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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Senator McGREGOR - I should not like to attribute anything but the strictest veracity to the honorable senator, but really, he knows very little about railway work if he has not seen it done. I know that it was done on the railway on which I worked in South Australia, where the work was carried out by his firm. I worked under the firm of Barry. Brooks, and Fraser, side ditching and side cutting, on piece-work. A good man was put on to a piece of work, and was given a soft thing to do. The piece-work rate was fixed according to the standard that this man fixed. I have been through the mill, and Senator Fraser is a very innocent man indeed if he does not know that the piece-work price is ordinarily fixed according to the work of an individual who is getting every legitimate advantage in setting the standard. I do not say that a fair firm would give the man an illegitimate advantage. It is done for the purpose of fixing the piece-work standard of payment. It is done to Mie knowledge of every man who knows anything about work.

Senator Fraser - Would the honorable senator have a good man used badly? .

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator cannot deny the correctness of my statement. That practice is followed everywhere.

Senator Fraser - Nonsense !

Senator Playford - Men set the pace.

Senator McGREGOR - Certainly they do. Senator Playford has himself had to set the pace with the spade. This practice was followed at the great institution! in question for the purpose of proving that women were as smart as men, and the women were given an advantage over their competitors. That has been done in many other cases.

Senator Gray - Does the honorable senator know that the women are being paid the same wage as is given the men ?

Senator McGREGOR - The women can easily earn the same wage, since they are given a better class of leaf.

Senator Gray - Why should that be done?

Senator McGREGOR - I do not think that honorable senators understand what really has been done. The trial was to extend over a month, to determine whether the men or the women were the most competent. At the end of each day's work all the refuse left by the women was mixed with the material which the men had to work up the following day.

Senator Millen - Is the honorable senator affirming that that was done?

Senator McGREGOR - No ; I am only pointing out that that is the position as put to us. I am not affirming the statement, but I do not doubt its accuracy, because I have known such things to be done.

Senator Fraser - "Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind."

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator forgets many of these incidents ; he must know that such occurrences have taken place. Although I have no knowledge of this case other than that which I have gained by listening to the debate this afternoon, my experience teaches me to believe that the practice referred to may have- been adopted. The same trick has been played on me dozens of times, even when I have been working on Government jobs.

Senator Walker - But it never succeeded.

Senator McGREGOR - No ; because I have always declined to work under such a handicap. These foremen were seeking to prove to their employers and the world at large that the women were better workers than the men, and they were carrying out the test in an unfair way.. I cannot see what can be done unless the Government, as the result of their investigations, discover a method of compelling the company to do justice to this man. He will never get justice by means of the machinery at present in existence to deal with the case. He may seek a remedy in the Courts, but he has not sufficient means to enable him to carry his case far enough to secure justice. For these reasons I hope that the Government will make the promised inquiry, that a report will be .submitted to the Senate, and that justice will ultimately be done to this unfortunate man. This is no farce, so far as he is concerned. He may hawk vegetables, if he pleases, but there is no possibility of his obtaining employment in a tobacco factory in Australia. Senator Gray has said that we are always finding fault with the employers. I have been a member of Royal Commissions appointed by the Parliament of South Australia, as well as by this Legislature, and heard both employers and employes give evidence. I have known Senator Dobson and others of the same school of political thought to declare that working men are all afflicted with the ca' canny trouble, and are not prepared to give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. I have heard hundreds of statements of that description. If the unfortunate employe is always " down. " on the employer, it is only a case of tit for tat, judging by the examples we have had in the Senate and elsewhere of statements made by the one section against the other. It has always been the desire of the party to which I belong that no injustice shall be done to either an employer or an employe.

Senator Millen - The party have successfully concealed that desire.

Senator McGREGOR - At all events, I hope that, as the result of the investigation promised by the Government, it will be impossible for such an injustice as that to which reference has been made to be re peated.

Senator Col. NEILD(New South Wales) [4.7]. - I do not know how the Government can carry out the promise made by the Minister of Defence. Apparently, there are only two processes open to them - an inquiry by means of a Select Committee or by a Royal Commission. I rise to support an inquiry by the Government quite as much in the interests of the employers who have been so vigorously slandered as in the interests of the workman Stone. Some honorable senators have entirely overlooked the propriety of refraining from expressing an opinion on ex partestatements. We do not know anything about the men who have made the statutory declarations at the basis of the trouble. I do not think Senator Pearce gave us their names.

Senator Givens - Yes.

Senator Millen - If an inquiry be made, will Senator Pearce hand over these declarations to the Government ?

Senator Pearce - I shall certainly hand over all the papers.

Senator Col NEILD - Then the debate has profited something, since we have the names of the men who made the original statements.

Senator Millen - And it is more important still that we should have the actual declarations handed over to the Government.

Senator Col NEILD - Quite so. I hope that the inquiry by the Government will afford an opportunity for the overseer, who has been attacked, and also Mr. Shaw, to State their case. I express no opinion ; for no facts have been put before us that would warrant any body of citizens, sitting as a jury, pronouncing a verdict. I am not going to follow the unhappy example set by Senator Smith, and to express an opinion on the facts.

Senator Givens - That example was also Set by Senator Symon and Senator Gould.

Senator Col NEILD - I do not think that either Senator Symon or Senator Gould expressed an opinion on the facts; they confined their attention to an expression of opinion on the law relating to the matter. We may express what opinions we like on the law, but we have no justification for giving utterance at this stage to our views on the facts. Senator Pearce carefully steered clear of that mistake. I do not think any honorable senator could have brought the matter forward in a fairer or more straightforward manner. I have no complaint whatever to make against him. He stated what he understood to be the facts, and on that statement asked for Government intervention. I admit that there was no occasion for the heated harangues to which we have listened this afternoon. All of them were out of place. As the Government have undertaken to make an inquiry,we should let the matter rest. I shall be quite willing, at the propertime, to express an opinion, when I know what are the actual facts, and when the two sides, instead of only one side of the story are before us. As an inquiry has been asked for on behalf of one person who is alleged to be injured. I think I am perfectly justified in urging an inquiry in the interests of the others who have been attacked this afternoon.

The PRESIDENT - Does Senator Pearce wish to withdraw the motion?

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