11th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator theHon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 11 am., and read prayers,
Senator REID presented the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence relating to the proposed establishment of. an automatic telephone exchange at Edgecliff, New South Wales.
– Is the right honorable the Leader of the Senate aware that insurance companies in Sydney are sending telegrams and letters to honorable senators’ representing that State sitting on this side of the chamber in regard to the Life Insurance Bill ? Is he also aware that in another place, the Prime Minister said that amusement promoters are endeavoring to apply a form of political pressure, well known in America, in relation to another matter before that chamber? If so, will he take action to ascertain why this attempted intimidation by life insurance companies is taking place?
-I amnot aware that insurance companies have sent letters or telegrams to honorable senators in relation to a bill before this chamber, but even if they did make representations to honorable senator’s in that way they would be within their rights. Whether or not such messages would constitute intimidation Would depend upon the terms used in them and the method employed to bring these representations under the notice of honorable senators. I am not aware of any improper method being used by the life insurance associations.
– The trade unions are doing the same thing in connexion with another bill before this Parliament.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Regarding the other matter to which the honorable Senator referred, I can only say that I heartily associate myself with the statement made by the right honorable the - Prime Minister.
SenatorFOLL.- Is the Leader of the Senate aware that the Australasian Council of Trade Unions in Sydney is attempting to adopt mass picketing methods in connexion with the Maritime Industries Bill now before another place; and does he know that the Labour party will fall in with the wishes of that body, as it always does in such cases?
– The honorable senator in asking a question is not entitled to express opinions.
– I got it in, and am satisfied.
– The honorable senator is grossly out of order in making that statement;
– I apologise.
– I am aware that the Australasian Council of Trade Unions is making the representations referred to by the honorable senator. Since I replied to Senator Dunn’s question, he has handed me a letter and telegram of the kind to’ which he refers. Having read them, I can find in them no ‘ threat or intimidation whatever.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are. -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Yes. The claims were very carefully considered, but the aviation experts advise that Turkey Creek is not regarded as suitable as a landing place.
Motion (by Senator Foll) agreed to -
That one month’s leave of absence be granted to Senator C. V. Cox on account of ill-health.
Motion (by Senator McLachlan) agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Bankruptcy Act 1924-28.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act relating to the settlement of certain matters arising out of employment in the Public Service.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Suspension of Standing Order.
[11.9]. - I move -
That Standing Order 192 be suspended to enable the second reading of this bill to be taken forthwith.
I purpose moving the second reading of the bill to-day and then allowing the adjournment of the debate until next week.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole Senate present, and no voice being raised in dissent, I declare the motion carried.
[11.10]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is of considerable importance, not only to the Public Service, but also to the people of Australia as a whole. Prior to 1911 members, of the Commonwealth Public Service had the right of appeal to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court in respect of all matters affecting salaries and wages and conditions pertaining to their employment. In that year, however, it was thought desirable that they should be removed from the jurisdiction of that court, and a measure was passed accordingly providing for the appointment of a Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator, to whom Commonwealth public servants have since had the right of appeal. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the powers of the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator as set out in sections 5 and 6 of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act of 1911-
An organization of employees in the Public Service of the Commonwealth shall be entitled to submit to the court by plaint any’ claim relating to the salaries, wages, rates of pay, or terms or conditions of service or employment of members of the organization, and the court shall thereupon have cognizance of the claim as if it were an industrial dispute within the meaning of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1911.
The court shall, as regards any claim of which it has cognizance under this act, have power -
Under those sections the Public Service Arbitrator was given very extensive powers. Long before provision was made for arbitration for Commonwealth public servants, there was in existence a Commonwealth Public Service Act providing for the conduct of the Service and its control by a Public Service Board. It is interesting to recall the atmosphere in which such legislation came into existence. Those who have given any consideration to the subject will remember that prior to the appointment of a Public Service Board - before the adoption of such a system by the States - a very objectionable atmosphere surrounded employment in the Public Service.From time to time charges were made of political influence and nepotism, and not only was there a state of unrest and dissatisfaction in the Service, but also dissatisfaction in the minds, of the general public. The fact has been lost sight of, I think, that the Public Service Board was actually brought into existence as a protection to public servants themselves. ‘ In the atmosphere which has grown up in recent years, the Public Service Board has come to be regarded as a body opposed to the interests of the Public Service. Nothing could be further from the fact. The creation of the Public Service Board has been of the greatest benefit to public servants. It has protected their interests, and has shielded them from ministerial and political interference and influence of every kind. That is an essential fact of which we should not lose sight in dealing with this subject.
