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Wednesday, 3 July 1901
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Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) - There was some sense in the proposal as Senator Pearce submitted it before, but in adopting the insidious suggestion of my good-humoured and emphatic friend Senator Playford he has emasculated all the sense out of it. It is an absurdity now. There is a universal feeling that in some way or other, in some shape or other, at some time or other, it would be desirable to fix a minimum rate of wages. We have in this emasculated amendment first of all a provision that regulations may be made for the purpose of providing for the payment of a rate of wages ; that is the first tiling Senator Playford suggested we -should do, and in that way, but he did not tell us what it would mean. There is to be the payment of a rate of wages and fair working conditions in all contracts. Then we had a definition b)' Senator Playford, and perhaps he knows now where we are. Senator Pearce proposed at first that the rate of wages should be that suggested by a body at any rate competent to interpret what the rate of . wages should be. -I am not saying whether that should have been so or not, . but Senator Pearce did right in choosing a tribunal to determine what a fair rate of wages and fair working conditions are. In the present amendment he strikes that out, and we are left at large ; we ai e left to a kind of Tattersalls ' sweep to determine what the rate of wages shall be. Then we have the expression -

Recognised in the locality in which the work is carried out.

Which end of the locality ? We may have an oversea mail contract with one terminus in England and another in Australia. Where could that work be said to be carried on, and what in that case is the recognised rate of wages 1 Is it to be the English rate where the nien on board the ships sign on in England ?

Senator McGregor - Yes, if they are English ships.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - SYMON. - Yes, but it does not say so. We will be able to deal with that matter when the amendment proposed by Senator Glassey comes on, because it will involve the question of signing on. We are now talking of this amendment with the spirit of which so much sympathy has been expressed, and the difficulty is to say who under a contract is to determine the rate of wages. Where the work is carried out oversea between England and Australia, who is to determine what the " recognised " rate of wages shall be? It seems to me that Senator Pearce would have done better if he had not accepted the latter part of the advice given him by Senator Playford, and it would have been better if he had accepted the first part of Senator Playfords advice, and had withdrawn the amendment altogether. Really this is a principle which, if it is to be applied at all, should be applied all over the Commonwealth, and it should be applied uniformly, and not to one specific part of the Government services. It should be applied to all. Government services, and to all contracts under Government. That could be better effected in a general Bill like the Public Service Bill, in which we could lay down the rules definitely and clearly. I am sure that my honorable ' friends on the left could effect their desire better in that way than by introducing such a proposition as this into an Act of Parliament dealing with only one department of the public service. The regulations suggested would be impracticable, and more impracticable under the present amendment than under the previous one. It was definite before, though open to the objection raised as to the rate of wages and the conditions being determined by the trades unions. Still, having eliminated that we leave the whole thing at large, to do what would' probably be beneficial for the profession to which I belong, unfortunately promote litigation, or render it impracticable to frame any regulations which would have a beneficial effect upon contracts entered into under this Bill.

Senator CHARLESTON(South Australia). - It seems to me extremely difficult to get honorable senators to agree to any proposal aiming at what Senator Pearce desires.

Senator Harney - We agree with his aims, but not with his methods.

Senator CHARLESTON - There was a great deal of sympathy expressed, and then, in order to meet the views of the committee, Senator Pearce altered his amendment. ' I have been a trades unionist for over 31- years, and I have always fought against what is- known as the minimum rate of wages, because I saw gi-eat difficulty concerning it. It would lead to a great deal of misery and to the non-employment, of those who were unable to earn the minimum rate. At the same time I always felt that if I had contracts to let personally, I would submit conditions similar to those embodied in this proposition by Senator Pearce. I have always been prepared to pay a rate of wages sufficient to enable those engaged in the work to live honestly and respectably. That is all that Senator Pearce asks for. Here we are as a federal body proposing to enter into contracts for the execution of certain works, and it is our duty to see that the people should live under good conditions and have the means of being happy. We are all agreed upon that, but then comes the next question of what are fair conditions. How are we to establish a fair rate of wages, because it is by the wages that a man earns that he is able to purchase the goods which enable him to live under fair conditions ? It was suggested at first that the wages should be the minimum rate of wages. It was then argued, and I think very well argued, by certain honorable senators, that if we inserted that in the clause we would be practically asking the labour unions to legislate for the country. I saw that objection, and it was owing to that I kept my seat so long ; but now that Senator Pearce has met us in this respect, and has struck out the reference to the trade unions, I think honorable senators should support the amendment, because it only asks us to admit the very point on which I believe we are all agreed, that people working for the Government should work under fair conditions. We know that the value of wages will depend upon what they can buy in the locality in which they are earned, and so, it is suggested that the wages paid must be the recognised rate in the locality in which the contract is carried out.

