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members, who constituted about 44 per cent of the (estimated) total number of male employees twenty years of age and over in all professions, trades and occupations; while the 17,670 females in unions made up 8.41 per cent of all employed females.1 That the methods of wage regulation had apparently been one of the influences causing the growth of trade unions seems to be indicated by the fact that the membership in unions had remained almost stationary from 1891 to 1896, before wage regulation began, but had made rapid progress thereafter. The percentage of wage earners in unions is greatest in New South Wales, where the Arbitration Court frequently gives preference to unionists, but in Victoria, where the percentage is 43.98, the wages boards have undoubtedly exercised a strong influence.2
For many trades, especially those in which women or unskilled laborers are employed, the wages board is the beginning of organization. It brings the workers into coöperation for the first time and, for the time being at least, establishes representative government among them. If the determination raises the minimum wage rate, as it has done in nearly every case during the era of rising prices which has continued ever since the boards were established, there is a strong incentive for the workers to form themselves into a strong organization which shall see that they receive the wages prescribed. True, it is the business of the government factory inspectors to see that the determinations are complied with. But even a large force of inspectors could not learn of all the supposed violations if they were not brought to their attention by some responsible
1 Report No. 2, Labour and Industrial Branch, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (April, 1913), p. 12.
Ibid., p. 13.
agency or organization. This the trade union undertakes to do. The wage earner who believes his employer has violated the determination in his trade is most likely to inform his union secretary who is usually a paid official giving all his time to trade-union matters. If the complaint appears to the latter to be justified he reports it to the Chief Factory Inspector's office and an investigation is made.
The value of such an organization, especially to women, who in Australia as elsewhere find it difficult to organize to protect their own interests, is obvious. It is doubtful if a full compliance with a wages board determination is anywhere secured without an organization of the workers to see to its enforcement. A secretary of one of the most powerful trade unions in Australia told me in Sydney that he had assisted the women in several trades to form organizations and apply for wages boards. Important increases in wages besides improvements in working conditions, were obtained in this way, and so important did this gentleman believe the work to be that he said that if financially able to do so he would give all his time to such work of organization. A well organized union not only watches the enforcement of the determination, but usually takes the lead in asking for a wages board or in seeking a revision of the rates of pay; and it nominates the workers' representatives on the board. Frequently these are the only nominees, and 80 per cent of the employees' representatives on the boards are members of the unions.1
Whether or not a well organized union having in its membership a good proportion of the employees in a trade is benefited by the wages boards system is a question which meets with different answers even
1 Aves Report, p. 58.
among trade unionists themselves.
The majority of
the union secretaries whom I met were inclined to think that the wages boards were a benefit even to the strong unions, but there were others who thought that the unions could secure more through strikes than they could through wages boards.
There are other friends of labor outside the unions who doubt whether the wages boards are of any assistance to the unions. Even the author of the wages board law, Sir Alexander Peacock, doubts whether wages boards have been of much value to the well organized trades. There can be little doubt that their maximum benefits have been conferred upon those workers who without them as an incentive would have found it difficult to establish and maintain an organization.
As in the case of the workers, so too in the case of the employers, have the wages boards promoted organizations. Employers unite to nominate their representatives on the boards, to prepare their arguments presented to the boards, to appeal if need be to the Court of Industrial Appeals and to resist what they may consider to be an unfair administration of the law. There is less unity of interests, however, among employers than among employees. Not only is there the natural trade rivalry to keep them apart, but the large employers often find that a certain proposal affects them in quite a different way than it does their smaller competitors. While there are several strong associations of employers in Melbourne, such as the Chamber of Manufactures and the Victorian Employers' Association, which take an active interest in the work of the wages boards as well as in other matters of social legislation, it cannot be said that wages boards have fostered the spirit of unity among employers to the same extent that they have among the laboring classes.
6. Relations between Employers and Employees
The effect which wages boards legislation has had upon the relations between employers and employees must of necessity be a matter largely of opinion, and one's opinion is itself determined by the range of his experiences and by the views of those with whom he has come in contact. In Victoria, as in other industrial countries, these relations are frequently strained, and one finds the same mutual distrust and suspicion on the part of employers and employees which seems everywhere to accompany the wage system.
There can be no doubt, however, that employers and employees are on more friendly terms in the wages board states than in those states where labor disputes are settled by means of compulsory arbitration. It is almost self-evident that a better feeling is likely to prevail under conditions where employers and employees meet on equal terms in open conference to settle their differences, than where one side forces the other to appear in court to respond to certain claims advanced and the final adjustment must be made by a third party. One might well go further, and say that the conference plan itself must inevitably make for a better understanding and therefore give rise to a better feeling between the parties. Through such conferences employers learn to appreciate how difficult at times it is for their employees to make ends meet or to maintain a comfortable standard of living; employees on the other hand oftentimes learn to their surprise that the industry in which they are engaged is not a prosperous one and cannot continue its existence if the claims which the workers are making are to be allowed. Evidence that such good feeling has at times been engendered by the wages boards is found in the speech of a member of the
Legislative Council of Victoria in 1905, when the bill to make permanent the factories acts, including the wages board sections, was being debated. This member was engaged in the butchering trade. He said:
There had never been in the history of the trade as good a feeling existing as at present. At the annual picnic of the journeymen butchers the president and other leading members of the Master Butchers Association were present and testified to the good feeling existing between them and their employees. Others had told him that they would on no account revert to the old state of things that existed prior to the introduction of factory legislation.1
A better test of the absence of any deep-seated illfeeling engendered by the wages boards' system is seen in the relative infrequency of strikes and lockouts in those trades and occupations for which wages boards have been provided. In Victoria, in particular, a strike in any trade in which a wages board has reached a determination is now a thing of rare occurrence. Strikes of considerable duration and extent, which engendered much ill-feeling, have taken place on the government-owned railroads and in the state coal mine at Wonthaggi as well as in industries under private ownership and management, but with few exceptions these industrial disturbances have occurred in other than the wages board trades.
The annual report of the Chief Inspector of Factories in Victoria contains a brief history of the organization and work of each of the various boards. Only six industrial disturbances are there referred to as having occurred in the wages board trades. A lockout in the fell-mongering industry in 1901 came as a result of the refusal of the Court of Industrial Appeals to change
1 Hon. A. McLellan, Parl. Debates, vol. iii, p. 1608.
Report of the Chief Inspector for 1901, pp. 23-24.