One of the principal duties imposed upon the Public Service Board was the classification of the Service. This necessarily occupied a considerable time, since the Service is not only a vast one, but is widely spread throughout the continent.
The work was completed in 1922 and under the sections I have quoted it was then competent for any organization of public servants to appeal to the PublicService Arbitrator against the salaries, wages, or conditions, fixed by that classification. But I remind honorable senators that in addition to that power there was also under the Public Service Act itself the right given to any individual officer, who felt aggrieved,- to appeal against his classification to a board, one of the members of which was a direct representative of the class or division to which he belonged. Public servants were thus safeguarded by the Public Service Act from injustice; they were given the right of appeal to a body independent of the board that had made the classification.
Parliament, therefore, provided a double safeguard, in order to protect the rights of individual officers in the Service. In the Public Service (Arbitration) Act, however, Parliament went further, perhaps unknowingly, as it not only gave the right to sections of the Public Service to appeal from the classification of the board to the Public Service Arbitrator, but it also gave individual officers the right to appeal to him. In the Commonwealth Public Service to-day, there are approximately 28,000 permanent officers. In consequence of this legislation there has been duplication and overlapping of the functions of the Public Service Arbitrator and those of the Public Service Board. These two authorities deal with the same subjects and conflict at many points. The Public Service Board - not necessarily as at present constituted, but ever since its inception - has from time to time directed the attention of the Government and of Parliament to that overlapping and conflict, and to the results that have followed. The British Economic Mission, which recently visited Australia to inquire into certain phases of our national life, gave attention to the adminsistration of the Public Service, and this feature of it struck them as an anomaly of such a serious character, that in their report, special reference was made to it.
It is because of the present anomalous position, the duplication, overlapping and to a large extent, the confusion, loss and inefficiency arising under the present system, that the Government is submitting this bill to Parliament. It is framed with the object of overcoming that confusion, overlapping, inefficiency, and loss and it embodies the intention of the Government, and also, we hope, of Parliament, in regard to the future control of the service. It retains the right of public servants to approach an arbitration authority under proper conditions, and the aim of the Government is efficient administration under just conditions to the Public Service. The bill provides that the powers of the Public Service Board in regard to administration generally shall be exclusive. That was the original intention of Parliament, and 13 the reason for its existence. If that is not intended, then the board is an excrescence and should be abolished. We propose in this bill that its power shall be exclusive, except in regard to salaries and wages. In respect of salaries and wages, we retain in the bill the right of public servants to appeal to an arbitration authority against any classification which may be fixed from time to time by the Public Service Board.
– Who will adjust the other conditions?
– In dealing with all other conditions the Public Service Board will have that exclusive authority which Parliament originally gave it, although it subsequently created another tribunal” with overlapping authority.
– Will there be an appeal from a decision of the Public Service Board?
– In the Public Service Act, as I have already pointed out, provision is made for an appeal to a board, upon which the officer concerned’ is represented. By this measure we are removing the third appeal body that deals with these matters.
The arbitration authority to be set up under this bill will be in the nature of an arbitration committee, presided over by a judge and consisting also of a representative of the Public Service Board and of the particular section of public servants that may from time to time appeal to it.
– Will Judge Lukin be the Chairman?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.No particular judge has been selected; it will be the Chief Judge of the Maritime Industries Court or such judge of that court as may be nominated by him.
– Will there be any representative of the taxpayers?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The representative of the taxpayers will be the representative of the Public Service Board, whose duty it is to- safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. The representation of the Public Service itself will change from time to time, according to the nature of the case to be heard by the tribunal. At the outset, the organizations representing various sections of the Public Service will be invited to nominate a panel of three, from which one will be selected by the Minister, according to the case to be adjudicated on. Further, the organization of employees concerned will have the right, through its advocate, to prepare and submit a case to the tribunal, and the representative of the department concerned will also have the right to prepare the case from the departmental viewpoint. In these circumstances, the tribunal will have before it the case for the organization of employees involved, and also the case for the department in reply to the plaint.
