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Tuesday, 29 September 1942

Mr CURTIN - The honorable member for Fawkner may make his interrogations in due course. It must be clear from these facts that there has been delay. I offer no criticism of the cause of the delay, because I am not able to say who has been responsible for it.

Mr Spender - Many inferences may be drawn from it.

Mr CURTIN - I simply state the fact and, in doing so, I remind the honorable gentleman that the Government was faced with the urgent problem of telling women what their rates of pay and conditions of work would be before it drew them into avocations in which they had never before engaged, and in which they were required temporarily to replace men. The men would have continued in these callings except for the fact that they were needed for the fighting services or for other essential war work. The men faced with this temporary intrusion of women were as much interested in the rates of pay and conditions of work as were the women themselves. If delays such as had marked the hearing of evidence and the making of awards by the Arbitration Court after evidence had been taken had been allowed to occur in connexion with the fixing of rates of pay and the conditions of work of the women required to replace the men called up for war service or transferred to other more essential occupations, the women would have been at work perhaps a month before they would have known what their pay would be. The Arbitration Court was already seriously congested when the need arose for the prompt determination of those questions. One judge of the court is performing very responsible duties on the coal tribunal, and another is doing similar work on the stevedoring commission. The appointment of extra judges to the Arbitration Court would not have solved the problem for several reasons. In the Arbitration Court, cases are taken in rotation, or according to their importance. A union which goes on strike can set the machinery of the court in motion much more promptly than can a union which prefers to keep its members at work. It is undoubtedly a fact that throughout its history the court has moved more promptly in respect of industries which have been the subject of an actual or a threatened stoppage of work. It was for this reason, among others, that the Government established the Women's Employment Board. The board was designed to do quickly the special work that had to be done. There was an overwhelming necessity for quick action, and the board has carried out the duty placed upon it. It has already heard 85 cases, in respect of which 50 decisions have been made. The other 35 cases are awaiting awards. Fifty cases are still listed for hearing. A total of 7,685 women was affected by the decisions of the board. Almost half of them were employees of Commonwealth or State governments, or employees of State instrumentalities. The details are -


The claims heard, but in respect of which decisions have not been given, affect 2,603 women, of whom 2,022 are employees of the Commonwealth or State governments. The details are -


It will be seen, therefore, that 5,602 of the women involved in those cases are being paid out of war appropriations. In other words, the women are, in fact, as well as technically, government employees, or employees of public instrumentalities, the funds for which are provided by the Government. Some honorable gentleman appear to be under the impression that private enterprise has been greatly affected by the work of the Women's Employment Board. That is not the case. The Commonwealth and State Governments are by far the largest employers of the women affected or likely to be affected by decisions of the board. At least 10,288 women were covered by claims made to the board. Of these, 55 per cent., or 5,602 women, were employees of the Commonwealth or State Governments. The largest claim affected 2,500 women employed by the Department of Munitions in ammunition and explosives factories. The board granted these women 65 per cent. of men's wages while they were on two weeks' probation, and thereafter 90 per cent. of men's wages, £4 14s. a week, plus male war loading. The next largest claim affected 2,000 women in the metal trades. Nineteen separate applications were dealt with together, and the women were granted 60 per cent. of men's wages, £3 3s. a week, while on a month's probation, and thereafter 90 per cent. of men's wages, £4 14s. a week, plus male war loading. In thirteen cases women were granted 100 per cent. of male rates. These cases included bar attendants - in my view, a woman serves a glass of beer just as efficiently as a man, and should not be exploited in the serving of it - and car drivers. Here again, if a woman can drive a car as efficiently as a man she is entitled to the same pay as a man would get.

Sir Frederick Stewart - That principle should also apply to munitions work.

Mr CURTIN - It is being applied. Where women are as efficient as men the male rates of pay apply. But who is to assess the efficiency? The difference between honorable gentlemen opposite and honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber is that we say that women who are as efficient as men are entitled to the economic status of men.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Hear, hear ! I will go as far as the Prime Minister in that direction.

Mr CURTIN -But who is to make the assessment? The Government appointed the Women's Employment Board for the purpose. In addition to the two claims I have already mentioned, saleswomen in men's stores serving men's goods, and tram and bus conductors were granted 100 per cent. of male rates. Nine of the cases included in that group of four were the result of agreement between the parties ; in the other four cases the board was precluded by the regulations from reducing the full male rate that was already being paid to women. In other cases various percentages were fixed ranging from 60 per cent. to 100 per cent. In the case of asbestos fabrication the board decided that the industry was unfit for women. All the claims submitted to the board were dealt with expeditiously, as the following statement shows : -

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