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Wednesday, 30 September 1942


I have never been satisfied with the regulations that were presented to this House to govern the employment of women. These regulations set out to deal with a problem the Federal Arbitration Court had never dealt with or had passed by. Ever since 1912 that court has said that certain work is men's work and certain work is women's work ; if women are employed to do men's work they shall receive the men's pay. That position has been accepted by the Arbitration Court continuously since 1912 and has been consistently repeated in awards. A typical example of awards that have been made by the Arbitration Court dealing with this matter is the commercial print ing award with which I am fairly familar. Since 1925 that award has contained the following clause -

Where a female is employed to do any work for which a female rate is not prescribed and for which a male rate is prescribed the female shall receive the rate which is prescribed for the male.

I take that from George Anderson's Fixation of Wages in Australia.Mr. Anderson represented the printing trade employers before the Arbitration Court. That clause is typical of the Arbitration Court's attitude towards this problem. Certain work is men's work and certain work is women's work, and, if women are employed to do men's work, they shall receive the wage prescribed for men. That rule was established in the fruitpickers' case of 1912 by Mr. Justice Higgins, and it has been maintained unbrokenly ever since by the Arbitration Court in awards of which the hatters industry award and the clothing trades industry award are examples. The principle that, if a woman is employed to do work for which no female rate is prescribed, but for which a male rate is prescribed, she must get the male rate is not the same principle as is expressed in the phrase " equal pay for equal work ", which was used by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), but not, I think, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), although the right honorable member implied that the Prime Minister did use it. The employment of both sexes on the same class of work does not raise the question of equal efficiency. Two men may be employed at the same wage, but that does not imply equal efficiency. The law says that they shall be paid the same rate, because if less efficient men could be employed at a lower rate than could more efficient men, the tendency would be for the more efficient to be displaced from industry by a sort of Gresham's Law, which drives out the superior when he and his inferior are in competition. That principle is at the back of what I and other honorable members on this side of the House are contending for, namely, that when women are introduced into industry to do work for which no rate for women, but only a rate for men has been fixed, they should be employed at the male rate and paid no less. The regulations as originally framed provided that where it was desired to bring women into industry to do work for which no female rate was fixed and for which only one rate was fixed, namely, the male rate, thu employer if he desires to employ them at a lower rate must apply to the Women's Employment Board. Later, that was amended to provide that that rule shall be applied where that work is customarily the work of men. I submit that that was an entirely wrong principle. To allow women to be brought into industry in order to do work customarily done by men at lower rates than are paid to men is wrong for two reasons. First, it is unjust to women and, secondly, it is unjust to men. It is unjust to women that they should be required to do, at lower rates of wages, the same kind of work as men do, and it is especially unjust when we reflect that, in one of the cases dealt with by the Women's Employment Board, the board found that the women were in every way as good as men, and yet fixed a wage of 90 per cent, of the full men's wage. That, of course, is the result of sending the matter to the board. Making it additionally unfair, the regulations proceeded to prescribe, not as one would expect, that, in the interval before the fixation of the rate, the employer shall pay the same rate as is paid to men, but, in effect, that the employer may pay to women any rate he likes, and that, after the determination by the board, the rate paid shall be deemed to be paid on account of the wage fixed. That can mean that an employer can introduce women to do work done previously by men, pay them a low rate of wages until the board deals with the matter, and then make up the arrears. The only proper approach, if the matter is to be dealt with by the board, is to prescribe that, until the rate of wages has been fixed by the board, women shall have the benefit of the Arbitration Court awards, that is, receive the same rate of wages as is paid to men. We do not use the begging-the-question phrase "equal pay for equal work", but we say that persons employed on the same kind of work shall be paid the same wages. The question of efficiency or in- efficiency is as irrelevant in dealing with women's wages as it would be in dealing only with men's wages. An employer is not allowed to pay a man less than the fixed male wage because that man is less efficient than another who works at the same job. The employer must pay the same rates of wages to both men. Therefore, he should be obliged to pay women the same rates as are provided for men without raising any question of efficiency. I was greatly disappointed when the Government did not accept that principle. It would be no more than just to the women and the men. Women are being brought into industry to replace men who are on active service or engaged in the production of munitions. When the war is over the men will want to return to their former jobs. But, if the employers be permitted to engage women at wages below the male rates, they will be encouraged to retain the women and not to re-employ the men after the war. That is how the process which has been adopted is unjust to the men. The matter should have been settled without reference to a board. The Government should have decided to apply the wages and conditions for men set down by the Arbitration Court to women brought into industry by reason of war-time shortages of man-power. That would be particularly just to the women employed in industries where they are equally as efficient as men, as in the case which was the subject of a finding in at least one case. If, as the board has declared, women are to-day as efficient as men in some industries, how much more efficient than men will they be a few years hence? If they become more efficient, it will be extremely difficult for men to regain after the war, jobs which are being carried on by highly efficient women at rates of pay lower than those prescribed for men. Therefore, it is unjust to depart from the principle of equal pay for the sexes engaged in the same classes of work. The Government has made a great mistake in doing that. I regret that it decided to do so, but, having made its decision, the appointment of a specialized board was better than referring the matter to the Arbitration Court. Those who demand that the matter should go to the Arbitration Court are urging that it should go to a body which is not governed by any statutory direction, but which works on principles which have been developed in the last 40 years and which have becomevery rigid. There is no more precedentworshipping body in this country than the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) will remember that, soon after he became Minister for Labour in another government, I suggested to him that the most satisfactory way of dealing with disputes in war industries would be to take them away from the Arbitration Court and submit them to some new form of tribunal specialized for the new class of work. I did so because I believe that the Arbitration Court is entirely unfitted to deal with the many urgent problems that the war has created. Since the Government wanted this matter to be dealt with by a tribunal, it was wise to set up a special tribunal for the purpose. The Leader of the Opposition has said that there are judges on the Stevedoring Commission and on the Coal Tribunal. But I point out that the Stevedoring Commission is different from the Arbitration Court. At the present time, it need not include an arbitration judge at all, but, in any case, it is a specialized tribunal appointed to deal with a special problem, the difficulty of which has been intensified by the war. The Coal Tribunal also is different from the Arbitration Court. It is a special tribunal set up to deal with a particularly difficult and urgent problem of production, which again has been intensified by the war. I repeat that the Government was wise to appoint a specialized tribunal. Nobody can deny the efficiency, experience, and integrity of the president of the Women's Employment Board. Every body who is acquainted with Judge Foster knows that he is entirely independent, and will not take instructions or directions from anybody. He has made enemies by his independence and his determination to do the right thing as he sees it. I regret the suggestion that he is not impartial. He is impartial. I believe that he should be on the Arbitration Court. He would have been appointed to the court but for the dislike of the right honorable mem ber for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) for appointing men to the Arbitration Court who had at any time had political associations. That was the only objection to his appointment. I have known Judge Foster very well for many years, and I believe that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) also knows him well.

