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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator McBRIDE (South Australia) . - I listened carefully to the speeches delivered by three Ministers, who are three of the most eloquent senators on the 'Government side of the chamber, but I have yet to hear a satisfactory reason as to the necessity for setting up this board. [ have definite views as to why the Government adopted this course in connexion with rates of wage to be paid to female workers during the waT. Some time ago, the Government ingeniously set up an Industrial Relations Council, to examine extraordinary cases that arose in the various industries owing to war conditions. I believe that that council broke down on the subject of female rates in war industry. That matter was raised before a meeting of the council, and the chairman so frankly expressed his views on it that representatives who held different views realized the futility of the council, and decided that no good purpose could be served by continuing a body set up by the Government to do something which Ministers themselves were not prepared to do. Sneering refer ence has been made to the action of a previous government, which, without reference to a tribunal, but as a matter of Government decision, gave war loadings to certain industries. I have no apology to offer for what was done then. The Government of that day did not appoint a tribunal as a smoke screen, so that it could do what it had not the courage to do in the open. Consequently, we may be forgiven if we say that this board was not set up because the existing tribunals could not deal with the matter of the wages of women in industry. The board was not established because it was more competent than the tribunals already operating. It has been said that it was set up because existing tribunals could not deal with the matters in dispute with sufficient expedition, but it was not stated by any Minister that the delay caused by the Government's decision in taking out of the hands of the full Arbitration Court this very matter was greater than the time that would be taken up by that court in arriving at a formula to deal with it. There is a vital difference between cases presented by the trade unions which require full consideration of the whole field of activity to decide rates of wages and conditions that have to be dealt with before the court is prepared to make an award. No Minister will suggest that that kind of consideration has been given to any one of these cases upon which the board has given its decision.

Senator Collings - It has in every case.

Senator McBRIDE - Not in one instance has this board even attempted to go into the matter in the way the Arbitration Court has always investigated matters referred to- it. It would be foolish to suggest that the judge and the members of this board are so capable and energetic that they could cover the ground traversed by 46 decisions in a manner comparable with that of the Arbitration Court. Therefore, my firm conviction is that this board was not appointed because the Arbitration Court was incapable of doing the work expeditiously, but because this court has definite views as to the rates which should be paid to females in industry. I do not quibble with the Government on that score, because I am not concerned with the rates that should apply to women engaged in war industries. If normal channels were used the Opposition would have no objection whatever, but the Government lays down principles which do not actuate the Arbitration Court in these matters - principles under which this board is bound to operate, and which are entirely dissimilar from those on which the Arbitration Courts consider cases and make decisions. This tribunal was hamstrung by the regulations under which it was appointed, because it has only a limited field in which to operate. What I have said cannot be better confirmed than by quoting a statement made by the chairman of this board, in the course of the hearing of the tanners' case in Melbourne on the 13th August last. Speaking in reply to the counsel for the Master Tanners' Association, he said -

The words " just profit " are intended obviously to cover this special case - a case where there is no male rate of pay. By the way, there is no such thing as justice or propriety in this jurisdiction. This Court is not a court of law; it is a legislative body, so far as I can see.

In other words, this tribunal was not set up to consider matters according to their intrinsic merits, but its purpose is, in effect, to carry out the wishes of the Government. I have complete contempt for a government which holds strongly, and is supported by honorable senators who hold strongly, that certain things should be done, but has not the courage to do the things which it has said are only fair and equitable. This Government, which has abundance of sympathy with the women who are being brought into industry, appears to be completely callous regarding the position of individuals who have previously been engaged in industry, and employed in occupations similar and sometimes identical with those regarding which this board will adjudicate. If the Arbitration Court does not do justice to the applications before it, why does not the Government amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and promulgate regulations directing the court in the same way as it is directing this tribunal.

Senator Ashley - Would the honorable senator support such action?