There is one important principle which differentiates this proposed legislation from that now in operation, namely, that under the present system we have a single arbitrator. The weakness of that system, which has been disclosed, is that there is no link between the arbitral authority and the administrative authority. The result is that the Arbitrator has had to inform his mind, and can inform his mind only by means of the oral evidence submitted to him. Under this legislation, however, as the Public Service Board has an organization and inspectors in every State, the arbitral authority will be linked up with the Public Service administration and organizations throughout Australia. It is believed, therefore, that the new tribunal will have a better knowledge of the facts of each case than is possible when the Arbitrator has to rely wholly on the oral evidence submitted to him. The arbitral authority will have, as an employees’ representative, a person who is cognizant of all the conditions of the Service, and who probably will be an officer employed in the particular department or branch concerned in the plaint. And so with the board’s representative. In that way we shall have sitting round the table men who are actually concerned in the work of the Service - men who have a knowledge of all its ramifications and of the advantages or defects which would follow from a given judgment.
We are making in this legislation a change of an important character, in that whereas under the present system every public servant, from the highest paid official to the most recently appointed telegraph messenger, has the right of appeal to the Public Service Arbitrator, under this measure it is proposed that in the matter of appeals there shall be a salary limit of £600. Officers receiving more than that amount will not have the right of appeal to the Public Service arbitral authority. Then we are excluding individual officers from the right of appeal to this authority. In this we are merely following the example provided by our general arbitration legislation. No individual employee can take a case to the Federal Arbitration Court. That right is given only to organizations representing sections of employees.. In this measure that principle will be followed.
We are also excluding from the ambit of the power of this tribunal everything except salaries and wages. Those are the only matters affecting the Public Service on which this tribunal may adjudicate. Before I conclude I shall submit a mass of evidence that will absolutely justify the exclusion of all the minutiae of administration that have been responsible for so much confusion in the past.
Another important alteration is made in the bill in regard to determinations. Under the present law a determination of the Public Service Arbitrator does not take effect until it has been laid on the table of both Houses of Parliament. A certain time must then elapse before effect is given to it. During , that time a Minister in either House may submit a motion disap-
E roving of the determination. But the Arbitrator, it should be noted, has the power to make retrospective awards, and, before I conclude, I propose to give instances of certain retrospective awards that have had financially, a most embarrassing effect on the Government of the day. The right given to the Government to ask Parliament to disallow an award has, to my knowledge, been exercised on only two occasions, and the circumstances in each case were rather important. Some years ago a previous Ministry introduced into the Public Service the principle of child endowment, with certain limitations; but the Public Service Arbitrator, in one of his determinations, took upon himself the responsibility of extending that principle beyond the limits intended by the Government and endorsed by Parliament. In the circumstances the Ministry considered that the Public Service Arbitrator’s determination trenched on matters of policy, and for that reason it asked Parliament to disallow the award. Parliament did so. The second occasion will be well within the recollection of those honorable senators who were members of the last Parliament. They will recall that in one of his determinations the Arbitrator extended the Canberra allowance beyond the limits intended in the regulation made by the Public Service Board. On that occasion also the Government considered that the determination was an interference with Government policy, and that it would have very far-reaching effects upon the Public Service. Because of the confusion that would result, the Government asked the Senate to disallow it. This chamber did so. Those are the only two occasions upon which, so far as I can recollect, the power to disallow a determination has been exercised.
Under’ the bill the procedure with regard to determinations will be slightly different. It has always been a grievance with the Public Service, that if Parliament is in recess for a considerable period, a determination which may have’ been made immediately prior to the adjournment can have no effect until Parliament reassembles and the determination is laid upon the table. Under the bill it is proposed that the authority to make retrospective determinations shall be strictly limited to certain special cases, but a determination will take effect immediately it is gazetted.
There is, however, a reserve power given to the Government to suspend a determination. If this power is exercised the suspended determination will be laid upon the table of both Houses of Parliament, and either House may, by resolution, object to the suspension. This provision is, of course, inserted to protect the definite right of Parliament eventually to control and safeguard the public revenue. It will remove the objections on the part of the Public Service ‘ in regard to delay in giving effect to determinations, and at the same time will reserve to Parliament final authority over such determinations. Once the Government has taken action to suspend a determination, action may be taken in either House to disallow that suspension.
– Action by the Government to suspend an award is tantamount to action to disallow it?
– Parliament will have power to override such suspension.
