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Wednesday, 30 September 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (1:53 AM) . - In this debate honorable members on the Government side of the House have posed as champions of womanhood and have endeavoured to place members of the Opposition in the supposed position of exploiters of women. However, we can easily test their bona fides before examining this matter in detail. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), in his usual dramatic, emotional, and pathetic style, virtually wept on the shoulders of ali the women of the Newcastle district, and told the House that he was the champion of women's rights, doubtless in the expectation that, at the next elections, they will champion his cause. Let us examine the position in the district where the honorable member resides. There is a large steel f actory at Newcastle, and I assume that many of the honorable gentleman's constituents work in that factory. There are plenty of jobs in that establishment which could be well done by women, thus releasing men for other essential work. We are agreed that, where women can do the work of men in the present state of national emergency, they should be permitted to do so. In fact, it is the duty of the Government so to organize the man-power of the nation that women will take the places of men in industry, releasing them for jobs which they alone can do. However, I have yet to learn that any women are working in an industrial capacity, in the steelworks at Newcastle. Is it suggested that there are no women in that district capable of working in the factory ? There is a large munitions establishment at Lithgow in the electorate of Macquarie, which is represented by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley). I have been informed authoritatively that at least 800 men employed in that factory could be replaced by women, but that women are not employed because of union opposition to the proposal. I have also been informed on the highest authority that there is adequate accommodation available in the district for all of the women who could be employed. I have notified the Minister for Munitions of this position. I mention these facts in order to test the sincerity of the criticism which has been directed at the Opposition and to show that the unions are opposing the employment of women.

I refer now to the subject of wages for women. The Government should be foremost in upholding the principle that it has enunciated of equal pay for equal work. But the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has pointed out that members of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force under the age of 21 years, who have released men from Air Force establishments for more important jot>3, have had their pay reduced by 6d. a day by the present Government. This reduction is enforced irrespective of whether the members concerned are doing the same work as members over the age of 21 years. The reduction' was made only recently. I do not argue the merits of the case. I merely state what the Government has done.

Mr Curtin - How many times has the Arbitration Court fixed a wage for women under 21 years of age at the same rate as that paid to women over 21 years of age?

Mr ANTHONY - I am not disputing the merits of what the Government has done.

Mr.Curtin. - That is the weakness of the Opposition's case. It has no merit whatever.

Mr ANTHONY - Honorable members on the Government side of the House have charged the Opposition with not being agreeable to the payment of equal wages for equal work by the sexes. I say that the Government is not upholding that principle. That is demonstrated by the instance to which I have referred. The reduction of 6d. a day for minors serving in the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force is still effective.

Mr Pollard - It is not.

Mr ANTHONY - It was until recently. That raises another very important consideration. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) made a statement concerning a reduction of the living-out allowance paid to members of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) interjected that the Advisory War Council had agreed to that reduction.

Mr Curtin - The matter was never considered by the Advisory War Council.

Mr ANTHONY - I am glad to hear the Prime Minister say that. I was about to inquire how the honorable member for Ballarat had acquired the information, and by what oath of secrecy he was bound if he had imparted to him Advisory War Council decisions that were not available also to every other private member.

Mr Curtin - It is not. suggested that a member of the Advisory War Council made a statement?

Mr ANTHONY - The honorable member for Ballarat interjected when the honorable member for Indi was speaking that the Advisory War Council had made a certain decision, or that he understood that it had. The impression conveyed was that he knew what had happened at the council.

The merits or otherwise of the Women's Employment Board raises the whole subject of arbitration. Admittedly, the employment of women is a difficult problem for any government. Arbitration is a bulwark of our wage system. The question arises : Does the Government wish to retain the Arbitration Court? I remember an election that was fought many years ago on the retention of the arbitration system. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) defeated the then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, in his electorate on that very issue. The people of Australia overwhelmingly decided that the arbitration system as then established must stand. But the Women's EmploymentBoard strikes at the very foundations of that system, because frequently its awards are in direct conflict with those of the Arbitration Court. There are two types of individuals on the one job. An unskilled woman takes the place of a man, and the skilled woman is subject to an award of the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) mentioned cases which the Prime Minister should examine in order to understand the anomalies that are being created by the awards of the Women's Employment Board. He said that an unskilled woman who has just been appointed by the Sydney County Council is doing cleaning work. Her wage is £5 a week, and her senior, who for fifteen years has been working under award rates and conditions, receives £3 18s.

