Labour History

Pragmatic Procrastination: Governments, Unions and Equal Pay, 1949-68

Labour History (2008), 94, (1), 133–156.

Abstract

The twentieth century contours of Australia’s halting progress towards equal pay for women are fairly well delineated. Understandably, earlier scholars have tended to concentrate on public turning points such as the benchmark arbitration cases and legislative amendments. This article seeks to focus between the apparent post-World War II peaks and to examine the powerful social and economic forces delaying implementation of even minimal wage equality for so long. Firstly, the Menzies federal government, closely monitored by its policy advisers, adopted delaying tactics every step of the way — even after some Liberal parliamentarians and party structures became restive with its inertia. Labor state governments, despite their eventual legislative smoke and mirrors, remained equally concerned to restrain female labour costs. Labor’s detachment was matched by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the great bulk of the union movement which, while going through elaborate motions, concentrated on wages and job security for males. Finally, while majority public opinion continually seemed to support the principle of equal pay, the decline of 1940’s idealism, rifts between older, ‘first wave’ feminists and continued national prosperity meant that the women’s wages cause in the 1950s and much of the 1960s lacked the urgency and impetus which ‘second wave’ leadership was to bring in the 1970s.

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Details

Author details

Sheridan, Tom

Stretton, Pat

Table of Contents

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