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Tuesday, 2 April 1968

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) (Minister for Shipping and Transport) - I do not think the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) has really taken much account of the motion that the Opposition has moved. The question is not whether women are entitled to an improved status in our community, not whether we think that women as individuals are capable of performing a competent role, not as to the relative capacities of men as against women but as to whether or not the Commonwealth Government should take the initiative in changing the pay status of female employees in the Commonwealth Public Service and Commonwealth instrumentalities and of other females employed under Federal awards. In other words, the subject is not as to just who and what are females nor as to the task they might pursue but whether or not the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Parliament should usurp what is accepted in Australia as the principal responsibility of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. By virtue of our Constitution we have in Australia a well established practice and principle which enables us to judge issues not just on their political merits but on the actual facts and circumstances as they are presented by all persons interested, through the dispassionate atmosphere of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the arbitration courts or the appropriate conciliation and arbitration machinery which is available in the States.

There are many problems relative to the implementation of equal pay. I do not know whether the honourable member for Wills and honourable members opposite would be prepared to present the case that they have presented tonight and on previous occasions in this Parliament, in the proper place, which is before the arbitration courts or in the Commission, where the procedural opportunities are available. In fact, this seems to have developed rather into a debate as to opportunities for women in our community. I think each and every one of us is very concerned that there should continue to be increasing opportunities for females in the work force. For many years those of us in country areas have been greatly appreciative of the tremendous effort that has been put into the development of our primary production sources and also the maintenance of our rural estates. Indeed, the worth of women on the . land has been recognised by an increasing sharing of the enterprise by farmers and people in rural areas. But one of the difficulties in our community is to ensure that there is adequate recognition by both workers and employers. I think this is one of the real difficulties that we must be prepared to face in our community before there is an agreed acceptance by all sections that there is an opportunity for what the Opposition is asking tonight. Professor J. E. Isaac, in a recent book entitled 'Wage and Productivity', said:

The choice before the community is whether to apply the policy of equal pay for the sexes directly by wage policy; or to create the circumstances in which equal pay will be achieved through the forces of the market by the progressive disappearance of social barriers in the employment of women.

I contend that in our community there is a need for us to remove these social barriers progressively. In an area of ministerial responsibility in which I have had some connection during the last 3 years I have found that one of the main areas of difficulty has been in respect of opportunities for the employment of civilian widows. Unfortunately there are very few jobs available in the work force in which a married woman is able to work from 9.30 a.m. until 4 p.m., or for the hours during which her child or children are at school. This is an area in which there is a greater need for recognition by all sections of the Australian community before there will be a complete opportunity for recognition by the courts that there is a need for equal pay. At the same time there has been a considerable move in relation to employment of married and single women

It is interesting to note that these work opportunities exist principally in New South Wales and Victoria. The 1961 census tabulations are the latest figures that I have available, and they show that 69.3% of the female work force lived in New South Wales and Victoria compared with 65.7% of the male work force. Largely as a result of the concentration of those categories of industry within which work opportunities exist for females, this tendency has been inclined to be accelerated. Beyond this, there is also the problem of the age distribution of females in the work force. In 1961 about one quarter of all working women were under the age of 20 years, about 40% were under the age of 25 years. The substantial withdrawals from the work force occur between the ages of 25 and 35 years. There is a need in our community for greater recognition of the difficulties facing women 35 years of age who come back into the work force after their families have grown up. It is not sufficient that employers create opportunities. It is necessary for those who are unionists - those who are workers in the various factories and other enterprises - to recognise that if they create the opportunities then there will be greater employment in the future. I regard this as one of the major necessities if there is to be an achievement of equal pay in the work force.

There are consequences to male employees, as members of the trade union movement are only too well aware. There is the difficulty of the substantial impact that equal pay might have on the wages of males; there is the difficulty of the possible effect on the employment of women and opportunities for women in the work force; and there is the difficulty that if the position is established where women and men get equal pay, whenever there is a wage increase it must cost so much more according to the number of women in the work force. I contend that all of those things should properly not be argued in this arena but in the arena of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It is interesting to note that in the national wage case in 1967, although equal pay in the sense that we are discussing it now was not considered, a statement was made in relation to female wages which I suggest indicates to those who are genuinely interested in equal pay that the Commissioners are quite prepared to look at the concept and to have it argued before the Commission. The Commission stated:

We have on this occasion deliberately awarded the same increase to adult females and adult males. The recent Clothing Trades decision affirmed the concept of equal margins for adult males and females doing equal work. The extension of that concept to the total wage would involve economic and industrial sequels and calls for thorough investigation and debate in which a policy of gradual implementation could be considered. To a lesser extent the same may be said about the abolition of locality differentials. We invite the unions, the employers and the Commonwealth to give careful study to these questions with the knowledge that the Commission is available to assist by conciliation or arbitration in the resolution of these problems.

Therefore there is already not only the procedure available ito those who would wish to put the argument for equal pay, but there is also an expressed intention by the Commission that it is prepared to examine the case and to listen to the arguments. Accordingly, I contend that the Opposition should create more of an adequate opportunity for the implementation of the principles which it says it supports, by presenting with the full force that it has at its command a similar argument to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission as it has presented here tonight. Then one might see how genuine the Opposition is in its endeavour to secure equal pay for women for work of equal value.

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