The Arbitration Court awarded a rate for the skilled woman, and her wages are pegged by a government decision. But the unskilled woman, who is her subordinate, receives £5 a week. Skilled ledgerkeepers and stenographers, who spent quite a long period studying for their avocations and burnt the midnight oil in order to make themselves competent, receive under an Arbitration Court award £3 10s. a week; yet an unskilled person who is doing menial work or work that does not require a particular degree of skill, receives 50 per cent. more.

Mr Curtin - The honorable member is arguing that the awards of the Arbitration Court are too low.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not arguing anything of the sort. My contention is that there cannot be these two conflicting determinations; there must be either the one or the other. If the design really be to destroy the Arbitration Court, or to sabotage its awards - sometimes that would appear to emerge from the comments of honorable members opposite - I congratulate the Government on its efficiency. Sabotage must be the result. Is it imagined that there will be contentment in industry when two persons are working alongside each other, one under an Arbitration Court award at £1 10s. or £2 a week less than another who is not working under an award?

Mr Curtin - Judge O'Mara said yesterday that there are six different rates for concrete mixers in New South Wales, all of them fixed by the Arbitration Court.

Mr ANTHONY - I agree that there is overlapping. But is the rough and ready justice that I mentioned the other day to be the solution? When the Arbitration Court delivers an award, it may make a mess of it, but it certainly does not make the continual mess that the awards of the Women's Employment Board will cause, not only to industry but also to the Government, which will have to stand up to the anomalies that will be created.

Mr Curtin - The honorable member knows that the Women's Employment Board does not fix the wage.

Mr ANTHONY - The Women's Employment Board fixes the wage according to the base rate of the man.

Mr Curtin - It does not; it. fixes the degree of efficiency of the woman relative to that of the man.

Mr ANTHONY - It takes into account what the man receives.

Mr Curtin - It does not; if has nothing to do with what the man receives.

Mr ANTHONY - The rate of wage is determined according to the percentage of efficiency of the woman relatively to that of the man, not according to the wages that are paid in other sections of industry under Arbitration Court awards. There will be thousands of anomalies. The Prime Minister has stated that the Women's Employment Board has acted very expeditiously. He gave instances in which decisions had been reached in a few days. A decision cannot be made in a very short period unless not much consideration has been given to the consequences of it. Delay in the Arbitration Court is caused by consideration of the implications of decisions. If an award be given to a particular industry, the Arbitration Court has to consider the effect on re lated industries, and that causes a good deal of delay. But the Women's Employment Board strikes a dead line at 60 per cent, or 70 per cent.; because there is no scientific method of determining exactly the efficiency of a woman relative to that of a man. The board makes a stab at it. Acting on that principle, any board could make a decision in a short period. The whole question does not revolve around whether or not honorable members on this side are in favour of the Women's Employment Board. We recognize the difficulties of the Government. The Government must take responsibility for whatever organization or agency it sets up for the determination of these matters. But when it puts forward a board which it asks the Opposition and the country to accept as an impartial tribunal, we are entitled to examine the personnel of that tribunal in order to determine whether or not it measures up to the claims that the Government makes on its behalf. In this case, Ave have to consider the appointees. A lot has been said about Miss Cashman. I do not know the lady; but from what I have heard of her, she seems to be a woman of integrity and character. Nobody on this side has disputed that. There have been no unfavorable comments in regard to her intelligence and ability. What has been challenged has been her fitness to act as an employers' representative, in view of the fact that she has never been an employer or associated with employing interests. On the contrary, the whole of her career has been spent on the opposite side of the fence. Therefore, it is the height of irony to ask anybody to accept her as a representative of interests which she could not possibly represent.

