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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- The question that is before the Senate this afternoon is not the problem as to what wages should be paid to women who are performing jobs formerly done by men. I emphasize that this is a very difficult question in some cases., and, because it is so difficult, it is very important that the body which is charged with the responsibility of deciding it should be impartial. The action of the Government in appointing this board is a mere pretence of impartiality. I say that deliberately. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) would have us believe that this body of five persons was appointed as the result of a suggestion from this side of the chamber.

Senator Collings - No. The Government accepted certain suggestions from the other side and amended the regulations.

Senator SPICER - That is what I said. However, we shall not argue about the form of words. In relation to both this board and the previous board, the complaint from this side is, and always has been, that the Government did not provide the same representation for employers as for employees. That is the simple issue. Senator Keane spoke of a body which has a presiding chairman at the head of the table and representatives of employers on one side and of employees on the other side.

Senator Keane - That is what we have in this board.

Senator SPICER - That is not the kind of tribunal which the Ministry has appointed. The Ministry has said that it will have a board consisting of a judge, who sits at the head of the table, and three representatives of employees sitting on one side of the table, and one representative of the employers sitting on the other side. We are asked to accept such a body as a bona fide attempt by a so-called responsible Minister of the Crown to provide an efficient and impartial tribunal to deal with important questions. Why the Government should go through the pretence of providing equal representation for employers and employees, I do not know. I certainly should have more respect for the Ministry if it .came into the open and said, "We shall have only one representative of employers on the board, but there shall be three representatives of employees ".

Senator Large - Has not the Arbitration Court always been loaded against the employees ?

Senator SPICER - The Arbitration Court has been composed of men capable of exercising their impartial judgment on the questions submitted to them. Moreover, they have given impartial judgments. The present Ministry is not even prepared to leave these questions to be decided by Judge Foster, after consideration of the views of employers and employees, equally represented. The Government is afraid that Judge Foster might come to an impartial decision which agreed with the views put forward by the representatives of the employers. In that event, if there were two representatives of employers on the board, the judge, with them, would constitute a majority of the board., and would be in a position to give a majority decision in favour of the employers. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) wants to guard against that. Even should the judge agree with the case put forward on behalf of the employers, with the board as now constituted he, together with the representative of the employers, would not constitute a majority of the board ; and so in every case the views of the representatives of employees must determine what the judgment of the board shall be. With his characteristic zeal for running away from questions, the Leader of the Senate raised entirely irrelevant issues, and said that the Opposition objected to the appointment of a woman to this board. Let me say definitely that I have no objection whatever to Miss Cashman being a member of this board.

Senator Foll - Nor has any one else.

Senator Collings - The Leader of the Opposition has.

Senator SPICER - I do, however, strongly object to the Government making the pretence that Miss Cashman is a proper representative of employer interests. If the Leader of the Senate believes that Miss Cashman has overriding claims to appointment to this board, can he explain why the trade unions of this country did not appoint her to represent the employees? Had she been appointed as their representative, I have no doubt that she would have represented them very well, indeed. I emphasize, however, that the great trade unionmovement has none of the Minister's zeal for the appointment of women to boards such as this one. The trade union movement would keep such positions the exclusive prerogative of males from the Trades Hall, notwithstanding that this body has to deal with matters affecting women employees in industry. The Trades Hall Council says, in effect, " No women on boards. "We want to see that only the point of view of male employees will be represented."

SenatorCollings. - The Trades Hall Council has said nothing of the kind.

