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Wednesday, 3 July 1901
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Senator HIGGS (Queensland) - I have very much pleasure in supporting Senator Sir Frederick Sargood in bringing forward this proposition.


Senator Fraser - Not Senator Sargood.


Senator HIGGS - There are so many amendments in his name that I must be forgivenif I have made a mistake. The Postmaster-General objects to the practicability of the proposal, and says the employes who do the work will not be our employes. That is only a quibble, because the work will be our work, and will only be done by contract, because it is convenient to have it done in that way.


Senator Drake - The crew of a ship?


Senator HIGGS - The amendment asks that the trades union rate of wages shall be paid, and if we are to carry out the proposal which Senator Glassey is to make shortly, that subsidized mail boats shall be manned by white crews, why cannot we also say that the steam-ship companies to carry our mails shall pay a reasonable rate of wages, whatever that may be, as decided by the seamen's unions. The firm of Cobb and Co. has been mentioned, and the question has been asked whether we are to fix the rate of wages of the drivers. When I came to Melbourne I was very much astonished to find a milkmen's union, because that is a most unusual union, «ind there is no reason to suppose that we should not have a union of Cobb and Go's, drivers, who would decide among themselves what was a fair rate to be paid for their work.


Senator PLAYFORD - And of Members of Parliament to increase their salaries.


Senator HIGGS - Members of Parliament are generally to be found looking well after themselves, and since they are so prone to look after their own comfort, they ought to endeavour as far as possible to look after the comfort of the taxpayers, and to see that 'a taxpayer who has to carry the mails or to do work in connexion with their contracts, receives a living rate of wages, and is called upon to work only a reasonable number of hours. Where it is not practicable then of course the PostmasterGeneral cannot do . what Senator Pearce has asked. But in the case of the manufacture of uniforms, which will crop up in the principal towns-


Senator Glassey - And the erection of buildings and the laying down of telegraph wires.


Senator HIGGS - Tn the case' of the manufacture of uniforms, what is likely to happen in the absence of a provision of this kind ? Certain contractors will tender for the work. The majority of them will be fair-minded men, and will be quite willing to pay a fair rate of wages. The unscrupulous man, knowing that he will cut down the rate of wages, will tender at a low price and will probably get the contract, and will have the uniforms made at a sweating rate of wages.


Senator Drake - We .want a Factories Act to cure that.


Senator HIGGS - There is no reason why we should not introduce the provision in the Post and Telegraph Bill. At the present rate of - progress in Queensland we shall have to wait for many years before we ' have any hope of getting a minimum wage law from the present Ministerial party, and in Western Australia they may have towait for many years before the rule of thesix: families passes away. I cannot see where there is any objection to this provision. ' It is wanted not only in connexion with the manufacture of uniforms, and the use of white crews, but also in the construction of telegraph lines and in connexion with, line repairers. The Public Service Bill will contain a schedule of the wages to be paid throughout the public service, and so why cannot the Postmaster-General decide in. connexion with contracts for constructing telegraph lines what rate of wages shall be paid by the contractor? I hope that * honorable senators will not raise too many obstacles by saying - "We express the greatest sympathy with the endeavours of those who desire to benefit these people, but we are npt going to do it here ; let us put it in some Factories Act in some State," because we may have to wait 25 years to get such a law- in some of the States unless they wake up and follow the example of Victoria.

Senator McGREGOR(South Australia). - I. am very pleased that an opportunity of this description has arisen to afford time for consideration, and also to give those honorable senators who are so fond of preaching to put into practice a little of that precept which they advocate so much. It has been said by some honorable senators that they haveas much sympathy with the working men as- t has the labour party or its leader, or anybody else. I do not deny that. Probably they have as much sympathy as the othersBut then, so far as this discussion has gone,, their sympathy is not of a very practicabledescription. Even the Postmaster-General has a great deal of sympathy. Undoubtedly we believe that he feels that sympathy, but when he stated that he was sympathetic, he immediately began to put out a greatmany obstacles that were in the way of its. realization. Senator Harney, too, is in entiresympathy with the proposal. In fact he= has more sympathy than any of us here whooccupy this corner, and he is- better capable of judging as to what would be really beneficial to the people whom we are here especially to represent. Although we consider thatwe are as good representatives of all sectionsof the community as any one here, yet the very name we bear gives us a special claim lathe representation of the working classes..