Senator McBRIDE - No, because I do not hold the view that even-handed justice is not meted out under the present arbitration system. I do not subscribe to that view, therefore I do not see the need that has been stressed by honorable senators opposite. The Leader of the Senate started his lecture to us by saying that this board was appointed to bring about smooth working and peace in industry, but surely he knew better than that. He has had long experience in industrial matters, and I put it to him that more industrial strife is caused by differing rates of pay for employees engaged in the same industry, than by any other anomaly. Yet, here we have a tribunal which is creating anomalies and differences greater than any that have existed in the history of our arbitration system. It is the common sneer of honorable senators opposite that we on this side of the chamber support the employers who, it is claimed, are completely callous in their attitude to the welfare of their employees. I have heard honorable senators opposite use almost those very words. The common accusation is that inequalities and injustices are perpetrated because of the greed of the employers. That is rather interesting because the decisions made by this board apply not only to private employers, but also to government instrumentalities. The distinctions which are being created in the rates of pay of employees of various instrumentalities are calculated to cause more industrial strife than has ever been caused in the history of this country. One of the instrumentalities which come within the jurisdiction of this board is the Sydney County Council. Nobody can suggest that that body, upon which the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) has served for a long term, is out to exploit its employees. The position is that employees of that instrumentality were working under Arbitration Court awards, and as far as I know they were working peacefully. Then, because certain females were brought in to replace men who had gone to munitions undertakings or joined the fighting forces, this board made decisions which threw completely out of balance the whole of the rates paid by that organization. We find that in accordance "with a decision of the board, a female cleaner performing menial duties in the mess room, receives £5 a week under an order of the board, The cleaner is assisting an attendant who has been with the council for fifteen years and whose wages, in accordance with the relevant arbitration award, are £3 18s, a week. That is the sort of thing that the Leader of the Senate would have us believe is conducive to peace in industry. I cite another case in refutation of assertions that have been made continuously in the course of this debate by honorable senators opposite that this board takes into consideration the efficiency of a new female employee, compared with that of a male employee, and bases its rates accordingly. It might interest honorable senators to know that the South Australian railways - another State instrumentality - comes within the jurisdiction of this board. Before the board was set up a number of females were employed in the South Australian railways service, some of them replacing men who had gone to other jobs or joined the fighting forces. So far as I am aware there was no trouble with the rates that applied to those employees, but the astounding fact is that this board, which allegedly considers carefully these matters and gives unprejudiced and unbiased decisions, considered this question in relation to females employed on the delivery vans in the South Australian railways. Prior to the advent of the female employees, one man handled a light delivery van and the goods that it contained. However, the commissioner or the traffic manager, or whatever official was responsible for making the change, realized that no woman could be expected to do what an ablebodied man was doing. Consequently, he employed two women on each of these vans. It cannot be suggested that these two women would do as much as two men. As a. matter of fact, probably they would do about the same as one man. Yet the decision of this board was that each woman should receive the male rate. I am informed that, owing to this outrageous decision, girls are no longer employed on that job. I cite that case to show the consideration these matters are given by the board, and the kind of result that we may expect from such decisions.

A great deal has been made of the allegations by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, not only that this board was unnecessary, but also that its very set-up was obviously weighted against the employers. Much has been said also about the desirability of having a women's representative on the board. We have no objection to that at all. Our only objection is that Miss Cashman is not there to represent women. Nominally, she is there to represent the employers. The Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) said, in effect, that no judge ever gives impartial decisions.

Senator Collings - The Minister did not say that.

Senator McBRIDE - I have no desire to misrepresent the Minister for Aircraft Production, but that was my understanding of what he said.

Senator Collings - He said that every one had a natural bias, but that some people could be impartial.

Senator McBRIDE - I did not place that interpretation on what the honorable senator said, and I certainly did not place it upon what Senator Large said, because he stated emphatically that every body was biased. Yet, in the face of these statements, we are asked to believe that this woman is the only person without prejudice or bias.

Senator Collings - We did not say that. We claim that she is impartial.

Senator McBRIDE - I am not questioning the impartiality of members of the board, but I do question their authority to represent the sections of the community which are supposed to have representation on that board.

Senator Clothier - Does not the honorable senator think that Miss Cashman is doing a good job?

Senator McBRIDE - I have no idea what kind of a job she is doing, but I claim that she is much more qualified to put the point of view of the employees than that of the employers. What we want is some one who can satisfy the employers that their point of view is being represented adequately. So far, I have seen no evidence suggesting that that is the case. Obviously, the appointments to this board have been made for the purpose of weighting it against the employers and in favour of the employees. I have yet to learn why the board was necessary at all; I have yet to learn that the arbitration courts could not expeditiously, impartially, and competently decide these matters. Therefore, I shall certainly vote for the disallowance of these regulations.

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