An important alteration is being made in regard to viva voce evidence. We are providing that oral evidence shall be disallowed in proceedings before, this tribunal and I feel confident that I shall be able to convince the Senate of the desire.ableness of the proposed amendment. The ideal underlying the constitution of this arbitral authority is not that it shall be regarded as a court, with all the legal trappings and procedure of a court in regard to evidence and so forth, but that it shall be a tribunal in which those interested in the industry concerned, if we may regard Government departmental activities as such, may sit around a table and compose their differences.
I propose to give a few reasons why we contemplate making this departure from the practice hitherto observed in the taking of evidence. The Government takes the view that the sometimes protracted proceedings before the Public Service Arbitrator have led to excessive costs and have been responsible for a great waste of time in the hearing of claims. The delay that occurs between the lodging of a claim and the hearing of the evidence is the cause of a great deal of irritation and generally has a bad effect on the Public Service. Under the bill it will be possible, if necessary, to have more than one committee sitting at the same time, so there should not be any considerable lapse of time, as is experienced now, with a single arbitrator, between the filing of a plaint and the hearing of the case. This will provide a simpler and speedier method of hearing the claims. One of the most objectionable features of the present system is that it often involves the hearing of numerous witnesses, some of whom are brought from considerable distances, with the result that the proceedings are unduly prolonged and the expense is excessive. In many instances a great deal of time is occupied in the hearing of minor issues involving comparatively small sums, so that the cost of the proceedings sometimes exceeds many times the final determination of the Arbitrator as reflected in the increased salaries o* better conditions awarded. Under thibill it is thought we shall be able to get all the pertinent evidence - all the evidence that counts - prepared in the most effective way by those more intimately acquainted with the industry and considered by those who have a special knowledge of the work of the department involved.
It is desirable, I think, that I should, give honorable senators some evidence qf what is happening under the present law. and show why we propose to make the changes which I have indicated. In the first place we may be asked why we are confining the power of the arbitral authority to salaries and wages. To. make the position absolutely clear I must quote at some length cases where the Arbitrator has adjudicated upon what are purely matters of administration and show the confusion that has consequently resulted. I direct attention in the first place to the question of tests for advancement. Those who have a working knowledge of the Postal Department will know that it comprises many technical branches in which large numbers of public servants are employed. In private employment the advancement, of a particular employee is a simple matter. An employer has the right to promote or bring down any person in his employment. There is no body of electors to question his authority. The position of a Government department is entirely different. In that case the advancement or promotion of individual officers is governed by many considerations. Care has to be exercised so that no allegation of favoritism in the promotion of public servants can be levelled at the head of a department or its responsible Minister. Promotion has to be based on the attainment of technical knowledge, and consequently there must be a series of tests to prove the qualifications of the officers advanced. In the post office, particularly, there has been evolved a system of tests, built, up as a result of experience over a series of years for the promotion of its employees. Nevertheless, under the present law, the Public Service Arbitratorwithout any technical knowledge of the working of the department, may take oral evidence and make a determination. The following rules have been laid down by the Public Service Board as tests for advancement : -
For the purpose of ensuring the efficiency of officers for the performance of duty in certainsections of the service, and to provide that only qualified officers are advanced, tests based upon the nature of the duties to be performed have been prescribed by the board. These tests are determined only after full consideration and consultation with responsible officers of departments concerned.
In certain cases the arbitrator has unnecessarily included the tests as a condition of his determination or has exercised his powers by altering the nature of a test or varying its application.
As an example, tests were prescribed for mail officers employed on sorting duties in the mail branches of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The conditions of test were notified in 1025 in the Gazette. With changes in system under a progressive management and with altering local conditions, a test suitable in 1925 does not satisfactorily meet conditions at a later date. The arbitrator has, however, specifically determined that the tests as gazetted in 1925, with one important exception, should be those to be passed by officers. The position is, therefore that the officers must either be tested under conditions which are now obsolete, or that, before the department or _ the board can make any material change suited to the altered conditions, it must proceed through the form of application for variation, judicial hearing, and all the consequent procedure at present entailed.
The important exception referred to relates to a practical test of efficiency in a particular sorting duty. The arbitrator struck out this test, requiring only a certificate from the local Superintendent of Mails. Instead, therefore, of a test operating uniformly throughout the States, the advancementof an officer in each State is now dependent upon the view taken by the local superintendent of his efficiency. With the possibilities of superintendents taking different views, the alteration does not make for efficiency or for uniformity in treatment of officers.
