Reconciliation and Conciliation: The Irreconciable Dilemma of the 1965 'Equal' Wage Case for Aboriginal Station Workers

Australian Society for the Study of Labour History
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Labour History, 2007, 93 (11), pp. 15 - 34
Issue Date:
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The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1965 presided over a landmark case concerning the inclusion of Indigenous workers in the Cattle Industry (Northern Territory) Award 1951. The success of the Australian beef industry during the previous hundred years, especially in the Northern Territory, depended almost entirely upon the work of Indigenous cattle workers but they had rarely been paid. The Commission decided to include Indigenous people under the Award, but its characterisation as an Equal Wage Case is a misnomer. The arguments in the proceedings fuelled a decision that compromised the principle behind Award wages. First, the Commission relied on arguments regarding the lower work value of Indigenous workers to allow individuals to be categorised as `slow workers on below-Award wages. Second, the Commission referred to evidence on the Commonwealths assimilation policy to advocate the removal of workers from `tribal camps on stations. The transcripts reveal racial biases of the Commission that undermined the granting of Award wages.
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