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Tuesday, 21 June 1904

Mr McCAY (Corinella) - In Victoria we have had a good deal of experience of this matter in connexion with the numerousWages Boards which have been appointed. Notwithstanding the good those Boardshave done, one thing became apparent assoon as we had experience of their work. That was the necessity for making provision for what in Victorian politics was colloquially termed " the old or slow worker." That was the point of attack on which those who disapprove Qf Wages Boards legislation continually launched their efforts. I do not care what the pay may be; it seems inevitable that, wherever the rate is time rate, and not piece-work rate, a provision of this kind must appear. The individual case is almost invariably the case that has to be considered, and not the case of a class ; the provision does not seem tome to be aimed at a class. The cases referred to by the Minister of External Affairs, in justification of the amendment as compared with the clause, seem to me such as could be met by a proper classification of work, and not of workmen,, in the award.

Mr Watson - The Court would have to appoint a tribunal under the clause of the Bill.

Mr McCAY - Because, so far as wages, as contrasted with piece-work payments, are concerned, whatever rate of wages may be fixed there will be found men who: through age or inborn slowness, without any fault on their part, are unable to keep up and* earn the current minimum rate. Undoubtedly that has been the experience in Victoria.

Mr Watson - No one objects to that;, but does not the honorable and learned member see that in respect of remuneration which is not wages, but piece-work payment, the duty is cast on the Court under the Bill as originally drafted, of erecting a tribunal to do something which will never be required?

Mr McCAY - If " remuneration ' ' bears that meaning, I cannot understand how piecework rate can be affected by that particular question. But if that be a sound objection, it is not met by the amendment. It should be met in another way, by making it clear, if necessary, that it applies to wages rates as contrasted with piece-work rates. It should be a compulsory accompaniment to the fixing of a minimum wage to have in existence some tribunal to deal with the cases of those who are not able to earn that rate. I do not think we should allow the charge to be made, with any appearance of justification, against any legislation of this kind that it means the extinction, as far as trade is concerned, of the old or slow worker. In his remarks the Minister of External Affairs almost said that it did, and ought to mean that. I was very much surprised to hear him speak in that way. Possibly he did not intend his words to convey' the full meaning which was conveyed to my mind, when he said that there were some trades in which the old and slow workers ought not to work, but ought to go out and make room for younger and more vigorous men. I do not agree with that spirit of legislation. Youth has quite enough advantages, and age quite enough disadvantages, without our accentuating them bv our legislation, if it can be possibly helped. So far as I am able to judge, the Bill is more wisely drafted in this respect than is the amendment. I believe in the principle of a minimum wage ; but there are very weighty and powerful arguments which can be adduced against it.

Mr Watson - The Court cannot settle disputes without having the power to prescribe rates.

Mr McCAY - I know that; but, quite apart" from that fact, I have always supported the principle. We should proclaim, not only to the Court, but to all concerned in Australian industry, that while we empower the Court to prescribe a minimum rate of wage in proper cases, it is accompanied with the compulsory order that it shall always have in existence a tribunal to provide for the special cases. The amendment provides that the Court mav. if it think fit, fix a lower rate. The Minister of External Affairs talked of contradictions in terms in the Bill as it stands. But is there not a much bigger contradiction in terms in the amendment?

Mr Hughes - I said when it was imperative it was a contradiction.

Mr McCAY - The amendment reads -

And, if it think fit, fix a lower rate (in the case of employees who are unable to earn the minimum rate so prescribed).

What does that mean?

Mr Hughes - If the case should call for it.

Mr McCAY - If it said that the Court may fix an average rate, and in cases where it cannot be earned a lower rate, it would be comprehensible.

Mr Watson - It is just the same in the Bill.

Mr McCAY - The Bill specifically draws attention to the fact that .the. lower rate is a rate practically for specific cases.

Mr Watson - And so does the other.

Mr McCAY - I do not think so. At any rate there is a second alternative. In its award the Court cannot fix a lower rate for specific cases. That is the difference between the amendment and the Bill. The Bill says the Court has to appoint a tribunal which is to fix the lower rate when the case arises, but the amendment says that the Court is to fix a lower rate without, perhaps, having the circumstances of the individual cases before it.

Mr Watson - No; it says that the Court may do that, or may refer the matter to a tribunal.

Mr McCAY - I am speaking of the possibility. The Court is authorized to fix a lower rate than the minimum rate that is to apply in cases which are practically undefined, before it is aware of whether the circumstances will justify it or not. Is the Court to say that the- minimum rate is is., but that only iod. may be paid in the case of employe's who cannot earn the shilling. That makes the minimum rate iod., and not is.

Mr Hughes - That is not usually understood. A trade classifies itself - for instance, where a- man can do only plain work he gets so much.

Mr McCAY - The Court can attend to that matter without this amendment; in its award it can classify the work.

Mr Hughes - Quite so; but the honorable and learned member says that it must erect the tribunal without knowing the requirements.

Mr McCAY - Whatever rate is fixed, people will be found who cannot earn the rate to the profit of the employer.

Mr Watson - There are some industries in which those people who cannot earn the amount never go, because it is useless for them to apply under present conditions.

Mr McCAY - This Bill will not help them to apply. The Prime Minister means that the tribunal may be erected in industries in which no one will ever apply for permission to work at a lower rate. In that case the tribunal will certainly do no harm, if it does no good; but, by leaving the Bill as it stands, we make a public proclamation that we recognise that these cases may arise, and that wherever they arise the tribunal is available for them. It is not for the Court to say that, even although the course of business has been that these cases have not arisen up to the present, they will not arise. This is a kind of alteration which does no specific good, but gives a reason for dissatisfaction with the Bill, perhaps unjustifiably. It is an amendment which, at the very best, simply saves the creation of a tribunal occasionally when it is never going to act. There is no harm in having a tribunal which is never going to act. What do we lose in exchange for this problematical gain ? We lose a legislative declaration that we admit the cases of old and slow workers, and are determined to provide for them on all occasions when they can possibly arise. I would urge the Government to leave paragraph a as it stands. They have little to gain - it may not be that they have much to lose- but they have something to lose by taking away the compulsory character of the tribunal, because they give an opportunity to persons for saying that circumstances may arise in which, to almost quote the language of the Minister of External Affairs, these old and slow workers had better stay out of the industry, instead of trying to get work in it.

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