Senator Drake - I do not see that at all.


Senator McGREGOR - Well I see it, and it does not matter what other honorable senators see. I do not see very well according to the opinion of some persons, and yet I see that very clearly. Senator Harney has expressed himself just in the same way. They are all in sympathy ; they all believe in the principle ; -but they do not know how it can be carried out. I shall tell Senator Harney how it can be carried out. Supposing he wanted a suit of clothes, and he was in a town where there was no trades union, where the poor unfortunate tailoresses had to work the eyes out of their heads and the fingers off their hands to earn a living, and their employer did not care whether they earned it or not. Supposing he went to one of these business places and said - "I want to contract with you to make me a suit of clothes." The first thing he would do would be to select a nice pattern of good material, and then to tell him that he wanted it well made, and above all things he would say - " If you want to take this job from me I have to get an assurance from you that you are going to pay the unfortunate girls who will make this suit of clothes a living wage."


Senator Drake - Would he appoint an inspector to see that it was carried out ?


Senator MCGREGOR - I shall talk about inspectors to the Postmaster-General before I am finished. In this instance Senator Harney would be his own inspector. I do not know whether he would inspect the employes or not, but he would find out whether the clothes were made to his taste, and whether they fitted him.


Senator Drake - How would he see what the girls were paid ?


Senator McGREGOR - I shall tell the Minister how he would -see. The girls - knowing that he had made these conditions, had such sympathy with them, and was so fond of carrying out these principles, and was such a fine good-looking gentleman - would soon indicate to him the delinquencies of the employer under whom they were working. The Postmaster-General raises the objection - are we to employ inspectors ? Well, I have worked on a great many Government jobs, both for private contractors and the Government themselves, but I never worked upon a job which the Government did not inspect in order to see whether the work was being carried out properly. Does the Postmaster-General mean to tell the committee that he would let a contract for the manufacture of some thousands of pounds' worth of .uniforms, that they would be dumped into the department, and that no one would ever see whether they were properly made, or whether the material was of good quality ?


Senator Sir Frederick Sargood - After delivery.


Senator McGREGOR - And before delivery.


Senator Sir Frederick Sargood - No, never.


Senator McGREGOR - What are the Government inspectors doing during the time the things are- being made? I know that inspectors, in connexion with Govern- ' ment contracts, very often can scarcely keep themselves warm with the amount of work they have to do. lc would give the inspectors \ an opportunity of earning their money if they had to make a few more inquiries than they do now. With respect to the building of post-offices, the PostmasterGeneral says that very likely that work will be handed over to the Public Works-department. But the works must be authorized by the Postmaster-General, and he has the right to enforce any conditions that he likes. It has been said by some of those honorable and learned senators who are so fond of principles, and know so little about how those principles are carried out in the different States, that factory legislation does not exist in some of the States, and that therefore, this provision could not be enforced. Even Senator Harney did not appear to be aware where factory legislation exists, and Senator Ewing in his reference to the conciliation law did not seem to know what functions of a measure of that description really are. A Conciliation or Arbitration Act can only come into force when there is a" dispute. -But we do not want to have disputes. A\7e want to have it laid down in the conditions of contract that the contractor shall do something which will have the effect of putting all contractors on exactly the same footing. Suppose, for instance, that the department called for tenders for the erection of a postoffice, and that that work was under the control of the Postmaster-General. The conditions of contract could easily provide that the rate of wages to be paid should be the union rate in. the locality. Senator Pearce has no idea of putting the amount to be paid into' this Bill. All wo want is to lay down the principle that the Government shall pay the minimum rate of wage paid in the locality, whatever that rate may fee, and that the maximum hours of labour shall be the maximum hours worked in the locality. All these matters are already provided for in some of the States. In South Australia, if a contract is let, conditions are inserted that the minimum rate of wages for the trades affected must be paid, and that the maximum hours of labour must be adhered to. Senator Play ford ought to know that in South Australia a Cabinet order was passed long ago, providing that a minimum rate of wage shall be paid to all able-bodied men doing the work of able-bodied men, and that the amount shall be nothing less than 6s. a day. In New South Wales the minimum rate of wage is fixed at 7s. a day. There can be no misunderstanding about a provision of that kind.