Mr Curtin - Does the honorable gentleman say that the largest employer - the Commonwealth - must not have a representative? The manager of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory is an employee of the Grown.

Mr ANTHONY - I agree that the Commonwealth should have a representative. But he should be known as the Commonwealth representative, and not as an employers' representative. Every government nominee on boards with which

I am acquainted is known as the Com monwealth representative. I have never previously heard of an individual being appointed supposedly to represent private interests, but in reality to represent the Commonwealth. If the desire were to appoint Miss Cashman as the representative of the Commonwealth, there would have been no complaint had it been stated that she represented the Commonwealth as an employer.

Mr Makin - In this case, the Commonwealth is the principal employer; and the decisions of the tribunal deal substantially with works that are under Commonwealth control.

Mr ANTHONY - There was nothing at any stage of these proceedings to prevent the Government from appointing whomever it liked as the Commonwealth representative. But to put up a wellknown union official supposedly as the representative of employing interests, without stating particularly that those employing interests were the interests of the Commonwealth, was to invite the strongest criticism from the Opposition. Had the same sort of thing been done by a government composed of honorable members who sit on this side of the House - had a representative been selected supposedly to represent union interests, from among those who had always opposed unions - there would have been the greatest outcry this House had heard.

Mr Curtin - An employer of labour was sent to Geneva to represent the Commonwealth. The Employers Association was asked to send another man as its representative. The employers' representative was W. C. Thomas, and I represented the employees. There were two bosses - one representing the Government and one representing the employers.

Mr ANTHONY -If the Prime Minister tries to make us believe that Miss Cashman was really appointed as the representative of the Government, he will meet with a lot of opposition from this side of the House. However, is this matter of the appointment of Miss Cashman to be made a vital issue ? In my opinion, it would be a tragedy to force an election at this time on anything that was not of vital importance. If the Government forces did that, the enemy would, no doubt, take full advantage of the distraction. If it is desired to have the benefit of MissCashman's services on the board, they can be had by appointing her, as the representative of the organizations with which she has been so long associated, namely, the industrial unions.

Mr Makin - What about the rights of the Commonwealth as an employer?

Mr ANTHONY - No one can deny that the board, with two union representatives and a government representative in the person of Miss Cashman, would be overloaded in favour of the union. I am not considering for the time being the findings of the board, but only its constitution, and I say that a tribunal, constituted as this one is, might be expected to be biased in favour of the employees. I do not know whether that bias will be exercised. Very often, when persons are appointed to tribunals of this kind, they disappoint their critics by discharging their duties impartially.

Mr Curtin - Does the honorable member say that, if the services of a woman on the board are to be secured, it is the duty of the unions to appoint her?

Mr ANTHONY - Seeing that so much has been said on the subject of women's employment, and equal pay for the sexes, it might have been expected that, of two union representatives, one of them would be a woman.

Mr Curtin - Would not the same argument apply in thecase of the employers' representatives?

Mr ANTHONY - Well, I would not object to that.

Mr Curtin - Then the Government, as an employer, would have the right to appoint a woman as its representative?

Mr ANTHONY - The Government can appoint anyone it chooses.

Mr Curtin - Provided it does not appoint Miss Cashman!

Mr ANTHONY - It has already appointed Miss Cashman as the supposed representative of the employers. Does the Government propose to stand by that appointment, or will it admit that she is, in fact, a representative of the unions?

Mr Curtin - Does not the honorable member think that Miss Cashman is as well qualified to represent the Commonwealth as she is to represent the unions?

Mr ANTHONY - -In respect of intelligence and experience, she might be well qualified to represent the employers, but having regard to her background, no one would be prepared to accept her as the representative of the employers, any more than the unions would be prepared to accept as their representative some one who had previously been secretary of the Employers Association. If the Government wishes to find a way out of this difficulty, all it has to do is to appoint Miss Cashman to the board as one of the representatives of the union, thus avoiding the possibility of an election. The threat of an election did not disconcert any one on this side of the House, but apparently it worried the Minister for Labour and National Service.

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