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Wednesday, 26 October 1949

Dr EVATT (Barton) (AttorneyGeneral and Minister for External Affairs) . - in reply - The honorable member for Bourke (Mrs.

Blackburn) has brought the debate to the crucial point. The only purpose of the bill is to deal with the difficulties that have been expressed by the judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The point made by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) was relevant. Between those two speeches we had an extraordinary speech from the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale). I do not suppose that 5 per cent, of what he said had the slightest relationship to the bill. He said that the system of conciliation .commissioners had caused trouble. The system of conciliation commissioners has nothing to do with the bill; but, since he has introduced the subject, I must reply to him. Prior to the introduction of the system of conciliation commissioners, the full bench of the court decided the basic wage and standard hours, and individual judges decided matters that were peculiar to various industries. The honorable member's attack on the system of conciliation commissioners was rebutted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in a recent speech. The honorable member for Parramatta also attacked Brigadier Blackburn, one of the conciliation commissioners, on a decision that he had made. That has nothing to " do with the bill before the House. Some one has apparently provided the honorable gentleman with a brief. He attacked Mr. Morrison, another distinguished conciliation commissioner. The honorable gentleman himself is a lawyer, but he claimed that there was too much legalism. He said that the closing of butchers' shops was not an industrial matter. That case has gone to the High Court, which will determine it. He apparently does not know that, since 1912, that matter has been .within the jurisdiction of the industrial authority in New South Wales. There has been expedition in handling industrial matters since the establishment of the system of conciliation commissioners. Chief Judge Kelly, whose report I tabled to-day, pays tribute to the conciliation commissioners in that report. The honorable member is not justified in making imputations against the conciliation commissioners. Tributes have been paid to them by employers and employees alike. One honorable member paid a high tribute to the conciliation commissioner who deals with industrial matters connected with the pastoral industry. What is required is not so much legalism as a determination to hear the facts fairly and give an impartial decision. That is what is being done. I apologize to the House for having said all that, but, as the remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta have been recorded in Hansard, it is right that I should also record my reply. The recent report of the Chief Judge negatives all that the honorable member has said on that matter.

Mr Ward - Lots of people do not know that the honorable member for Parramatta is unbalanced.

Dr EVATT - The honorable member for Parramatta knows very well that what he had to say has nothing to do with the bill. The term " basic wage " was included in a Commonwealth statute after the first world war. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) has an unequalled knowledge of this subject. I remind honorable members that Mr. Justice Higgins, in the Harvester judgment, said -

The test to be applied in ascertaining what are fair and reasonable conditions of remuneration of labour, under the Excise Tariff 1906, is, in the case of unskilled labourers - what are the normal needs of the average employee regarded as a human being living in a civilized community?

The wage was called the " basic wage " and,, sometimes, the "living wage". There were other synonyms, but every one knew what the term meant. It meant that, irrespective of the industry and irrespective of the job in the industry, there was an irreducible minimum below which payment might not be made. After the first world war, it was laid down that the alteration of the basic wage must be determined by three judges, not one judge, but when the question of the female rate came up recently for consideration, various views were expressed by the court. I shall not repeat them. I stated them in my secondreading speech, and they are included in the reports that I have circulated. The fact is that it is impossible in these circumstances not to yield to the request, of the judges that we should state quite precisely that the court has power to fix a foundation or basic wage for adult female workers as is done in the case of males. That involves two branches of the same point. In this bill we have made the necessary classification. We depart from the phrase "female minimum rate " and use the same term as is used in respect of the adult male wage.

The answer to the honorable member for Bourke is that the action proposed in this bill is, I believe, what the judges wish to be done. I reach that conclusion on the basis of their remarks in open court. The amendment says to the court, in effect, that irrespective of the particular job that a woman is doing in an industry and irrespective of the particular industry in which she is engaged, she should, as an adult female worker, be entitled to a certain wage which will be above and beyond all considerations of her particular job in any particular industry. That has always been the accepted approach to the problem of the fixation of the basic wage. I consider that the bill meets the difficulty that has arisen.

That brings me to the point raised by the honorable member for Fawkner. It is now apparent from the Chief Judge's report, which was also circulated this morning, that differing opinions have been advanced regarding the meaning of the term " basic wage ". The Chief Judge said, for instance, that certain elements in wages would be included in the basic wage. We have attempted to clear that matter up in the case of both males and females separately in the proposed amendments to sections 13 and 25 that have been, circulated. What we have done is to put in plain English the declaration of principle which runs through all these decisions and is included in the Harvester judgment, but we do not amend the law on it. The Government has never thought the law meant anything else but that the basic wage meant, as is stated in the amendments -

.   . that wage, or that part of a wage, which is just and reasonable for an adult male, without regard to any circumstance pertaining to the work upon which, or the industry in which, he is employed.

That phrase is taken from the Harvester judgment. That is to say a person is considered as an adult male or female worker irrespective of the type of employment in which he or she is engaged. Mr. Justice Higgins said that an individual, irrespective of the circumstances of his industry or classification or job, was entitled to a minimum wage below which no employer would be permitted to pay. That is the meaning of the declaration. I prefer to call it a declaration rather than a definition, although it is the same thing.

