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Thursday, 2 August 1906
Page: 2257

Mr MAUGER (Melbourne Ports) . I move -

That, in the opinion of this House, all necessary steps should be taken, before any general election, to pass a Bill for the alteration of the Constitution, to enable the Commonwealth Parliament to enact uniform industrial laws, so that at the time of the election the Bill may be inexpensively submitted lo the electors, as provided in section 128 of the Constitution.

I brought forward a similar motion last session, when I directed the attention of honorable members to the fact that opinion had undergone a considerable change since, the holding of the Federal Convention, at which it was decided not to bring industrial legislation under the control of the Commonwealth. Sir William McMillan, when he occupied the position of leader of the Opposition, acknowledged that he had very considerably changed his views, and expressed himself in these words: -

I hold generally that everything that affects the rights and liberties - especially the industrial rights and liberties - of the community ought to be in the hands of the National Parliament.

At another stage of the same speech he said -

I do not think these great subjects should be settled, except by the National Parliament.

I contend that the same Legislature that has the power to protect the manufacturer by imposing effective Customs duties, should also be in a position to protect the employes by enacting industrial legislation. In other words, protection is only half effective if it secures the home markets to the manufacturer, without providing for adequate wages, fair conditions, and clean environment for the whole of the employes. This is being recognised to a fuller extent every year. It is quite true that in Victoria, industrial legislation has been fairly effective, but even in that State it has many limitations. I find that in forty trades employing 44,000 operatives Wages Boards have been appointed ; but there are still 19,000 factorv operatives to whom no protection has been afforded bv means of industrial legislation. The latter employes are, for the most part, engaged in industries that are protected, and are carried on mainly in shires and boroughs where the Factories and Shops Act cannot reach them. Others are employed in trades in respect to which no application has been made for the appointment of Wages Boards. The application of industrial legislation in Victoria has been considerably hampered duringthe last two years by the very farreaching amendment recently adopted by the State Legislature. When the honorable member for Gippsland was at the head of the State Government, a resolution of the Assembly was sufficient to insure the appointment of a Wages Board, but now, it is necessary for both branches of the Legislature to approve of an application. The result is that since the amended Act was passed not a single new board has been brought into operation.

Mr Brown - Why?

Mr MAUGER - Because of the difficulty of obtaining the approval of the Legislative Council. I believe that, from the time the Act was brought into operation, less than half-a-dozen applications for the appointment of Wages Boards have been approved by the Legislative Council. The late Sir Frederick Sargood was instrumental in inducing the Council to agree to the appointment of a few boards at the outset; but the greater number were appointed during the time that a resolution of the Assembly alone was required. At present the operatives engaged in some thirteen trades desire to be brought under the operation of the Act, but the Victorian Government do not seem inclined to take the steps necessary to secure compliance with their wish.

Mr McWilliams - Have the Legislative Council rejected any applications ?

Mr MAUGER - No proposals have been made recently on account of the difficulty of securing the approval of both Houses. Another great drawback is that the Wages Boards are under legislative instruction to be guided by the average wage paid in the industry, and upon that basis to fix the minimum wage. Honorable members will understand how objectionable, and even unworkable, this provision becomes in a case such as that of the tobacco industry. The honorable and learned member for Wannon stated some little time ago that the operatives in the tobacco factories had refused to agree to the appointment of a Wages Board. As a matter of fact, however, they have not done anything of the kind, but have reported that in the present condition of affairs a Wages Board would be absolutely useless. A large combine has a practical monopoly of the whole trade, and there is no employer outside of the combine whose operations are sufficiently large to justify a Wages Board in adopting the remuneration paid to his workers as a basis upon which to fix a fair or minimum wage. If the Board were required to take the average wage ruling in the trade at present they would very closely approach sweating conditions. I have here a list supplied to the operatives by the officials of the tobacco combine, from which I learn that men of 23, 38, 32, 26, and 44 years of age, are receiving an average wage as low as £1 16s. per week. I call that a very unfair wage, especially in view of the fact that the tobacco combine is making enormous profits.