Senator Drake - How can you apply that to a contract for the carriage of mails ?


Senator McGREGOR - In South Australia it applies to all contracts with which the Commissioner of Public Works has anything to do, The conditions also provide that no alien labour shall be employed. That brings me to the objection raised with respect to shipping, as to whether we are to compel the Orient line, the P. and O. line, or any other shipping company, to pay the minimum rate of wages fixed in any Australian State. Senators from Western Australia, who appear to know all about shipping, have inquired whether we should have to compel these companies to. pay Australian seamen's rates of wages or English seamen's rates. The rule is that wherever the seamen sign on, the union rate of wages prevailing in that port is to be paid. The phrase " union rate of. wages " has been discussed as though unionists were all robbers. Of course there are a great many people in this world who are not particular what they take out of the public, but those who have to sweat for their living know that the wages received are not fixed entirely by the trades unions themselves. They are fixed by the unions with the consent of the employers union. If the employers union are not prepared to agree to the union rate of wages a difficulty arises, but when the union rate is adopted the assumption is that the employers as a general rule have agreed to it. I should like to ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he thinks it is wrong? to put into contracts conditions such asI have mentioned ?


Senator Drake - Are you not speaking of building contracts?


Senator McGREGOR - Take the case of clothing contracts. The PostmasterGeneral will have to call for tenders for clothing for a great number of officers of his department. Is it not better for the individuals who have to earn their living in carrying out those contracts that some conditions should be laid down as to whether they are to work eight or fifteen hours a day, and are to get the recognised log prices ? If the Postmaster-General knows anything about labour conditions he must be aware that in almost every city in Australia there is in connexion with the tailoring trade a log of prices according to an agreement made between employers and employes. Would it be a hardship if the PostmasterGeneral were to insert a condition in his contracts with manufacturers of clothing that the recognised log prices should be paid to those engaged upon the contract?


Senator Drake - Probably he would do so.


Senator McGREGOR - Where does the difficulty come in ?


Senator Drake - Not in that case.


Senator McGREGOR - The PostmasterGeneral is still muttering objections, but I say that in South Australia what I am advocating is already done.


Senator Drake -I do not see why it should not be done in that case.


Senator McGREGOR - Other contracts will have to be entered into by the Postal department. Telegraph posts will be wanted. They will have to be cut in forests. 'Would it be difficult to insert in the conditions of contract that the recognised rate of wages should be paid to the men employed in cutting the posts?


Senator Harney - What about the "fair working conditions "?


Senator McGREGOR - Those conditions are that the men are not to be compelled to work more than eight hours a day.


Senator Harney - Suppose there is no social legislation on the point ?


Senator McGREGOR - It is not required. Evidently Senator Harney is anxious to learn. I imagine that he knows so much already that there is no room for very much more, but I am going to give him some information. He asks me how these conditions would be enforced in a

State where there' was no social legislation in existence? Put the condition I have asked for in Government contracts, and you may safely leave it to the working men who are employed under those conditions to see that they are enforced. The men will soon let you know whether the conditions are being complied with or not. Senator Harney will ask me perhaps, "What would you do if the conditions were not "complied with ? You could not make the employer do it." Let Senator Harney ask Senator Sir Frederick Sargood whether the employer cannot be compelled.


Senator Harney - Do not pay him - is that what the senator means?