Margins for skill, special industry loadings and locality allowances are not part of the basic wage. The honorable member for Parramatta wants all those matters thrown into the jurisdiction of the full court. To do so would be to make conciliation and arbitration utterly impossible. They are at present outside the jurisdiction of the full court and in the view of the Government and, I think, of all those who have gone most closely into this matter, they have always been outside its jurisdiction. But the prosperity loading is of a different character. The prosperity of a country is relevant to the adult male or female minimum wage because the general state of prosperity of a country cannot be ignored when the basic or foundational wage is being fixed.

Mr Holt - The war loading would have to be treated as a special industry allowance.

Dr EVATT - The honorable gentleman knows that it was so treated. It was not an addition or subtraction in respect of work carried out through the whole field of industry. It was a loading in respect of a particular industry or groups of industries. The prosperity loading only would be included'.

Mr Holt - The Minister will appreciate that I am not challenging his interpretation of the matter, but that I consider that it makes the problem of coordination more important than possibly has been thought to he the case in the past.

Dr EVATT - Co-ordination as between the conciliation commissioners. I appreciate the point made by the honor able member. It is not dealt with in this bill. The honorable member's point is that there may be conflicting decisions by different conciliation commissioners. It is extremely important that there should be co-ordination in order to prevent anomalies arising in consequence of one commissioner taking a different view from that of other commissioners. The way in which that is dealt with, as the House knows, is by consultation individually amongst the commissioners and by a greater degree of consultation between the commissioners as a group, and especially between the chief commissioner as their representative, and the Chief Judge. In general, I do not dispute that proposition, but in the early days of a system like this difficulties in administration arise that have to be met as they arise and as new circumstances develop. I ask the House to look at the matter from the point of view expressed in the chief judge's report. One can sense in that report a feeling that cooperation between the commissioners has increased, and I know in fact that such conferences as I have mentioned are held.

One of the few sound' observations from the honorable member for Parramatta was that there should be general consultation, in other words conciliation, between the parties to a dispute. That is the main purpose of the conciliation commissioners. For every one argument or issue determined by them -against the will of any of the parties there are probably twenty that are determined by consent awards.

In answer to the honorable member for Bourke, I can say that no one would have thought, it possible that the use of the term " basic wage " could have caused such difficulties as have become apparent. But it has done so, and the judges, in open court and the Chief Judge in his report, have asked that the matter be clarified and declared. We have done that through the Parliament. Similarly with regard to the definition of what is the true minimum for females, we have identified it with a basic wage for adult females.

One final point is in relation to a matter raised by the honorable member for Fawkner. It is true, as he pointed out, that in probably no industry to-day would one find a case of the wage rate paid to an adult being merely the basic wage. I think that that is due to a fact that is recognized more to-day than used to be the case. That fact is that every worker inan industry must exhibit some industrial skill or adaptability. For that reason there is no cause for astonishment in the fact that workers in industry are receiving rates of pay that are higher than the basic wage. At one time it was believed that the labourer did not bring skill to his job, but we know now that skill is involved in many kinds of labour that were previously regarded as unskilled. I think that there is a growing recognition of that fact.

I repeat that the bill makes it clear that the phrase " minimum rates for females" is to be regarded as meaning the female basic wage, in the same way as the male basic wage is regarded as the male minimum wage. The judges of the court have asked for that to be done. We have included in the amendments that have been circulated a declaration by way of definition that the basic wage is as described. We have tried to put it into the language of the Harvester award and the language of the High Court of Australia in the Australian Workers Union case. I think that the declaration will meet the particular difficulties that the judges considered should be cleared up, and will clear the way for a determination of the case now before the court without any loss of time, because the evidence for that case has been gathered and we do not wish the court to be delayed in its consideration of that evidence through any failure of the legislature to meet the wishes of the judges.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee :

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 -

Section thirteen of the Principal Act is amended -

(a)   by inserting in paragraph (b), after the word "wage", the words "for adult males " ; and

(b)   by omitting from paragraph (d) the words " minimum rate of remuneration for adult females in an industry " and inserting in their stead the words " basic wage for adult females or the principles upon which it is computed ".

Section proposed to be amended -

13.   A Conciliation Commissioner shall not be empowered to make an order or award altering -

(b)   the basic wage or the principles upon which it is computed;

(d)   the minimum rate of remuneration for adult females in an industry.

Amendments (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -

That, in paragraph (a), after the word "males", the following words be inserted: - " (that is to say, that wage, or that part of a wage, which is just and reasonable for an adult male, without regard to any circumstance pertaining to the work upon which, or the industry in which, he is employed) ".

That, in paragraph (b), after the word " females ", second occurring, the following words be inserted: - " (that is to say, that wage, or that part of a wage, which is just and reasonable for an adult female, without regard to any circumstance pertaining to the work upon which, or the industry in which, she is employed) ".

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 consequentially amended and, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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