Mr.Holt. - According to the judgments which I have seen, Judge Foster takes the view that he has no discretion in dealing with these matters, but is confined within a very narrow compass.

Mr BLACKBURN - Precisely. The reason why some people want these matters to go to the Arbitration Court is that they believe that the court would at once apply a basic wage rate of 54 per cent. of male rates of pay to women. If the court did that, it would be grossly unjust to the women and the men. I can conceive of such a decision creating a great deal of industrial disturbance. The court is unfit to deal with these war-time problems largely because it deals with them on the basis of being free from legislative control and free to apply principles which it has itself built up. It is an unsatisfactory tribunal. I do not believe in the system of having industrial disputes dealt with by a permanent tribunal. I believe in having them dealt with by tribunals constituted ad hoc for the special dispute to be dealt with, a system which has given a great deal of satisfaction in Great Britain. In war-time it is very undesirable to have important, new, difficult, and ever-changing problems dealt with by the Arbitration Court on principles and precedents developed in a leisurely peace-time. In the first place, there should never have been any modification of the principle that, where women are employed on men's work, they should receive the same rate of wage as the men. As there had to be a modification of the principle, and as a tribunal had to be established, it had to be specially created for the purpose and directed as to general principles by the legislature. That is what happened in connexion with the Women's Employment Board. I register most emphatically my protest against what I regard as a surrender of the principle that, where women are employed interchangeably with men, they should receive the same rate of wages as the men. To employ the women on a lower rate than the men is unfair to both the women and the men.

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