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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

A Levelling Down Tendency

A Levelling Down Tendency.

It was not the intention of the man who framed, or of the Parliament which passed the Act, that it should be a standard wage regulator. It was anticipated that although a minimum wage was fixed by an award, the old contractual basis of service would continue, and that the Court would be rarely invoked, and then only to settle some outstanding point of difference which stood in the way of the parties coming to an agreement. I showed that from the use made of the Act. and for the reasons I gave, the Court has steadily become a State regulator of fair wages in each industry, and although a wage fixed by the Court is merely the least an employer is allowed to pay, it is in general practice, the highest the employer will pay. The result of this has been a marked tendency to a uniform or dead level wage in each trade, for all workers, good, bad and indifferent. I need not dwell upon the evils of such a tendency. It has tended to deprive superior care, skill, and industry of the reward and encouragement essential to their exercise, and the dead level of the wage tends to impress itself upon the energy of the worker. This is the evil the Prime Minister referred to in his speech at Onehunga when he declared that what the Act wanted was some provision, some machinery, by means of which, while preserving to the workers all the present benefits of the measure, a proper reward should be provided as an incentive to superior care skill and industry. I shall return to a discussion of this suggestion later.