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Governor in Council, were not and could not be representatives of the employers under the Act; (2) that the Board had no jurisdiction to fix prices or rates for watchmen; (3) that the limitation of one apprentice or improver to every eight workmen was unreasonable; (4) that the Governor in Council had no power to appoint one special board for fell-mongers, or woolscourers, or tanners of sheepskins. The Court's decision was in favor of the Crown on every point except the second, where it was decided that the board had exceeded its jurisdiction. This decision was given on September 7, 1901. The majority of the employers then closed their establishments and the employees were thrown out of work. The men nevertheless were determined to uphold the determination and did not ask the Government to alter it in any way. After a time some of the yards resumed operations but others continued idle.1 This was the situation when Parlia
The trouble in the brush industry concerned only a single employer. Mr. Laurence Jones, a brush manufacturer who had come from England about the year 1900, had established a factory at Heap-Lane, Melbourne. He expended about £3000 for machinery and employed about fifty females in his establishment. He claimed that he taught these women their trade and paid them from 17 s. ($4.13) to 20 s. ($4.87) per week, "with which they were perfectly satisfied." 2 Mr. Samuel Mauger, Secretary of the Anti-Sweating League, maintained that an investigation showed that the earnings of the women in this factory ranged " from 7 s. ($1.70) to 9 s. ($2.19) a week to do what was really men's work." 3
1 Report of Chief Inspector for 1901, pp. 23–24.
? Letter from Laurence Jones, Parl. Debates, vol. 100, p. 275.
The employers in the other brush factories asked for a wages board which, on being elected, fixed the wages at 45 s. ($10.94) a week for "all persons employed at bass and hair pan work." This work consisted of making heavy brooms, such as are frequently used in cleaning streets, and the Board apparently thought that women should not be employed in this branch of the work. Mr. Jones protested against the determination and induced his employees also to protest, but the Board would not alter its determination and the Minister of Labor, Mr. Murray, would not refuse to gazette it. Mr. Jones, thereupon, removed his business to Tasmania, which at that time had no legislation regulating wages.1
The new Government at once assumed a hostile attitude towards the wages boards legislation. Mr. Irvine, the Premier, declared that the Factories and Shops Act was "practically strangling industries which were in a very flourishing condition before the Act was passed," and, he continued, "I refer more particularly to the fell-mongering business." 2
The new Minister of Labor, Mr. John Murray, had, prior to his acceptance of a ministerial position, in his speech on the no-confidence motion on June 3d, expressed his opinion of the wages boards in these words:
While the Factories Act is in itself inherently good, the administration of that act has been infernally bad, and it is the bad administration of a good act that has conduced so much to the unpopularity of the measure. Who is responsible for that administration? Why the Premier [Mr. Peacock] himself. The wages boards have done more to wreck factory legislation in the minds of the people — and the determinations of these boards, it must be
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 100, pp. 775-777. It would be interesting to know what Mr. Jones has done since Tasmania has enacted wages boards legislation.
* Parl. Debates, vol. 100, p. 19.
remembered, have been approved of in every instance by the honorable gentleman who administers the act - than anything in the Factories Act itself.1
A few weeks later Mr. Murray, as Minister of Labor, had to move the continuance of the Factories Act, including the existing wages boards, for another six months and was obliged to endure considerable "chaffing" from Sir Alexander Peacock, now leader of the Opposition, for his apparently sudden conversion.'
Altho there was little resistance to the passage of the Continuation bill in the Assembly, it was made the object of bitter attack in the Council. While the opponents of the wages boards would not declare that they would refuse to vote in favor of a continuation of the Factories Act, they succeeded in postponing from week to week a vote on the measure, claiming that the report of the Royal Commission would soon be ready and that there would be time enough to prepare a new bill based on the information supplied by the Commission. In the meantime the long pent-up feeling against the wages boards had an opportunity to vent itself in the debates. The friends of the wages boards in the Council were either too timid to make reply or considered that it was best not to delay a vote on the measure by attempting to answer the charges made against it. Members from the country districts suffering from the drought expressed the fear that capital was being driven out of the country by the wages board determinations. The occasion for this fear was the closing of the fell-mongering establishments, which made it necessary to send sheepskins out
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 100, p. 58. When I was in Melbourne in the early part of 1912, Mr. Murray was Premier of Victoria. In a conversation which I had with him he expressed the opinion that the wages boards system was proving very satisfactory and that opposition to it had practically died away.
Parl. Debates, vol. 100, pp. 89, 110.
of Victoria to be worked up. Other speakers complained that the boards fixed the minimum wage so high that instead of benefiting employees it threw the weaker ones out of work. The Factories Act was said to be "a law to crush out the weak." 2 Still others objected to "the new religion that unless a trade could give a man the highest possible amount of wages it ought not to be a trade at all, and ought to be sent elsewhere. This simply transferred the burden from our own State to our neighbors, because these trades must be carried on somewhere." 3
One member complained that the wages boards system took the management of business out of the hands of employers and placed it in the hands of the chairmen of the boards, men who were "not practical business men and very seldom knew anything at all, or at any rate knew very little of the particular business they were asked to arbitrate upon.
It was said that the workers had not received increased pay from the operations of the law, and ingenious arguments taken from a pamphlet published by the Victorian Employers' Federation were used to show that the working classes could not benefit by such legislation. According to the writer of this pamphlet, the minimum wage, if applied to an over-supplied labor market "inevitably leads to selection amongst the operatives"; if based upon the earning power of workmen of average skill it means that “the man below the standard must be discharged "; acting in a market where labor is scarce "it is unnecessary, as wages then rise by the operation of the law of supply and demand." 5
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 100, p. 369. * Ibid., p. 641.
⚫ Ibid., p. 713.
Quoted in Parl. Debates, vol. 100, p. 774.
Not only the theory of the minimum wage came in for severe criticism in the Council but its administration was roundly scored. One of the most prominent citizens" of Melbourne was quoted with approval as saying that the Factories Act was "being administered by an honest, energetic, well-meaning mono-maniac.' The Chief Inspector, Mr. Harrison Ord, was the gentleman thus characterized.
Altho urged in a half-hearted way by the SolicitorGeneral to hasten the passage of the continuation act, and altho informed by members of the Royal Commission that their report would not be ready for some time, the Council continued its policy of delay by postponing the time for a vote until September 10th, when Parliament was prorogued. Since the Factories Act lapsed with the end of the session of Parliament unless renewed, the State of Victoria suddenly found itself without any factory legislation except the antiquated and partially repealed statute of 1890. All the determinations of special boards ceased to have any legal effect at the same time.
The majority of the employers who had been working under wages boards' determinations did not take advantage of the lapse to reduce wages or otherwise to alter conditions. This was cited by the friends of the boards as evidence against the claim that the determinations were hampering industry.
The prorogation of Parliament was followed by its dissolution. The general elections resulted in a continuation of the Irvine Government and when Parliament again met that Government immediately brought in a bill for the revival of the Factories Act.
The bill was vigorously debated in both houses and the wages boards were attacked even more bitterly than
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 100, p. 895.