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Tuesday, 21 June 1904

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot admit that the argument of the Minister of External Affairs impressed me when he made the distinction between the paragraph and the amendment that the one seems to indicate that the minimum wage shall not be the minimum wage, whilst the other does not.

Mr Watson - They are both faulty in that respect.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think if there is any indication of that fact it is in both provisions. But I do see the need of a provision such as both the clause and the amendment contain. One of the great difficulties about legislation such as we have had of late years - and some of it has been in some ways useful legislation - has been that the less fit have been going to the wall more and more every day. This legislation, however beneficial its objects may be, and even if in some cases its result is good, means that when the remuneration is fixed by law, only the man who can give a return for the remuneration will receive employment.

Mr Hutchison - That has not been the case in Victoria with the Wages Boards.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Where a minimum wage has been fixed without any power of reducing that wage, it has been and must be.

Mr Tudor - In Victoria they have power to give special permits.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Wherever there is no power it leads to the injury of those who are less fitted than their fellows to perform the work, and some provision is necessary. The amendment provides that the Court may fix the reduction from the minimum. I do not see very well how it will be able to do that unless it inquires into individual cases.

Mr Watson - It may delegate its authority, though I do not think that it will be clone very often.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not see how it can. I can quite see that it may exercise power, as the Minister of Externa] Affairs stated. In the case of painters, for instance, the Court may allow so much for the better-class workmen, such as grainers, and so much for the other workers ; but it can do so under the Bill as it stands.

Mr Watson - As part of the award.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It can subdivide the award according to the grades recognised in the trade; but, as regards fixing a minimum award for those who are less fit, I think that the Court would very seldom be found doing so, and, if it did, it would have its hands full all the time.

Mr Watson - But the amendment goes further ; it gives the Court power to delegate that authority if it thinks fit.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It empowers the Court, if it thinks fit, to delegate that authority to some other body or tribunal, while the Bill itself simply says' that there shall be a tribunal in connexion with each trade. That tribunal, I suppose, would consist of persons interested in the trade - employers and employes - who would decide according to evidence brought before them, and who might give exemptions, such as is done under the Victorian system, to men to work for a lower wage. I do not like a multiplicity of tribunals, but I think it is better that the wages should be fixed by a tribunal which has been considering the trade from day to day, and is acquainted with new improvements and inventions, and is likely to keep its policy in line, and so provide against an inequality of decisions, rather than by a body, differently composed from time to time, and not following a certain line of decisions. I think that under these circumstances the provision in the Bill is better than' that in the amendment. Ministers even might see that. The option given to the Court is hardly ever likely to be exercised, but if we appoint some body to whom its powers are delegated, it is better that we should appoint a permanent body,, a bodv named for the purpose, though not necessarily paid, whose members would have the whole position of the trade before their eyes, and could, therefore, give much more equal and much fairer decisions than are to be expected from some occasional body to which the Court might choose to refer its decisions. I quite recognise, that the intention of the Prime Minister is a good one. He does not wish to have so many tribunals.

Mr Watson - It seems to me that the clause as it stands provides for the creation of unnecessary tribunals. Seamen, wharf labourers, and others would not be affected.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the case of wharf labourers and others, the amendment involves the exclusion of those less able to work.

Mr Watson - That is an unfortunate feature of the calling, with which no Court can interfere.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the case of sailors it does not make the same difference, because the great bulk of sailors' work is such as not to need the full powers of an active man.

Mr Watson - There has been a minimum rate on the coast as long as there has been a union, without the Court interfering.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would prefer the clause as it stands, with a provision that the tribunal be only appointed on the application of one of the parties to the dispute. In connexion with the different trades, there might be a tribunal appointed - not necessarily paid - consisting of persons connected with the business affected, and these tribunals should have all the cases which are bound to arise referred to them.

Mr WATSON - The only object the Government had in proposing the amendment was to prevent the unnecessary duplication of tribunals. I do not consider that the clause, as it stands, can do harm, bevond providing conditions that are useless. The mere fact of compelling the Court to erect a tribunal in respect to a dispute arising, say, in connexion with the shipping industry, would do no injury to the parties concerned, because they simply would not take advantage of it, but it seems unwise to provide for the creation of bodies for which there will be no work, because of the conditions prevailing in the calling in connexion with which the dispute arises.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would it not be well to amend the clause, so as to provide for the establishment of these tribunals upon the application of either party ?

Mr WATSON - That would do very well, and I am willing to withdraw my amendment to permit of the moving of an amendment which will have that effect.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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