In the telegraph branches of the Commonwealth a former condition of appointment of telegraphists was that the examination for entrance to the third division shouldbe passed. The board relaxed these conditions under classification, and permitted fourth division officers to enter the ranks of telegraphists with substantial advantages in increments of salary anda maximum appreciably above their previous maximum. It provided for still further advancement but stipulated that, as a condition of this further advancement, the educational third division examination should be passed. The arbitrator, however, removed this test of educational qualifications despite the strongly expressed views of expert officers as to its neces sity in the interests of the department. The result is increased expense to the Common wealth, combined with a lessened incentive to officers to improve their efficiency, and to fit themselves for ultimate promotion aspost masters (third division).
The exercise of that authority by the Arbitrator has had a very bad effect on the Public Service, but I wish to emphasize that in speaking in this way I am not criticizing the Public Service Arbitrator. It is the system with which I am dealing. Under the act, the Arbitrator must adjudicate upon claims that come before him. It is his duty to do this. Therefore, anything which I may say must not be taken as personal criticism.” My remarks are directed rather to the working of the system -
For purposes of management, and for advice to departments as to the application of classification conditions in a number of sections of the service, the board has defined the functions to be regarded as those applying to specified positions. In all cases the functions were framed after consultation with responsible officers of departments.
In proceedings before the Arbitration Court, statements of these functions have been produced, the view being taken that it is the province of the board to define the work of officers, where necessary to do so, and for the arbitration tribunal to decide what shall be paid for such work.
In the following cases the arbitrator has, however, himself defined functions as a condition of his determinations adopting generally those framed by the board but varying them in some few instances -
Variation was made in tlie functions or’ mechanics and linemen. Tt is considered that the prescribing of functions or definition of duties of positions should be left to the authorities responsible for the management of the service, and the power of the arbitral authority, should be restricted to determining rates to be paid for the service rendered.
Interference of the court in the matter of functions has given rise to considerable difficulties and has led to innumerable disputes with unions. The matter was dealt with by Mr. Justice Higgins, who stated that he did not desire the functions laid down by him to be regarded as exclusive.- Notwithstanding this, however, disputes frequently arose and cases occurred where nien refused to carry out certain work required of them, because such work was not included in the functions laid down by the court.
The Arbitrator has not allocated officers to positions by any direct action in his determinations, that is, he has not directed that any particular officer should be removed to a particular position. In that respect he has not interfered with the functions of the board or the permanent heads, but in certain instances, where he has raised the classification of positions, hia determinations give the board and departments no voice as to the officer who should fill the position under the altered classification. This is contrary to the provisions of the Public Service Act, which directs that where an office is raised in classification it shall automatically become vacant, thus giving the permanent head and the board power to determine the officer best entitled to the position.
An example may be found in a recent determination relating to officers of state branches of the Customs Department. These branches had been classified by the board, all appeals had been considered, and the officers’ were established in their positions with scales of pay fixed with due regard to the relative value of the positions and the claims of the occupants. The Arbitrator, in his determination, made variations in the scales of pay in a large number of positions, disturbing the previously existing relativity, and causing much dissatisfaction amongst senior officers, who found that juniors had been placed above them in pay. Protest was made by the officers to the board, which was powerless in the matter. A question was also asked in Parliament on the 22nd February last.
A large number of cases of this nature have occurred; but a specific instance may be cited in the classification of the positions of Inspector, Invoice Room, and Tariff Officer, Invoice Room, Victoria. The board has classified these officers equally with a maximum of £582. The Arbitrator altered this maximum, giving the Inspector a maximum of £600 and the Tariff Officer a maximum of £612. In making the unnecessarily fine distinction of £.12, the position of Inspector, previously regarded as the senior for purposes of management, has become subordinate in rate of pay, and neither the department nor the board had power to effect a change, as regards the present occupants, to meet the situation.
