway capacity to transport coal to the various centres in which it is urgently needed. I say, therefore, that honorable senators opposite should put their personal views in regard to the Minister for Labour and National Service out of their minds. Those who have been Ministers will know the responsibility that is associated with ministerial office, and realize that, when the occasion demands, strong action must be taken. Such action was taken in this country. The Opposition was dissatisfied with the result, and we listened to their pleadings and altered the system. We say now, do not disallow these regulations, because such action would be against the best interests of Australia generally.

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