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with Sydney manufacturers who at the time were independent of any board award. The result was that the Melbourne manufacturers reduced the number of hands in their factories to less than half the number formerly employed and according to one of the inspectors,
The result has been that all those who have been thrown out of the factories have started on their own, and work all hours with the result that they undersell those who have to pay wages and work limited hours.1
2. Wages and Working Conditions
It is not possible in the compass of a single paper to show by means of statistics what effect the determinations of wages boards have had upon wages. Indeed, so numerous are the trades and the various branches thereof, so variable the number of workers, so diverse the modes of payment and so important the other elements entering into the situation, that it is doubtful whether even a complete tabulation of the changes made in the wages of the workers by the wages boards would throw any considerable light on the question as to what results have been achieved by this mode of wage regulation.
The Statistician for the Commonwealth of Australia, Mr. G. H. Knibbs, a careful and scholarly investigator, has prepared a table which shows the variations in wage index-numbers in the different Australian states from 1891 (before there was any wages board or arbitration court in existence) to 1912, when all the states as well as the Commonwealth had tribunals for the regulation of wages. The table was prepared on the basis of average wages in 1911, the number, 1,000 being taken as the index-number for that year in all the states.
1 Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories in Victoria for 1902, p. 31.
VARIATIONS IN WAGE INDEX-NUMBERS IN DIFFERENT STATES,
The table shows that the relative increase from 1891
Without pretending to deny the accuracy of this con-
The lowest point reached in the wage scale in nearly
1 From Knibbs, Report no. 2, Labour and Industrial Branch of Commonwealth
Trade Unionism, Unemployment, Wages, Prices and Cost of Living in Australia,
in Tasmania between 1896 and 1901 or between 1896 and 1906 was greater than in any other state, altho Tasmania was at the time without any method of legal regulation of wages; while it was during these years that the machinery for regulating wages was put in operation in all the other states, with the exception of Queensland.
In the review of the work of the various boards which for years has been carried in the annual reports of the Chief Inspector of Factories in Victoria, the attention of the reader is directed to the average weekly wages paid to employees in the trade the year before the determination came into force and then to the average weekly wage paid in the same trade the year in which the report was made.
The change is nearly always in the direction of an increase. Aside, however, from the fact that changes in the proportion of skilled and unskilled workers, or of men and women employees, or of adult and juvenile workers, will affect the average wage in the trade without necessarily affecting the wages of individual workers, it must be remembered that the period since 1896, when the Victorian wages board legislation was enacted, has been a period of rising wages and prices the world over. Therefore without any legislation the average wages in these Victorian trades might naturally be expected to have risen. Furthermore, the wage statistics for the trades for which no boards were provided almost universally show the same upward movement of wages. The question therefore becomes one of the relative rates of increase in the regulated and unregulated trades.
Mr. Aves in his report 1 has made a study of the variation in wages in selected board trades both before and
1 Op. cit., pp. 28-31.
after the determinations came into force and has also shown the variations in selected non-board trades. He shows that for male employees in thirteen board trades the advances in wages previous to the determinations amounted in the aggregate to 7.6 per cent on the combined average rates of the trades, while in nineteen board trades after the determinations came into force the aggregate advance was 16.5 per cent on the combined average rates, and in twelve non-board trades the aggregate advance was 11.6 per cent on the combined average rates.
For female workers the advance of wages in the afterdetermination period in six trades was equal to 10 per cent on the combined averages and in twelve nonboard trades the advance was equal to 8.8 per cent on the combined averages. Taken in connection with other wage statistics these figures seem to show in a fairly conclusive manner that the determinations of the wages boards have been a contributing influence in the wage increases which have taken place.
The task of the wages board is of course not to establish a rate for all workers in a given trade or to concern itself with average rates in that trade, but to establish the minimum wage which may be paid to the workers generally in the trade for which the board is appointed, or various minima for the different branches of the trade or for different groups of workers classified according to sex, age and experience. It has seldom happened that a wages board has reduced wages either for the trade generally or for any particular branch of the trade, altho it has occasionally happened that the effect of a board's determination has been to reduce the average wages paid, since employers after the determinations were made replaced adult male workers by women workers or
1 See especially the Aves Report, p. 43.
by apprentices or by so-called "improvers," that is employees who have not yet had the necessary experience to enable them to earn the wages of a fully experienced worker.
There is no guidance in the statutes as to the principle on which the mimimum wage should be fixed. The only thing of this sort which has been attempted was the amendment to the Victorian law in 1902, which instructed the boards to ascertain the average rate or wage "paid by reputable employers to employees of average capacity" and to fix the minimum wage or rate no higher than such average rate. The same requirement was copied into the factories acts of the other states having the wages board plan. Inasmuch as the statutes did not attempt to define the word "reputable," it cannot be said that Parliament had done much in the way of furnishing a guiding principle to the boards. The clause, however, proved very embarrassing to the boards in their work. It meant in practice that a board could not raise the rates above the current rates in the trade without putting itself in the embarrassing position of claiming that most employers were not reputable. Accordingly in all states this provision of the law was repealed.
In the absence of any guiding principle the boards have been free to act according to whatever principle they saw fit to adopt. Generally speaking they have not consciously followed any principle, but wages have been established in accordance with the bargaining powers of the respective sides. The decisions of the arbitration courts, especially those of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, in which Mr. Justice Higgins has set forth so clearly the principles which he has followed in establishing a minimum wage, have undoubtedly exercised considerable influence on wages