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Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - I support the amendment as being likely to make this legislation less objectionable, but even if we agree to it, the Bill will go a great deal further than the necessities of the position require. The further we proceed with our consideration of the Bill the more we appear to forget the conditions under which it was first proposed. We should remember, when dealing with the question of the common rule, that the wages and the hours of labour prevailing throughout the great bulk of the industries of the Commonwealth are based on' what experience has shown will allow a reasonable margin of profit to the employer, and that in nineteen cases out of twenty they are admitted to be fair by both employers and employes. Unfortunately, we find that in almost e-very industry there are exceptional cases. On the one hand, we may have a grasping employer, who desires to reap undue advantages at the expense of other employers, by calling upon his workers to do more than he should reasonably expect, while on the other we have in some cases employes who are unduly and unnecessarily aggressive. These elements have, on rare occasions, led to strikes and locks-out that have been productive of much evil, and with a view to cure that evil it was proposed that some measure of this kind should be introduced. The intention was that it should deal only with the particular cases in which the evil existed ; but we propose now to go further, and to establish new conditions based, not upon what experience has shown an industry can afford, but on the sweet will of that mysterious entity which we choose to call " the Court." The Court-means, after all, only one man, and, perhaps a very commonplace individual. I have no hesitation in saying that if we allow any one to recklessly alter the, conditions, based on experience of what the various industries can pay, that have grown up in Australia, we shall do far more harm than good. I have supported this Bill as earnestly as any one' to the extent that I think it necessary that it should go, in order to cure known evils, but I go no further. If . the Bill is allowed to go beyond that limit, it will probably result in the destruction of a number of industries, and the throwing of hundreds, and, perhaps, thousands, of persons out of employment. I am sorry to saythat, when we speak of the Court, some of us appear to be inclined to lose our heads. We seem to imagine that the Court will be endowed with superhuman intelligence, and will be able to do that which no human being has been able to satisfactorily perform - that it will be able to consider the intricacies of all trades, and to prescribe a remedy for every evil associated with them. Most of us have read of the way in which Sairey Gamp invested her mythical friend, " Mrs. Harris," with all the attributes of human excellence that her imagination could conjure up, and we remember how rudely her idol was shattered when Betsey Prig declared, on a memorable occasion, " I don't believe there's no sich person." If we could learn in advance of the name of the gentleman who will constitute the Court, should we have such confidence in his judg- ment as we seem at present to profess ? If we could speak of the Court as " Tom Jones," or by whatever is the name of the individual who is to constitute it, we should, perhaps, not have such unbounded: faith in it. There is very little doubt that we are all acquainted with the gentleman: who is to constitute the Court. If the Court were established in advance, we should know what we were doing, and should not speak of this tribunal with such bated breath, and in such termsof reverence as we do now. We should speak of the man who' constituted it as we knew him. The gentleman to be selected will probably have the confidence of almost every honorable member. I have no doubt that the most suitable man who can be selected for the position will be chosen ; but he will be only human, and if we knew exactly who he was to be, we should not be disposed any longer to regard him as being able to deal with all the evils that may arise. The duty of dealing with a known evil is very different from that of dealing with cases in which it will be necessary to establish entirely new conditions. It would be utterly impossible for any human being to establish new conditions not based on past experience. What will the Judge have to guide him unless it be the experience of that which already exists? If he is to take the casesalready existing in connexion with the various industries, there will be no necessity for a common rule. A common rule should apply only to exceptional cases. The rates of wages and hours of labour to be fixed should be those which at present prevail in the great majority of industries throughout the Commonwealth; but the exceptional cases in which unduly low wages are paid should be dealt with, and the wages raised to the standard of the others. I would not go so far as to say that men who, asthe result perhaps of having exceptionallygood management, are able to pay something more than the average rate, should be compelled, as they would be by the application of the common, rule, to reduce their wages to the rates ruling throughout the great bulk of the industries. That would not be fair. If those who conduct businesses that are exceptionally profitable find that they can pay high wages, Why should we not permit them to do so? Why should we step in and say, "After this; you must not pay more than a certain wage?" It is impossible to reduce any industry to one dead level. Every business man of experience knows that some persons pay the wages prevailing throughout the industry in which they are engaged, and perhaps make fortunes ; whilst others in the same line become bankrupt. Why attempt to level human nature when we know that it is not equal? Some employers can pay a good deal more then Others, and we should content ourselves with dealing with those cases in which unreasonably low wages are given. If we bring the wages paid in those cases up to the general average, we shall not require to apply any common rule; and instead of endeavouring to level an industry from end to end it will be necessary to deal only with the diseased portion of it. That is all I thought was intended when this Bill was introduced. I never imagined that it was proposed to do more than deal with the abuses that arise in every industry. The Wages Boards created tinder the Victorian Factories Act were appointed only to raise the wages in those branches of business in which unduly low rates were paid. Whilst I administered that Act I appointed more Wages Boards than did my predecessors, but in every case I first made a very careful investigation. The result of my investigations was that nineteen out of twenty, and I might even say ninety-nine out of every 100, were found to be paying fair wages, and their men admitted that they' did. But there were a few exceptional cases in each trade where individual employers paid absurdly low wages. My object in appointing Wages Boards was to bring the wages in those cases up to the ordinary or average level of wages paid by the other employers. There was never any intention on my part to pull down wages, as is proposed by the institution of this common rule. I think it is a mischievous interference with the generous employer who is doing well, and is prepared to pay more than the ruling wage. The operation of this common rule provision will prevent his doing so, and if he desires to do so, I ask, why we should not permit him to do so? Mr. Fisher. - He will be able to do so under this provision.

Mr McLEAN - He will not if we establish a common rule.

Mr Fisher - He can give as much more than the ruling wages as he pleases.

Mr McLEAN - Then to do so he will have to go behind the Act.

Mr Watson - No; it would be quite in conformity with the Act for him to give as much more than the wage fixed by the common rule as he pleases. That is done frequently in New South Wales. Wages much higher than those fixed by the Court are paid in some cases.

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