Then there are cases in which the Arbitrator has unnecessarily disturbed existing conditions. In 1924, the Arbitrator determined the rates of pay of linemen employed in the Postmaster-General’s Department as, minimum £233; maximum £251. The board then dealt with the linemen by classification, and fixed the rates as, minimum £236; maximum £252. These rates accorded with standard rates adopted in classification of the Service. They gave these officers a minimum £3 higher than that allowed by the Artitrator, and a maximum £1 higher than that of the Arbitrator, with the further advantage of reaching their maximum in two years instead of three as under the Arbitrator’s determination. Within twelve months of the approval of the classification, the Arbitrator again varied the scales of pay by reducing tb& minimum by £3 to agree with his earlier award, by spreading the increments over three years, instead of two years as under the classification, and by increasing his former maximum from £251 to £256, or £4 more than the classification rate. The actual effect of the determination is, however, that a lineman, in the first three years of his service, will be worse paid than under the board’s classification, and at the end of five years he will have benefited by the Arbitrator’s determination to the extent of only fi. Thereafter, his benefit amounts to 4d. a day. It is difficult to find any good reasons for disturbance of an existing condition, and for the waste of time involved in the hearing of a claim of such inadequate results, apart altogether from interference with a classification which has been based on standard rates of payment.
I come now to the reason why in this bill we have departed from the system of having a single arbitrator. It is because we are convinced that many of the mistakes that have been made, and the interference that has occurred would not have taken place if the Arbitrator had been linked up with, and there had been a liaison between him and the Public Service administration. That is the reason why we regard the placing on the arbitration tribunal of a representative of the Public Service Board and a representative of the employees’ organizations as vital in linking up a knowledge of the Service with the judicial authority.*
I also desire to recognize fully the value of the work that is being, and can be done by the Public Service organizations. The Government wrote to all these bodies, indicating that it contemplated a review of this legislation. It asked them to express fully their views as to the result of working under the present legislation, and to suggest any alterations that they thought might be made with advantage to the Service and the public. Here let me publicly express the appreciation of the Government of the many valuable contributions received from those organizations. Many of them are not in accord with what the Government is doing, but the letters received indicate “ that they have given the matter very close study, and they have made many valuable suggestions, some of which have been embodied in the legislation we are now submitting. I wish, particularly, to say that in the higher branches of the Service there has been a recognition, to a great extent, of the right of the taxpayers and the public. And throughout those letters a desire is shown that there shall be efficiency in the Service. I think that it is only right that honorable senators should know that the appeal by the Government has been responded to in that spirit, and I make public acknowledgment of the helpful attitude adopted by those organizations in replying to our communication. .
I shall now give reasons why we are fixing the salary limit at . £600, above which officers will not have the right to appeal to this arbitral authority. In the first place, there is the classification power of the Public Service Board. That is to say, the salaries of the Public Service to-day, except those of the permanent heads, are fixed by a board composed of public servants themselves - men who have been trained in the Service and know all about it. That board” has large powers which are never interfered with by the Government unless there are very strong reasons for it. Therefore, we have to-day a practically independent tribunal that fixes the salaries of the Public Service - a tribunal of public servants themselves. Then, again, the ordinary arbitration law of this country does not apply in the main to the professional class; it chiefly deals with the wage-earning section. I remind honorable senators that in several of th, States - in Queensland and in New South Wales - there is a salary limit, and 3 think that in one of those States it is as low as £400 a year. So the Commonwealth has the example of two States where the right of access to an arbitration authority by the Public Service is subject to a salary limit; but in several of the States public servants have no right to appeal to such an authority at all. The Commonwealth law, therefore, is, at any rate, as liberal as that of any of the States, and the position of Federal public servants in that respect is better than that of most State public servants. But there is a reason why this limit should be fixed in the interests of the taxpayers. A Government is not in the same position as a private employer in matters of employment in the Public Service. When the unions in an industry cite their employers to the court on a matter of salaries and wages, those employers’ own personal interests - the well-being of their industries - are involved, and they go to court with a carefully prepared case to show whether or not their industries can afford to pay the salaries and wages asked. But, in a case in which a claim is made by public servants, there is no personal employer. The employer is the people of Australia, and they are represented by the Government. It is obvious that the Government cannot appear in an arbitration court to defend the interests of the taxpayers, and say that the increases asked for are unjustifiable. Therefore the Parliament has had to create an authority, and it has done that by appointing the Public Service Board. The members of that board themselves are public servants. Who, then, is- to represent the people when a case comes into court in which a claim is made for increased salaries? Who is to put the case on behalf of the people? Suppose there is an unconscionable claim, and the request is unjustifiable, who is to speak for the people? What has been the experience of the past? There appears for the people an officer of .the Public Service ; but his. own salary is affected by and conditional upon the salaries paid to his fellow officers and, therefore, if these increases, unconscionable though they may be, are granted, in the long run his salary will increase because of the common increase in the salaries and wages of officers in the other branches. He is, to all intents and purposes, an interested party.
