« ForrigeFortsett »
The debate on the continuation bill was very lengthy and the wages boards were defended by most speakers on both sides in the Assembly. There was doubtless truth in the statement made by one speaker that some members favored the wages boards because they feared that if they were not continued a worse system (compulsory arbitration) would soon follow."
In the Council the wages boards were attacked with the usual vigor. They were said to have obstructed commercial progress, driven money out of the country, brought about a great loss of population, thrown the inferior workers out of employment, prevented the youth of the country from learning trades, brought all workers down to the same level, made the minimum wage the maximum and destroyed the ability and enterprise of individual workers. On the other hand it was said that they had not prevented sweating nor put an end to strikes.3
There was little evidence brought forward to sustain these allegations but they served to show the uncompromising attitude on the part of many members of the Council. A fair sample of the arguments made in the upper house is contained in the following statement made by N. Levi. He was
entirely opposed to the wages boards system. The Supreme Being and Creator of mankind, who decreed that all human creatures should work for their living, allowed them their free will to accept whatever remuneration they were disposed to take for their services and never meant that they should be prevented by human laws from taking whatever wages they saw fit.^
The Council proceeded to pass an amendment to the bill which limited the scope of the boards' determinations to females of any age and to males under the age of 21.5 When news of this action reached the ears of the
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 105, p. 691. Ibid., pp. 668-685.
Ibid., p. 758.
Ibid., p. 677.
Ministers and of the outside public, such a storm of opposition was created that the Council decided to recommit the bill to the committee where the objectionable amendment was cut out. The Council however insisted on amendments which took away from the wages boards their power to limit the number of indentured apprentices in any trade and which required that in the future no new boards be constituted without the consent of both houses of Parliament. Finally, the Council refused to make the Factories Act a permanent one but limited its duration to December 31, 1905.
In view of the open hostility to the wages boards in the Council and in view of the fact that practically no one in that house supported them in debate, it may cause surprise that the bill for the continuance of the Factories Act was allowed to pass at all. The explanation may be, in part, that changes had recently been made in the mode of selecting members for the Council whereby it became much more of a representative Chamber. The public meetings held to uphold the wages boards legislation and to express disapproval of the Council's attitude thereto probably caused some members of that body to feel that they were not voicing the views of their constituents. This, together with the fact that the Council was able to incorporate several important amendments in the bill, led to the decision to continue the wages boards. Altho still a temporary measure, the Factories and Shops Act with its provision for establishing a minimum wage in industries had successfully passed its crisis and in 1905 there was little difficulty in having the act made a permanent one.
1 An influential factor was the speech of Sir Henry Wrixon, whose opinions were held in much respect by the Council. At a critical stage in the consideration of the bill he took the floor and urged that the bill be passed in spite of what he was willing to admit were its defects.
4. Growing Popularity of Wages Boards in Victoria
The Factories and Shops Act of 1903 in Victoria introduced the following changes in the wages boards legislation. (1) The amendment to the law in 1902 whereby two employers' representatives must vote with the employees or two employees' representatives with the employers in order to reach a determination was repealed and the right to cast the deciding vote in case of a tie was restored to the Chairman. (2) A Court of Appeals was created to pass on cases in which either employers, employees, or the Minister wished to take an appeal from the decision of a board. The Court was to consist of a Supreme Court Judge, aided, if he so desired, by two assessors, representing both the conflicting interests, to give the judge advice on technical points. The assessors, however, were not given the right to vote. (3) New special boards might be created if the resolution authorizing them were adopted by both houses of Parliament. (4) Special boards were no longer to place limitations on the number of apprentices in any trade or business. (5) The Chief Inspector was empowered to grant permits to "slow" workers as well as to old and infirm ones and on the same conditions. (6) The boards might, if they saw fit, fix the special wages or rates at which old, infirm or slow workers might accept employment. (7) In reaching a determination as to the minimum wage or price to be paid to any worker each special board was instructed to ascertain the average wage or price " paid by reputable employers to employees of average capacity " and to fix the minimum wage or rate no higher than such average. If the board believed that the average was too low to serve as a minimum it might refer the matter
to the Court of Appeals. (8) The Minister was given power to nominate the members of any special board and unless one-fifth or more of the employers or employees respectively objected within twenty-one days to the persons nominated to represent them, the persons nominated might be appointed members of the board by the Minister. If one-fifth of the employers or employees did object, an election was to be held the same as hitherto.
This last amendment was one which received the strong indorsement of Sir Alexander Peacock, leader of the Opposition. Sir Alexander has always favored the appointment rather than the election of the board members. His reasons are well set forth by the following extract from his speech on the adoption of the amendment. He said:
I am confident that the great defect that has arisen in connection with our wages boards is owing to the fact that the representatives on the respective sides, before they are elected at all, have made pledges as to what they would do when they came to deal as jurymen with questions to which they should give the fairest attention, recognizing all interests; and then having made those pledges the questions that come before them are pre-judged before any evidence is taken. . . . We know that candidates for election to the wages boards have canvassed for votes, and have pledged themselves to ask for certain rates of wages, and that on the other side the employers' representatives have pledged themselves beforehand to insist on the wages being as low as possible. That was all done before any evidence was taken to determine what the proper rates For three years we tried that system and my experience in administering the act was exactly what I have said.1
In August, 1905, the Government introduced the bill to consolidate and make permanent the nine existing laws relating to factories and shops. No changes were made in the laws themselves. In introducing the measure the Minister of Labor called attention to the
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 105, pp. 116-117.
fact that in 1896, the year when the wages boards plan was introduced into legislation, the number of workers registered in factories was 40,814; in 1904 it was 60,977.1 He said:
If these figures prove anything, I think that they prove that the laws relating to factories have not in any way impeded the progress of trade in this country. I think those figures also prove the efficacy and great advantage of having these industrial laws in the State. No doubt, in the early history of these Acts, there was very considerable friction in connection with the position of employer and employees. I think I am correct in stating that the Acts are now working smoothly, and that a much better feeling exists — almost the best of feeling between both sides, and that the employers as well as the employees are thoroly well satisfied with the law as it obtains at present. I think that the hostile mood that was apparent in the early history of these Acts has disappeared, and that there is every prospect of success in connection with our industrial legislation.2
The early passage of the consolidating bill through both houses of Parliament gave evidence of the truth of the Minister's statement. The debates on the measure were very brief. Most of the speakers praised the acts for having prevented sweating and strikes and for improving the relations between masters and men.3 Some little muttering of discontent was heard from those members who claimed that the acts were still in the "experimental" stage and should therefore not be made permanent, but this was but the lingering echo of the storm of opposition which had nearly swept the acts away in 1902-03. When the time came for a vote the bill to consolidate and make permanent the existing factories legislation passed in both houses without a division.
Since 1905 no fundamental changes in the wages boards legislation have been made in Victoria, but the
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 110, p. 906.
2 Ibid., p. 906.
Ibid., vol. 111, pp. 1608-1612.