Senator McGREGOR - No ; but the Government could cancel the contract, and could also make it a condition that the employer might be fined £1,000, or any other sum that might be fixed, if he did not observe the labour conditions. There is not the slightest difficulty about enforcing the conditions, and it is really useless to argue the point any further. This amendment which has been moved by Senator Pearce - it is suggested to me that it is really the amendment of Senator Sir Frederick Sargood, but I do not believe that - is only for the purpose of giving the Postmaster-General power to insert the condition asked for in the contracts of his department, and a contractor who does not carry it out should be penalized by being fined or having his contract cancelled. With regard to Cobb and Co., [ know nothing about the business of that firm. In South Australia it is Hill and Co. who carry the mails. That firm have always been very fair to their employés. Hill and Co. have given them fair wages as far as I have ever heard. Does the Postmaster-General mean to bring about a condition of tilings that would make it necessary for Hill and Co., or Cobb and Co., .or any other company to compete with people who would, as soon as they got a contract, be prepared to grind down those who worked for them to the lo.west level ? Surely in the interests of the humane employers - I believe they are the majority - who are anxious to carry out a fair and faithful bargain with the Government, and to treat their employes humanely, the Minister should agree to the insertion of a power in the contracts of his department that will enable the employes to be fairly treated. Iri another place a resolution has been carried, with the consent of the Government, that in all Government contracts the principle here contended for shall be recognised.


Senator Playford - Then you do not want it in this Bill.


Senator McGREGOR - But the Postal department, as the saying is, will generally go " on its own." We find that that is the case in other States. It will be safer to insert the provision in this Bill. It can do no harm, and will only be in accordance with the resolution passed in another place. Therefore I hope the committee will agree to the amendment, and that instead of merely expressing their sympathy, senators will give practical effect to it by doing something for the good employers who are willing to treat their fellow-creatures fairly, as well as for those individuals for whom so much sympathy is expressed.

Senator Sir FREDERICKSARGOOD (Victoria).. - Senator Higgs has credited me with this amendment. Senator Fraser doubted very much whether it emanated from me, and I think that the honorable senator's surprise was justified, because when T do propose an amendment I like to propose a practical one. In this instance I do not think the amendment is practicable. Several honorable' senators have stated that their sympathies are in the direction of this proposal. I can say the same. I can also lay claim to the fact that I had charge of the first Factories Act in Victoria during its passage through, the Upper House. I have carefully watched the progress of factory legislation, and have taken a very active interest in every amendment of the original Act in Victoria. I am a thorough believer in legislation of that kind in the interests not merely of the employer but also of the employe, and without factory laws of a wise character I believe the condition- of affairs that has been referred to would have been continued up to the present day. The Victorian Act has done a great deal of good, although it is by no means perfect. But for the fact of that law being in existence here, the very desirable object which the proposer of this amendment has in view could not be carried out even in Victoria. The difficulty will be in applying it under this Bill in other States where they have no factory legislation. I have been a manufacturer for forty years, and I am a manufacturer now, so that I think I may safely say that I know something of the subject under discussion. I- have always made ib a rule to secure the sen-ices of good workmen and to pay them well, and during the whole of my career as a manufacturer I have never had the slightest difficulty with an)' of my employes. I may safely say that, directly and ind directly, I have over 5, SOO employes, so that I may reasonably claim to have had some experience upon these questions. I entirely agree with the strong condemnation of subletting, which was indulged in by Senator Glassey. That has been the root of a great deal of the evil which has taken place, and no measure would be too strong to absolutely put an end to it. Another portion of the amendment is really an acceptance of the principle of the minimum wage. That subject has been debated for many years, and very recently the principle has been recognised in the State of Victoria. Speaking as much in the interests of the employe as that of the employer, I must say we do not know yet what the ultimate result of it will be. In my opinion it is a step in the right direction, but undoubtedly one of its results has been to throw out of employment the old and indifferent workers.


Senator McGREGOR - That is an old yarn


Senator Sir FREDERICK SARGOOD - It is a new yarn. How could it be an old yarn, seeing that the principle of the minimum wage was only recently agreed to by the Victorian Government 1


Senator Harney - It is an old yarn renewed.