Mr McWilliams - Do the operatives work full time for the wages indicated?

Mr MAUGER - Yes. The list to which I refer is most interesting and instructive, and I should like honorable members to examine it. The tobacco operatives have been trying for a long time to secure something like reasonable wages, and honorable members will see by reference to the list that there is no ground for the. statement of the honorable and learned member for Wannon that they are being fairly paid. There are about (halfadozen men who receive from £2 2s. to £210s. per week, but the average wage is under £2 per week.

Mr Frazer - In 1904, only one operative earned sufficient to render it necessary for him to pay income tax. At that time the amount exempted was , £125.

Mr MAUGER - Whilst much good has been accomplished by the Wages Boards, and whilst the very persons who at first opposed them now strongly support them, the present machinery is not sufficient to insure full protection to the workers. Therefore, even in Victoria, which is in the very van of progress, there is reason for transferring the duty of enacting industrial legislation from the State to the Commonwealth Parliament. If protection is given to the great tobacco trust, we ought to see that the operatives are paid reasonable wages. No one can say that they are being fairly paid at present. Upon one occasion a mayor of Melbourne urged that the wages paid to miners in Victoria should be reduced. I suggested that if he put his robes on one side, donned moleskins, and worked in a mine for a time, he would probably change his opinion. When the honorable and learned member for Wannon speaks of £1 16s. per week as a fair average wage, he cannot appreciate what he is saying.

Mr Frazer - The payment of low wages enables the tobacco combine to make larger donations to the anti-Socialists' fighting fund.

Mr MAUGER - Whether they donate or not, they ought to be compelled to pay reasonable wages. In the other States far stronger reasons exist why industrial legislation should be taken in hand by the National Parliament. I have received a communication from the secretary of one of the trade societies in Sydney, who informs me that in the clothing, millinery, and other trades, where there is really no fiscal protection, the condition of affairs is exceedingly bad. He states that sworn testimony shows that in a large clothing factory in Kent-street the employes complain bitterly not only of the insanitary condition of the factory, but of the fact that for months and months they have averaged only 7s. 6d. for forty-eight hours' work. It is also stated that sweating of a pronounced character obtains in factories, warehouses, fashionable millinery and drapery establishments. It is mentioned, moreover, that the Arbitration Act works slowly -so slowly that some workers are tired of waiting for it to become operative so far as they are concerned. Proposals have been made there to adopt a system of Wages Boards, similar to that existing in Victoria.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - When the Arbitration Act was under discussion, it was stated that the Wages Boards were a failure.

Mr MAUGER - There was some diversity of opinion as to which was the better method of settling trade disputes. There is no doubt as to which is the more effective and prompt means of settlement at present. There are dozens of trades in Victoria which are fairly well protected, whereas those engaged in similar callings in New South Wales have little hope of securing redress for their grievances under the slowly operating arbitration legislation in force there. As Mr. Harrison Ord points out, in Victoria, the Wages

Boards do not depend upon trades unions, but in New South Wales, if there are no trades unions, there is no protection to the workmen. In Victoria, there are a number of trades which are fully protected, but in which the employes are not organized into unions. In my opinion, the first essential is strong and effective organization. But the next best thing is reasonable hours and conditions, and fair wages. I do not know that it is wise to make those conditions depend entirely upon the existence of trade unions. At any rate, it is a fact that in New South' Wales, the operatives - especially in the clothing trade - are averaging considerably less than are the employes who are engaged in that trade in Victoria. Not only should this Parliament deal with this question in the interests of the employes, but also in. the interests of the manufacturers. I contend that the manufacturers all over the Commonwealth should start off from scratch. The manufacturer in New South Wales should not be allowed to pay his employes low wages, and work them long hours under bad conditions, as against his competitor in Victoria. All manufacturers ought to pay the same minimum wage, and work their operatives the same number of hours in those clean surroundings which are necessary to a healthy industrial life. That is not the condition which exists in New South Wales, where the machinery for remedying these evils exists, although, unfortunately, it cannot be applied. But what is the condition in those States which possess no machinery of that sort? It is even worse. In South Australia, I find that since I last addressed the House upon this question, a considerable development has taken place - the employers having expressed their willingness to agree to the establishment of Wages Boards upon Victorian lines. Why have they consented to do this? Because, at the present time, the Wages Boards in Victoria are inoperative. The Factories Act is really a dead letter. To establish Wages Boards under those conditions merely means placing upon the statute-book legislation which will be inoperative. Therefore, the employers of South Australia are really prepared to concede nothing. Only this week representative operatives informed me that in the clothing, boot, and milling trades in South Australia sweating is rampant.

