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Wednesday, 19 May 1915

Mr HANNAN (Fawkner) .- I would direct the attention of the Assistant Minister of Defence to rates of wages operating in other branches of the Department. The other day I read a newspaper article in which the writer took exception to a movement on the part_ of certain trade organizations for increasing their wages, though their request was, in my opinion, a reasonable one. Certainly I think that this Parliament should do justice to those who are employed by the Departments of Government. The Defence Department and other Departments are getting a great deal of work done by contractors.

Mr Joseph Cook - Honorable members opposite will not have their work done by Government.

Mr HANNAN - This Government, I understand, is prepared to do all the work that it can, where it has the necessary facilities, but the war came upon us so suddenly, and has made such heavy demands, that the Government have been compelled to get much of its work done by private firms.

Mr Joseph Cook - When it could get work done by a State Government, it preferred to employ a contractor.

Mr HANNAN - The honorable member refers to -the fitting up of certain transports. In connexion with that work, this Government claimed only the right that private individuals enjoy - that of enforcing the conditions inserted in contracts.

Mr Joseph Cook - So long as the "fat" contractor will pay good wages, honorable members do not care what monopoly he may have.

Mr HANNAN - This Government gave certain work to a State Government to perform, but the latter failed to comply with the conditions imposed on it, and the Commonwealth Government was therefore justified in taking the work from it, and arranging for it to be performed under its own supervision.

Mr Sampson - Does it not conflict with the socialistic ideal to hand over Government work to private enterprise?

Mr HANNAN - I do not object to contractors doing certain work, if they give fair and reasonable conditions to their employes, and make only a fair and reasonable profit, but I object to the exploiting of the community by contractors who pay less than a living wage.

Mr Joseph Cook - So do we all.

Mr HANNAN - A number of men are to-day employed on work which is being done for the Defence Department, and are getting only 8s. a day, which, taking into consideration the cost of livingj is not a living wage. I am not very desirous of giving increases to men whose salaries range from £600 to £1,000 a year, but I feel that no man who is directly or indirectly employed by the Government should be paid less than 9s. a day for his labour.

Mr Jensen -What men are receiving only 8s. a day?

Mr HANNAN - At least 150 men are employed at a place on the Yarra Bank, on work which is being done for the Defence Department, and for which they receive only 8s. a day, which, under existing conditions, is not a fair and reasonable wage, especially when the nature of their work is considered. I have been interested in this matter for some weeks, and have obtained a promise from the Minister that Ss. 6d. shall be paid; but, in roy opinion, 9s. is the least that should be given. To-day I have learned that the majority of the men still receive only 8s.

Mr Jensen - What work are they doing ?

Mr HANNAN - They are employed in making bits and stirrups, with which the firm of Robertson Brothers is supplying the Defence Department. The Government, in letting contracts, should compel the contractor to give fair and reasonable conditions.

Mr Spence - Is there no Wages Board award fixing the rates of pay for those engaged in the class of work which these men are now doing?

Mr HANNAN - I do not expect this Government to be guided by the decisions of Wages Boards, many of which have fixed rates of 7s., 7s. 6d., and 8s. a day. I desire that it shall be a condition of all our Government contracts that a living wage shall be paid. Many of the rates prescribed by Wages Boards and other authorities are not sufficient to give a fair return for the labour performed. I wish the Minister to give this matter his earnest consideration, with a view to fixing the wages of these men at 9s. a day, at least.

Mr Poynton - That cannot be done if they are in the employ of a contractor.

Mr HANNAN - If the contractor is at liberty under his contract to pay 7s. 6d. or Ss. a day, the Government should make up the difference between that rate and what would be a fair living wage.

Mr Yates - The honorable member asks that a minimum shall be fixed?

Mr HANNAN - Yes, and that it shall be not less than 9s. a day. A man cannot do justice to his wife and children on. less than 9s. a day, and if we are to look to any one to provide in conditions of contract for the payment of a fairly good wage, we should certainly look to a Labour Government to do so. Even prior to this contract that I have mentioned, a successful tenderer for Defence Department work had men in hia employment doing work for the Department and receiving 7 s. a day. Though certain employers may attempt to justify the payment of such wages, no Government, Liberal or Labour, can justify the letting of tenders to individuals paying them.

Dr Carty Salmon - It would be contrary to a resolution of this Parliament, which, in its first session, passed a motion with regard to the provision of a minimum rate of wage in all contracts.

Mr HANNAN - The Government are acting in accordance with a resolution of the House that the legal rates operating must be the minimum rates observed in Government contracts; but the legal rates in Victoria for unskilled workers run from 7s. to8s. 6d., and I desire the Government to rise above these rates and insert in their contracts the condition that no man shall receive less than 9s. a day. That would be doing nothing more than justice to a large body of workers who are bearing their share of the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship in this country.

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