Senator Sir FREDERICK SARGOOD - Unfortunately the result of the minimum wage in Victoria has been to throw a number of old men out of work. That difficulty is met by a special clause inserted in the Victorian Act by the Legislative Council, I may say, very much against the will of the labour party. The clause provides that special permits shall be given in those cases where men are not able to make themselves worthy of the full rate of pay. It is rather an unsatisfactory position for old men who have been working for many years for their employer, but it is the only way in which it is possible for the minimum wage to be carried out.


Senator McGregor - But there is nothing to prevent the employers from paving the old men the minimum wage.


Senator Sir FREDERICK SARGOOD - If the honorable senator knew the

Factories Act as well as I know it he would not say that. The point we have to consider is whether the union rate of wage is to be recognised. I am strongly in favour of the standard wage in the locality in which the work is being done being recognised on all occasions ; but I do not think it wise for the country to bind itself down to accept a rate of wage decided upon by any class of men - I ' do not care whether they are unionists or not.


Senator Pearce - What is a standard rate of wage 1


Senator Sir FREDERICK SARGOOD - There is always a standard rate of wage in every locality.


Senator Pearce - Who would the honorable senator accept as an authority on the subject-

Senator Sir FREDERICK SARGOOD.I do not think I am compelled to go into all these details at the present time. I favour the principle advocated by the mover of the amendment, but I do not think that the amendment is in the right place. It cannot be carried out until there is factory legislation in every State. That, I trust will take place as quickly as possible. Personally I should like to see the Commonwealth intrusted with the power of passing factory legislation, and I would be prepared to render hearty assistance in that direction. Reference has been made to the manufacture of uniforms. That is a very small matter. The number of uniforms required every year, would be comparatively trifling, and they would be manufactured in many places in each State. To appoint an inspector to watch their manufacture under each of these contracts would involve a very large amount of extra cost. I may inform Senator McGregor that it is not the practice to inspect clothing during the course of manufacture. The clothing is delivered, and then it is ascertained by examination whether it is up to the standard, or not. In no instance that I know of. is clothing inspected during the process of manufacture. An inspector therefore would have little or nothing to do.- I need hardly go into the question of enforcement as I do not see how it could be enforced until we get factory legislation.


Senator McGregor - Cancel the agreement.


Senator Sir FREDERICK SARGOOD - I do not think we could carry it out then. I shall be glad to support wise factory legislation whenever it is introduced, but I cannot see my way clear to support this amendment which has practically nothing to do with the Post-office Bill.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales). - I should have much preferred to see this motion brought forward apart from the Postal Bill, but as it has been tabled, and as my sympathies with it will cany me a little further than the sympathies of other honorable senators appear to have carried them, I am anxious to make a suggestion the acceptance of which would enable me to vote for it. I have listened very carefully to the objections that have been raised, and I must admit that many of them are the result of fear or imagination. I have heard similar objections raised with regard to nearly every reform dealing with social and industrial legislation. Nevertheless, I think I can see one or two objections to the adoption of the amendment in its entirety. It makes two distinct proposals. The first is that in all contracts under the Postal department provision shall be made for the payment of a fair rate of wage and for fair working conditions. I agree absolutely with that. I see no objection to requiring £he Postal department to insure that being done, and I see little difficulty in maintaining that position. When it goes on to stipulate, however, how we are to ascertain these conditions, I think it creates a difficulty. I do not wish to see the Postmaster-General made a. party to a strike,- for instance, and yet if we adopt the amendment in its present form we might under these regulations force him to take sides in an industrial dispute. There is no necessity for that. Let me illustrate what I. mean. Supposing trouble occurred with the railway employes, and they, through their union, demanded a higher rate of wages- than they were receiving. The mails have to be carried ; they could not be stopped pending the adjustment of this trouble. What, then, would be the position of the Postmaster-General ? He insists, under this Bill, that the mail's shall be carried, but, in the event of a dispute, the railway authorities might perhaps be forced to say that they must stop the running of their trains rather than concede the demands of the men. In such an event, what would the Postmaster-General have to do ? Should he say " You are to pay the rate of wages which the union demands, and not the rate previously given" ? Yet such a difficulty would possibly occur not only in regard to railways, but in relation to the carriage of mails by other means. I would, therefore, ask the proposer of the amendment to omit -the last lines, altering the word "minimum" to " reasonable," and making the paragraph read - '

For the purpose of providing for the payment of a reasonable rate of wages and fair working conditions in all contracts under this Act.