Mr Frazer - That evil is not peculiar to South Australia.

Mr MAUGER - It is peculiar to all countries in which there is no industrial protection. I am sorry that it is not confined to South Australia. I mentioned that State because of the very remarkable change which has recently taken place there. Its Chamber of Manufactures has expressed a desire to adopt Victorian legislation upon what it calls " safe lines." I have shown what that expression means. In Queensland, I regret to say, the position is no better. In New South Wales, the Chamber of Manufactures recently directed the attention of its members to the fact that most unfair competition was taking place betwen Queensland and New South Wales manufacturers, because, whilst many of the latter were working under the awards of the Arbitration Court, in Queensland the manufacturers were free to pay just what wages they chose, and to work their employes very long hours. I am not here to plead the cause of the manufacturers. I am pleading for what is known in Victoria as the " new protection." That is the only protection that any reasonable man can advocate. A system of protection which merely protects the manufacturer is worth nothing either to the country or to the industry in which he is engaged. It is because I want to see this " new protection " applied to Queensland, for example, where sweating is rampant, that I urge this Parliament to take the matter up. In Tasmania, I am sorry to say, there exists no legislation of. an industrial character. Quite recently, that was made very evident. A bishop of that State emphasized the fact that in many protected trades a large amount of sweating is carried on, that inordinately low wages are paid, and that the conditions under which the operatives labour are most unfair to Victorian manufacturers.

Mr McWilliams - Victoria is dumping goods into Tasmania every week.

Mr MAUGER - I am speaking of the industrial life of the operatives in the island State. I have already quoted a striking instance in regard to brush making. In the jam industry in Victoria, employers pay the miserable minimum wage of 30s. per week to adult males.

Mr McWilliams - That is much lower than the wage which is paid in Tasmania.

Mr MAUGER - The honorable member will find that it is nothing of the kind. If it were he ought to welcome legislation which would bring the industry in Victoria up to the standard which exists in Tasmania. In this State the wages paid in the jam industry are as follow : - Adult males, 30s. perweek ; males over eighteen, but not more than twenty-one years of age, 17s.; males over sixteen, but not more than eighteen years, 12s. ; lads under sixteen years of age, 9s. Females of eighteen years and upwards receive 14s. per week. These are the wages paid in a protected industry - an industry out of which large fortunes have been made in Victoria.

Mr Fisher - The manufacturers enjoy a protection of £14 per ton.

Mr MAUGER - Some of the most wealthy men in Melbourne to-day are jam manufacturers and before this law was enacted they were paying shameful wages.

Mr Bamford - The present rates are not very liberal.

Mr.MAUGER. - Of course they are not, but they are infinitely better than they were.

Mr Tudor - The reason that the employes in the jam industry receive a low minimum wage is that one of their representatives upon the Board went wrong.

Mr MAUGER - The men are not blameless in these matters. I know of operatives at the present time who are contracting themselves out of this very law. I do not for a moment affirm that the employers alone are to blame. If men were alive to their own interests they might do a great deal to assist the administration of the Act. But my point is that there are jam manufacturers in Victoria who are amassing fortunes, and who, nevertheless, pay miserable wages. I am sorry to say that in some instances they give freely to the churches and to charitable institutions money which would be far better employed in the payment of reasonable wages to their operatives. But, although the wages current in the jam industry in Victoria are so low, the position is still worse in Tasmania. The operatives there receive no protection whatever. I wish that the honorable member for Franklin would read the account of the insanitary conditions which are alleged by reputable citizens to. exist in the industry in Tasmania.

