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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) .- The Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) implored honorable senators not to act provocatively in regard to the matter now before the Senate; but only by the means adopted to-day can the Opposition take action in regard to the hundreds of regulations which are being promulgated. It is the duty of those of us who see defects in what has been done, and realize that an attack is being made on our arbitration system, not only to voice our opinions, but also to move for the disallowance of regulations, particularly when, as in this case, they are provocative. Listening to Senator Large, I learned that the Government justifies its action on the ground that the nomination of a representative of the employers was two days late. Because of failure to comply strictly with certain legal requirements, the Government appointed to this tribunal a woman against whom I have nothing whatever to say. In fact, it is admitted by honorable senators on both sides that she is a woman of considerable ability. Her name appeals to me as that of a person capable of dealing with economic problems. The fact remains, however, that she was definitely associated with some trade union of which I have no particular knowledge.

Senator Lamp - Was not Judge DrakeBrockman associated with the Employers Federation ?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That also might have been a bad appointment, but it has nothing to do with this case. Two wrongs do not make a right. Nor does his appointment answer the charge that the Government deliberately acted provocatively because it was suggested in another place by a former Prime Minister that five persons should be appointed to the board. Because a certain nomination paper was received two days late, the axe fell, and an important section of industry was denied justice. Far from the action of the Opposition in bringing this matter forward being provocative, it is the action of the Government in making the appointment which can be so described. Does the Government think that we on this side will allow this sort of thing to be done without raising a protest? In making this appointment the Government must have been looking for trouble, yet the Leader of the Senate says the Government does not wish to do anything provocative. We, on this side, regard the Government's action as provocative and a departure from the principles of true trade unionism. If we are to maintain the principles of democracy and of arbitration in industrial matters, we must eschew these hole-and-corner tactics. Persons with definite party associations should not be appointed to adjudicate in industrial matters. Had the Government not attempted to interfere with the arbitration system which has been in operation for some years within the framework of the act, there would have been no move for the disallowance of these regulations. The Government could have accomplished its purpose in other ways, but it chose to commit a flagrant breach of the act, and in the circumstances the Opposition would not be doing its duty if it allowed the regulations to pass without protest. During the course of the debate one honorable senator said that some years ago a government was defeated because it attempted to scrap arbitration. That charge is as false to-day as when it was first made, but it served its purpose ft. it enabled those who repeated it to win the election. In these regulations, the Government is doing the very thing of which it accused that government: It is undermining our arbitration system. No honorable senator opposite realizes more than the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) the importance of maintaining that structure. No other honorable senator has had so close an association with industrial arbitration. He knows that the Government could achieve its purpose in another way. This is the action of a gentleman whose main desire is to provoke and arouse opponents at a time when we should be as united as possible in order to be able to face the grave danger to which the Leader of the Senate has referred. Even now, the Government should withdraw these regulations, and constitute a similar tribunal within the existing arbitration system. Honorable senators on this side do not oppose the employment of women in industry. I have always advocated the principle . of equal pay for equal services, regardless of sex. But that principle rests upon the broader principle of payment on the basis of piece-work. Some unions have adopted the latter principle, and, incidentally, I point out that it has been embodied in the new Russian Constitution. I can see no reason why we cannot adopt that principle in industry generally. Certainly, the Arbitration Court to-day does not fix the remuneration of male workers on that basis; nevertheless, that basis is fundamentally sound. I have seen females working in our aircraft factories. They are doing wonderful work, and are deserving of recognition. They are entitled to whatever remuneration the country can afford to pay to them. But this is not the proper method to adopt in order to do justice to those employees. Employers cannot he expected to have confidence in this hoard. I make no reflection upon the members of the board. Judging from this debate, Miss Cashman's industrial experience has been confined to experience as a union organizer. Having regard to the points I have just made, I am astounded that any one could expect employers to have confidence in this tribunal. I deplore more than any one else the fact that the Opposition is obliged now and again to take action of this kind. We have no desire to reduce the rates of wages now paid to female employees, or to threaten any of their rights. I welcome the statement made by Senator Large that the union of which he is a member decided some months ago to admit women as members. As I said earlier, I have seen many women working in our war factories. They quickly adapt themselves to the work, and require only training. They are handling automatic machines with amazing skill. However, their efficiency is beside the issue. Unhesitatingly, we pay tribute to their skill; and we should ensure that they receive adequate remuneration. At the same time, we object to the Government seeking to achieve that end by this means, [u these regulations the Government has given a lead to the tribunal in the matter of remuneration, because the regulations prescribe that female employees shall receive not less than 60 per cent, of the rate paid to males for similar work. I believe that some of the rates paid to females are as high as 90 per cent, of the male rates. I shall vote for the disallowance of these regulations. It is the least that we can do in order to protect the more important system of arbitration which we have built up. Regulations of this kind will undermine the edifice of arbitration. We should be endeavouring to create greater confidence in arbitration. These regulations are a deliberate affront to employers, and to all who wish to place the relations between employers and employees on a workable basis.

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