Senator SPICER - There was available for service on this board a woman whom the Minister has told us was well fitted to serve on it because of her experience and knowledge of the questions to be decided. It cannot be denied that there are no interests that she could represent better than those of the employees; but when it came to selecting representatives of the employees, the Trades Hall did not select Miss Cashman. The only way in which she could secure a position on the board was that the Government, playing with the idea of having a woman representative on the board, should appoint her as a representative of employers, although she really represents the employees. Such conduct on the part of a government, particularly one which is exercising war-time powers vested in it for a special purpose, is reprehensible. Instead of the Opposition being criticized for raising this matter in the Senate, I say that we on this side would be failing in our duty as representatives of the people if we did not call attention to and, if possible, defeat this dictatorial action on the part of the Ministry. As to the constitution of the board, about which we have heard so much. I can only say that, when it became a matter of increasing the membership of the board from three to five, the Minister for Labour and National Service had one of his periodical brainwaves. I say deliberately that it was his duty to ensure that all interests concerned were properly and equitably represented on. a board of this kind. But the Minister did not approach the matter in that way. The essence of the suggestion that the personnel of the board should be increased from three to five was that as two of the existing three members were employees' representatives, the two additional representatives proposed should represent the employers'. That was what the suggestion really meant. But the Minister said, "I'll trick them. I have a dodge which will get around that. We will put two employers' representatives on the board. After all is said and done, is not the Commonwealth Government the biggest employer of female labour? We will appoint Miss Cashman as one of the employers' representatives ". That was just a dodge.

SenatorClothier. - Does not the honorable senator trust Miss Cashman?

Senator SPICER - I have already said that I trusther as a representative of the employees. However, when one is looking for a representative of the employers - and after all they are entitled to be represented - one does not appoint an employee in that capacity, but some one who is an employer, or has acted as a manager. When one wishes to choose a proper representative of the employer interests one picks a person who has been the manager of some department, or has had experience in conducting a business from the employer's point of view, or some one whom the employers themselves select. The Government owes a duty to the taxpayers in this matter. It might think that it represents only the Trades Hall Council, but it is dealing with the welfare of the public and the taxpayers, and is disbursing public money. The Government is supposed to be the servant of the people. If it exercises its functions properly as the servant of the people, it will ensure that all interests are fairly and equitably represented on this board. However, because it prefers to be the servant of the Trades Hall Council, I am not surprised that it should appoint a board which is completely loaded against the employers.

Another matter with which I wish to deal is the jurisdiction of the board. This goes to the root, of the matter. We have whatwe call the arbitration system. It is nonsense to suggest that matters of this kind could not be determined by the Arbitration Court orbodies constituted within the Arbitration Court system.

Senator Cameron - After months, or even years, of delay.

Senator SPICER - Not necessarily. Even a board of this character could have been created within the existing arbitration system. My complaint on that score is that these regulations not only provide that the awards of the board shall override decisions of the Arbitration Court, but also prevent the Arbitration Court from functioning in relation to matters, dealt with by the board. No obstacle whatever exists to the appointment, within the existing arbitration system, even of a board of this type, the awards of which would then be subject to overhaul and control by judges of the Arbitration Court, and which itself would have regard to the principles which have been applied over the years by the Arbitration Court in the fixation . of wages, hours and conditions of employment in this country. If one wishes to approach this matter fairly, one cannot properly disregard the fact that wages for men and women have not been determined solely by reference to the value of work done. It is a plank of the Labour party's platform - and the principle has been followed in this country for years - that wages be fixed upon the basis of the needs of a man having regard to his obligation to support a family.

Senator Large - That is the minimum wage.

Senator SPICER - Yes ; but it is the standard from which these things proceed. The standard is not the value of work done, but the obligations which the employee has to fulfil as a citizen of this country looked at from the point of view of his family responsibilities. This afternoon the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) simply tossed overboard all Labour's principles in this matter.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He advocated payment on the basis of piecework.

Senator SPICER -Yes. He stated in effect - and it is the first time that I have heard a supporter of the Labour party say so - that it is now a plank of the platform of the Labour party that, in fixing the wages of married men, no regard should be paid to the fact that he has to keep a wife and family.

SenatorCollings. - I made no such statement, and, as the honorable senator's remarks are distasteful to me, I ask that they be withdrawn.

Senator SPICER - My remarks are not offensive to any one. If the honorable senator will indicate the words to which he takes exception, I shall consider his request.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator said that I stated that, in the fixation of the wages of a married man, no regard whatever should be paid to the fact that he is obliged to keep a wife and children.

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