Senator Drake - How is the honorable senator going to define "recognised "1

Senator CHARLESTON - I am quite sure the Postmaster-General will be able to ascertain the rate of wages ruling in any district in which he is about to let a contract.

Senator Drake - Does the honorable senator wish that the rate of wages shall be put into the conditions of contract, or that the words " recognised " rate of wages %shall be put in.

Senator CHARLESTON - The PostmasterGeneral should stipulate that the contractors when tendering must calculate upon paying the recognised wages ruling in the district in which the contract is let.

Senator Drake - Using the word "recognised "1

Senator CHARLESTON - Yes.

Senator Drake - Who is ultimately to decide what is the " recognised " rate ?

Senator CHARLESTON - I think the Postmaster-General can easily do that when ne is in possession, as he may easily be, of the rates ruling in any locality in which he has work to be done. 1 am not at all par- 'ticular how it is done, but it is our duty to see that the conditions of the people are according to their capacity for producing wealth. While we have control of these things it is right that we should stipulate that work done for the State shall be done under- conditions 'worthy of the nation to which we belong.

Senator GLASSEY(Queensland). - I must really go back to the imaginary difficulties again. Much has been said about the difficulty in letting a contract for the carriage of mails oversea from one end of the world to another. That point was raised by Senator Sir Josiah Symon, who wished to know what rate could be fixed in such a case. Surely there is not much difficulty about that. If the' Postmaster-General enters into a contract with the P. and O. Company, the question to consider is, where the men working for that company sign articles.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - My difficulty is that the amendment says " in the locality where the work is carried on." Not where the men sign on.

Senator GLASSEY - Quite so ; but we are not going to stop at a few words, and there need be no two meanings in regard to this proposal. If the Postmaster-General enters into a contract with the shipping companies, whose men sign articles in Melbourne, the rate of wages will be those paid in this locality, and it will not follow that because the men on the ship carrying the mails go to other parts of the world they will have a different rate of wages when they are in those other parts of the world. What is there to hinder the Postmaster-General from saying, when letting a contract, that such and such wages shall be paid to the men engaged in carrying out the contract.

Senator Drake - That is not the present proposal.

Senator GLASSEY - It is a matter which has been referred to by Senator Sir Josiah Symon, and I briefly allude to it. Take another locality as an illustration. Supposing there are 10 or 20 miles of telegraph line to be laid down at Bat larat, for instance, the postal authorities and most other persons will surely know the usual wages paid in that locality to persons engaged in that particular work. Supposing -a man is engaged in cutting poles there can be no difficulty in finding out what is the usual rate of wages paid for that work.

Senator Drake - What is the recognised rate of wages at Boulia- -for carrying mails.

Senator GLASSEY - lt is well known that there are persons owning coaches and contracting for the carriage of mails in that locality, and the usual rates paid for that work in that locality are known. Whatever they are, the condition of the contract should provide for the payment of those rates. All these are imaginary troubles which will never arise, and the great question after all is : are we desirous of doing what is proposed 1 If we are, there is no locality in the whole of Australia where there is not some recognised rate of wages which is well known, even if it be only a portion of the country where people are clearing the scrub. I may be pardoned for saying that honorable senators are raising obstacles which exist only in their own imagination. I do not myself believe in this- vague statement as to a " recognised" rate. In order that all contractors may have an opportunity of tendering, I want the Postmaster-General to lay down in his conditions of contract that the contractor shall pay so and so for the different kinds of work that he performs. There should be no vagueness about it, nor do I see that there will be the slightest difficulty in framing regulations to meet the suggestion proposed.

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