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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator KEANE - I was urging that the duty of the board set up under these regulations would be to adjudicate on the employment of women where a rate less than the male rate had not previously been fixed. That is not a job for the already over-congested Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which is the main Commonwealth industrial tribunal. As honorable senators remember, under National Security Regulations, the court was asked to complete the business in hand before the 1st May, and that date has had to be extended to the 1st June of this year. Two of the judges are actively engaged on other work. The Chief Judge is employed on the Stevedoring Commission, which is one of the most urgent undertakings confronting the nation at the present time. I suggest that the commission has already achieved a large measure of success. Another judge is in charge of the coal-mining inquiry, which, of itself, is a man-size job. Thus, the judiciary of five members is already reduced by nearly one half. I am not concerned with who is on the board. What the present Government has done is not in any way different from what previous governments have done.I do not wish to awaken sleeping dogs by reviving what other administrations have done ; but I can say that I do not remember one appointment in the history of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in which the appointee came from the ranks of my party.

Senator McBride - I hope the Minister is not reflecting on the Arbitration Court judges.

Senator KEANE - I have reflected on them to their face, when I was in the Arbitration Court. I do not reflect on them behind their back. When the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) says that there is bias in the making of the appointments to the board my retort is that such a complaint ill becomes him as a member of his party.

Senator Spicer - Does the Minister admit that there is bias?

Senator KEANE - There has been bias right down the years. The court,I should think we can agree, is not the proper body to handle this matter, which is entirely a new one. It is not a question of whether females should receive 54 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the male rate, but the tribunal has to say what properly is women's work, and, if they are employed on men's work, what their rates shall be. It is one of the most awkward problems in the industrial sphere at the present time. Mr. A. R. Wallis is one of the most able men in the Labour movement. No one could throw any doubt on his experience or his capacity. All the papers relating to Miss Cashman have been tabled in the House of Representatives, and I suggest that they ought to be tabled here. There is a dispute as to who the employers' representative should be. On the information supplied to me, the position seems to be that there is a tribunal of three persons; but when certain industries are under consideration, the employers and the employees will each appoint a representative.

The complaints made here to-day boil down to an allegation that the board will override the Arbitration Court. Many unions in Victoria, as Senator Cameron knows, have approached us about delays in hearing their cases. Arbitration procedure has always been, and is necessarily, tortuous. Claims by unions are almost always resisted by employers. In key industries, agreements are obtained because of the tremendous economic pull of the organizations; but they involve long hearings. The fact that delays have occurred provide a warrant for the Government framing the regulations. No Minister, except perhaps the Prime Minister, has any less or any more power than the Minister for Labour and National Service in determining the policy of the Government. The facts are that that Minister is a capable, courageous man, and that most of the opinions written about him are not correct. In the press of last week, it wa3 alleged that there had been a show-down in the Cabinet between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Labour and National Service, but the suggestion was quite wrong. If there could be control of those who foment industrial troubles in this country - the newspapers - there would be much less of it. The newspapers make men irritated, and they create antipathy between employers and employees, so therefore they should be subject to some measure of control. The board is a necessary part of a big and serious development in the industrial life of the community. I fail to see where the employer will be injured, or how the employee will not be fairly treated. It has been said that at present the greatest employer of female labour is the Commonwealth Government, and I do not think there is any doubt about that.

Senator McBride - I should like figures to support that statement.

Senator KEANE - I cannot quote figures, but I know that there are 8,000 to 11,000 females employed at Maribyrnong, and there is a large number at Lithgow. The efforts of the War Organization Committee have beer directed to organizing 12,000 to 30,000 women workers. Is there anything wrong with those figures? We are trying to arrange industry so that there will be as little hardship as possible in the change over, say, from employment of women in retail shops to their employment in munitions factories. There has never been a bigger movement in the industrial history of this country than the movement that is now being made for the employment of female labour, and it is a movement that will necessarily grow in intensity. The calling up of 300,000 men gives some idea of the tremendous importance of the regulations directed at ironing out disputes among female workers. I have never conceded that it is equitable that women should receive only 54 per cent, of the rate paid to males. Figures that I have obtained show that among an equal number of female workers and single male workers in South Australia, the females, who were drawing wages 54 per cent, below those of males, were supporting 23 per cent, more relatives than the male workers. The stupid community has allowed that to continue for years.

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