Mr Storrer - Their statements are not correct.

Mr MAUGER - If they are not correct the honorable member will not object to the industry in Victoria being brought up to the level of the industry in his own State.

Mr McWilliams - The honorable member is making statements in regard to something of which he knows nothing.

Mr MAUGER - I know quite as much as does the honorable member.

Mr McWilliams - Here is the evidence bearing upon the matter.

Mr MAUGER - Let the honorable member read it. In the office of the Antisweating League I have sworn testimony showing that the conditions which I have outlined, actually exist in Tasmania.

Mr Lonsdale - From whom was that testimony obtained ?

Mr McWilliams - From some dismissed employe such as the honorable member usually gets his information from.

Mr MAUGER - My honorable friend is wrong. We have positively refused to accept the sworn statement of any person who was not actually engaged in the industry of which he speaks, at the time that his affirmation was made. This particular affirmation was made eighteen months ago.

Mr McWilliams - Did the honorable member read the evidence which was tendered to the Tariff Commission in Hobart?

Mr MAUGER - The Tariff Commission did not deal with this matter exhaustively.

Mr Storrer - Four members of this House went through the Tasmanian jam factories, and they are in a position to speak of their sanitary condition.

Mr MAUGER - I am not speaking particularly of their sanitary condition. If the Tasmanian employers are paying fair wages, and if their establishments are sanitary, they have no more reason to fear factory legislation than I have to fear a policeman. To me a policeman means nothing, and to a fair employer industrial laws mean nothing.

Mr Storrer - We have only the honorable member's statement as to the position in Tasmania.

Mr MAUGER - I have referred to statements that have appeared in the newspapers.

Mr Storrer - The honorable member did not say that they had.

Mr MAUGER - I did. I said that I was referring to a statement which had been given to me, and to the sworn affirmation of operatives who were employed there. The honorable member for Yarra has pointed out, that when the Factories Com mission took evidence in Tasmania, these statements were placed before them, and I have documentary evidence of a confidential character which, proves my assertion. If the position is not as I have indicated I am very glad to hear it. I am sure that my honorable friend will support me in urging that the industrial laws that apply, or should apply, in Victoria should also apply to Tasmania and all the other States. I should be sorry if the honorable member for Franklin imagined that I consider Tasmania is, from an industrial point of view, worse than any of the other States which have no industrial legislation. I do not think it is ; but many of its industrial features ought to be immediately improved, although we cannot hope for an improvement except through the national Parliament giving the employer protection. The same statement can be made with respect to Western Australia. That is, so to speak, a new country ; it is immensely rich, and its gold mines are developing in a way that is little short of marvellous. But there exist there all those conditions which go to make up a bad, sweating, industrial life. What is the reason? It is due to the fact that the laws are inoperative. Why should the national Parliament give an employer an opportunity to command the whole market, and to make a fortune - as it is doing in connexion with the jam trade - without at the same time insisting, by means of industrial legislation, that the worker shall have a fair and reasonable share of the result of that policy? That is all that I ask, and I fail to see why my proposal should be opposed. We fix the duties; why should we not alsofix the wages? We deal with the industrial life, so far as the manufacturer is concerned, and we should also be in a position to deal with industrial life in relation to the employe. We have made great progress, but much more remains to be done. Although Victoria is in the very forefront so far as industrial legislation is concerned, a great deal remains to be done here. The policy of protection has reached in Victoria a higher standard of perfection than it has in any of the other States, and yet we find that in some of the best protected industries here men are being paid a miserable wage. For these reasons I urge that the Parliament should have the power to see that fair wages are paid, not only by the tobacco combine, but by every manufacturer. We should be able to see that no manufacturer is allowed to evade industrial legislation by establishing a factory in a shire or rural district, or removing to an island within our control. Where we afford protection to the manufacturer, we should afford protection to the operative in regard to wages, sanitation, and environment.

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