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Tuesday, 21 June 1904

Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) (Minister of External Affairs) . - There would appear to be a danger in the clause as it appears in the Bill. Although the clause says that the Court may fix the minimum wage, it insists upon the Court appointing a tribunal to fix a lower rate; the appointment of this tribunal is an imperative task on the Court in all cases. Therefore, if the minimum wage be fixed at 8s." per day, a tribunal may follow which will fix a rate at 7s., 6s., or 5s., as individuals, or the class of individuals concerned, may seem to warrant. There would appear to be a sort of contradiction in terms, if it is to be imperative that this tribunal shall be appointed ; if the appointment is to be within the discretion of the Court, that is another matter. A minimum wage, so far as I understand, means a wage which is regarded as fair, on the whole, tobe paid to the persons in a trade; and, under the amendment, if it appears that in that trade there are certain duties which can be performed by persons who are not able to earn, or ought not to be paid, the full amount, the Court may make certain arrangements in regard to such persons. Under the clause as it stands, it is imperative on the Court to appoint this tribunal. I will take as illustrations the trades mentioned by the Prime Minister. First of all, there are the shearers, for whom there is one rate of£1 fixed in New South Wales, a rate of 17s. 6d. in Victoria, and, I believe, a rate of£1 in South Australia,

Mr Watson - It is one price all over a State.

Mr HUGHES - In the State of Queensland the rate is also £1.


Mr Watson - It is a minimum rate.

Mr McCay - It is not a minimum rate of wages.

Mr Watson - It is remuneration - a minimum rate of wages or remuneration.

Mr HUGHES - The rate for seamen is fixed, and no man is paid under that rate. It is of no use talking about a second-rate seaman ; such a man ought not to go to sea.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are ordinary seamen.

Mr HUGHES - Ordinary seamen receive a minimum rate, and so do A.B.'s; but the rate for the latter is higher than that for the former. These distinctions are made by law as well as by custom. Wharf labourers receive1s. or1s. 3d. an hour, as the case may be, and no distinction is made in the case of individuals. When the matter was discussed in New South Wales, arguments were brought forward in which the services of individual men were contrasted ; but in that State it has not been found desirable to fix a second rate. In certain callings, however, the case is different. For instance, the minimum rate for painters was fixed at 1s. or1s.1d. per hour, with a minimum of lod. per hour for those unable to do the best work. But the painting trade permits of such distinctions being drawn. A man who can grain, or do dadoes, or stencilling, is much more valuable than a man who can do only plain brush-work ; the trade itself seems to indicate grades of excellence.

Mr Wilks - The trade makes its own classification.

Mr HUGHES - Practically that is so, and apart from piece-work, it is desirable in some trades to fix a second rate to provide for old men who otherwise would find no place at all. In shearing, each man has to do equal work, and, as in the case of the seamen, all are paid the same rate. Occasionally there may be an elderly man employed, but he is compelled to do the usual amount of work. The number of such persons in any occupation of the kind is infinitesimal, and to provide for them would be to lower, or to tend to lower, the average rate for the whole. Shearers, wharf labourers, and seamen represent the three principal industries ; but I do not deny for a moment that there are a number of trades, such as boot-making and tailoring, in which a second rate might with advantage be introduced. The amendment, however, ' covers all such cases. The amendment gives the Court power, if it think fit, to fix a lower rate, and it does this in a way for which the original clause does not provide. The amendment proposes that the Court may - . . . if it think fit, fix a lower rate (in the case of employees who are unable to earn the minimum rate so prescribed), or make provision for such a lower rate being fixed, in the manner and subject to the conditions specified in the award or order of the Court, or by some tribunal specified in the award or order.

It will be seen that there are .three ways by which such cases can be met under the amendment, as against the one way provided in the clause. The Court, according to the clause, may not fix the lower rate, but must appoint a tribunal to do so. Our experience is that in some cases it is best for the Court to fix the lower rate, while in other cases it is advisable to appoint a tribunal for that purpose. I should like to point out to the Committee two classes of cases, one in which it is desirable that the Court should . take action, and another in which it is desirable for a tribunal to be appointed. In the case of a trade which, as pointed out by the honorable member for Dalley, practically classifies itself, the Court may with safety fix the lower rate; as, for instance, in the painting trade, where a man who does a certain kind of work is paid is. an hour, while the man who does only plain brushwork is paid lod. But where there are occasional cases of old men, or men who cannot quite keep up to the pace, a tribunal is desirable, because it has to deal with individuals, and rare occurrences.

Mr Willis - What about a young man who is tired?

Mr HUGHES - A tribunal would be the best authority to deal with a tired man. I think the cases which have been cited as objections are much better met by the amendment than by the clause, the former giving, as I have already pointed out, three alternative ' methods, to be used as occasion may require. That is better than an imperative direction to take one course.

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