That is not only an affirmation of the broad principle that in the carrying out of the department's work we wish to treat fairly those who are discharging that work, but it brings the machinery into play by which the regulations can be enforced. It certainly would throw upon the Postmaster-General occasionally the difficult task of determining whether the wages were fair or not, but in 99 cases out of 100 he would adopt the union rate. It would also relieve hun from the obligation of taking sides if such trouble as that to which I have referred did occur. If the suggestion I have made is adopted, or something in that direction, I shall be prepared to give the motion my vote, as I now give.it my cordial support.

Senator GLASSEY(Queensland). - I wish to add a word or two in regard to the question of the inspection of uniforms in course of manufacture, to which reference has been made. Senator Sir. Frederick Sargood, who has had large experience in these matters, says there is no such thing as inspection of clothing in the process of manufacture. That we may take as a fact. Assuming, however, that the post-office insists upon inspection, does it follow that it will be necessary to have an inspector travelling from place to place ? I do not think so. I think the difficulty can be overcome very easily. Supposing that a contract for the manufacture qf uniforms for the postal authorities of Victoria is let, could not the Postmaster-General arrange for some person who is particularly well up in this kind of work to superintend the manufacture of the uniforms at a moderate fee ? Where is the difficulty ? The income tax in the old country is collected by local people, who are thoroughly conversant with the various persons and matters in their respective localities. In Queensland, which is an enormous territory with a sparse population, the contracts for these uniforms are usually let in Brisbane. The clothing is manufactured according to measurement and sent to postal employes all over the State. I was in the Postal department at Brisbane for a little while, and know something about the matter. I am acquainted with a number of contractors in Brisbane who have made uniforms for the Railway department, the Postal department, and for the police, and I can say that there would be no difficulty in obtaining a thoroughly competent person in any of the large centres to see that the uniforms are properly made. Their services could be obtained for a very small fee, so that so far as the appointment of travelling inspectors is concerned there need be no anxiety over it at all, and it simply wants a little arrangement. In the way I suggest we may easily overcome any difficulty in the way of inspection. If we have a desire to put these very humane provisions into force we will find that the difficulties raised will vanish into thin air when we come to the practical working of the question.

Senator HIGGS(Queensland).- The PostmasterGeneral mentioned Cobb and Co. some time ago, and he also asked whether if two contractors tender, one at £150 and one at £200, we should accept the tender at £150.


Senator Drake - That was in consequence of a remark made by Senator De Largie.


Senator HIGGS - I would just like to say, with respect to Messrs. Cobb and Co., that their tenders for the mail services in certain parts of Queensland are higher than the tenders sent in by some other, contractors, but, inasmuch as Messrs. Cobb and Co.'s tenders, taken as a whole, give a lower average than the others, they get; the whole of the contracts.


Senator Drake - They lump them together and take 20 per cent. off.


Senator HIGGS - I do not think that is righ t. The people in the different localities ought to get a fair chance. Messrs. Cobb and Co., by the system adopted, are getting practically a monopoly in Queensland.


Senator DRAKE - With regard to Cobb and Co's. contracts, I know a little 0f the subject, but I do not know whether it would be advisable generally to adopt the 'Queensland system. I believe that the custom with Cobb and Co., in tendering for mail contracts in Queensland', is to send in a tender for each separate contract, and then, say that if all their tenders are accepted, they will take something off the total, either 10 or 20 per cent. I think that is what Senator Higgs is referring to.


Senator Higgs - Yes ; and the fact that allowing them to tender in that way di-ives out other tenderers, and kills competition.


Senator DRAKE - It has not driven out all other tenderers, because there has been competition ; but on some of the routesthere is, at present, little competition, because through the drought the country has become a desert. With regard to the remark about the acceptance of a tender of £150, when a tender for £140 has also been sent in, that was made in consequence of the suggestion of Senator De Largie, that there should be a certain schedule rate, and if the schedule rate was £150 and the second tenderer offered to carry out the contract at £140, the contractor who was prepared to do the work for £150 should still get it.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia). - I was encouraged to bring forward this amendment by the fact that the Government so readily agreed to a motion, submitted by Mr. Mauger in another place, which' embodied the principle. It has, therefore, been a surprise to me to meet with opposition from the Government. If we cannot put the principle into operation in connexion with this department of the Government, I do not know in what department we can put it into operation. Here we have a Postal Act in which the Postmaster-General has power to contract with certain parties for the supply of material, and all we are asking is that in the supply of that material the Government shall require contractors to carry out the spirit of the resolution they have already agreed to in another place. We want the Government to be consistent. They have said in another place that they are prepared to stipulate that a fair rate of wages shall be paid, and we are now asking them in this Bill, under which contracts may be made, to carry out the spirit of that resolution. As to the practicability of this proposal, that the Government, in framing regulations under this Bill, will so frame them . as to insure their practicable working. We do not by this motion, frame regulations, but I do not see why regulations cannot be framed which will make it practicable. I do not see anything to be gained by the adoption of the alteration suggested by Senator Millen. If we alter the expression " minimum " to " reasonable " we must call, in some one to determine what is " reasonable." As to saying trade unions laid down the rate of wages in certain districts, as is frequently said, the fact is that the trades unions or employers and employes together fix the wages. It is an agreement between employers and employes, and if it is suggested that a strike may arise in the meantime, that will not concern the Postmaster-General, as all he will have to do will be to see that the conditions of his contract are carried out.


Senator Millen - One of his duties will be to see that the rate of wages demanded by the unions is paid.


Senator PEARCE - No ; the rate of wages will have been decided by the eontract. If under the contract it is agreed that Ss. per day shall be paid, and the men are striking for 9s., the duty of the PostmasterGeneral will be to see that the men are paid 8s.


Senator Drake - Would the trades unions be .able to alter the rate of wages during the currency of a contract?


Senator PEARCE - They would be able to do so by agreement with their employers, but the Postmaster-General would not be placed in the position of deciding between the employer and the employe. All that he would have to do would be to see that the contract was carried out according to the conditions. As to the appointment of inspectors to see that this proposal is carried out, in dealing with that matter, I do not want to say that senators have shown a want of common sense, but they have shown a want of knowledge of the way in which these contracts are carried., out. If they had worked upon such contracts, as I have done, they would know that those who are at work upon them would be the inspectors to see the conditions carried out.


Senator Drake - "What class of work 1


Senator PEARCE - It would not matter what the class of work was. If it was a clothing contract the tailors or tailoresses union would see that if the contract was being violated the matter would be brought before the Trades Council, and steps taken to have the provisions of the contract complied with. We do not ask that an army of inspectors should be appointed ; but I point out, at the same time, that in the case of buildings we do appoint inspectors to look after the work and see that we get good material from the time the foundation is laid, and I do not see why we should not be just as willing, if necessary, to appoint inspectors in connexion with other kinds of work. As regards the question of arbitration, it seems to me that this proposal would be perfectly compatible with the Arbitration Act. As regards the question of locality and the payment of the rate of wages ruling in the locality in the case of the carriage of mails between Australia and the United Kingdom, the contract, I suppose, would be made in the United .Kingdom, and in that case it would recognise the rate of wages paid in the United Kingdom as the rate of wages to be stipulated. I trust that the fact of this motion having emanated from this corner of the House will not procure for it any opposition on that ground alone.


Senator Harney - No ; why should it ?


Senator PEARCE - I hope it will not, because whatever bitterness there may have been in the local Legislatures between the labour party and any other party in the State, we ought not, I think, to bring that bitterness in here. Every proposal brought before this Senate should be dealt with on its merits, and should not be opposed simply on the ground that it may happen to emanate from this or from some other party.







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