I could give many specific cases ; but I shall mention one in particular. This is the case of the Professional Officers Association, which made a claim in the present year. The claim related to engineers in the Postmaster-General’s Department at the central office and in the six States. The plaint was lodged with the Arbitrator on the 18th April, a conference has been arranged for the 30th August, and the hearing is to commence in the middle of September. The Chief Electrical Engineer at the central office (Mr. J. M. Crawford) will represent the department in this case. The claim is for largely increased salaries. Mr. Crawford is concerned in the plaint, as a claim is made that the salary attached to his position, which prior to classification was £1,100 maximum, and which from 1st July last */ros raised by the Public Service Board to a maximum of £1,500, shall now be further increased to a maximum of £2,500, with two annual increments of £250 each.
The department, perforce, has to use the services of an engineer because of the technical details involved, and, if M-r. Crawford were not appointed, some other engineer such as Mr. Lawson, the engineer controlling the New South Wale.branch of the department, would probably have to be selected. But Mr. Lawson is also involved, since a claim is made for an increase in the salary of his office. There is also a point as to designations which the officers’ association seeks to alter. But the case is typical of what happens right through. Therefore, if we are to have anybody to represent the people before this board, surely it must, be somebody who has’ no persona] interest in the claim made. By making this £600 limit we shall remove senior officers from the arbitration tribunal, and we shall then be able to select, to represent the case for the depart - ment, senior officers who will have no personal interest in the claim. It cannot be said for a moment that the interests of senior officers will suffer from this fact. Nobody will claim that Parliament, in the past, has allowed, or will in future allow, any unfair treatment of the senior officers of the Public Service. The Commonwealth Service compares more than favorably in that regard with similar services in the States, and I hope that tha: will always be so. Senior officers have the Public Service Board, consisting of men with public service knowledge,to deal with their cases, and the permanent heads of departments have the Government and the Parliament as the ultimate tribunal that will determine these matters.
I shall give the reasons why the Govern ment have excluded from the authority of this tribunal those other matters of administration such as extraneous payments of various kinds now -coming before the Arbitrator. Let me give an illustration. Take the subject of overtime in the Customs Department. The Arbitrator issued an interpretation to the effect that the working of merchants’ overtime before and after ordinary hours should not be treated as overtime covering a day, but should be separately calculated for morning and evening, with a minimum payment for each period. The Public Service Board had taken the view that if ordinary office hours were 6¾, and an officer worked an hour in the morning before 9 a.m. and an hour in the evening after 5 p.m., the whole period of duty was 8¾ hours. The Arbitrator took another view, and decided that where an officer worked half an hour overtime in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon they were to be treated as two separate periods, each to be paid for at the rate of 4s. 6d. per hour or any part thereof. This interpretation dates retrospectively to 1925. The effect of it is that in Sydney the Customs Department has to pay the men concerned £2,640 extra overtime, in addition to that already paid them between 1st October, 1925, and 5th January, 1929. In Victoria the excess payment amounts to £414 4s. 6d. The board is approaching the Arbitrator to endeavour to secure a variation of the award to place the matter on a better basis.
In the matter of waiting time, the Arbitrator, upon interpretation, ruled that officers away from headquarters, whether in receipt of travelling allowance or not, should be paid for time spent in waiting for a train. Here is an example : A lineman was sent from Melbourne to Warburton. He finished work on Saturday at 12 noon. The train did not leave for Melbourne till 3 p.m. That lineman must receive three hours’ pay above his salary, because he is waiting for a train during that period. Let us assume that he has been at Warburton for three days. This is what he would receive -
His salary at the usual rate.
Travelling allowance at the rate of 12s. a day from the time of departure from Melbourne to the time of his return to the city.
Travelling time for any periods, both ways, on the train before S a.m. or after 5 p.m. “ Waiting time “ as stated.
For the three hours of waiting time he was drawing a travelling allowance at the rate of 12s. a day, and under the interpretation he now gets waiting time for the same three hours.
Now I come to the matter of allowances, district, climatic, &c. The Public Service Commissioner was occupied for eight months, intermittently, inquiring into climatic and other conditions throughout Australia, and he adopted a scheme of district allowances which was equitable, and even generous. This was adopted by the Public Service Board on taking office. The Arbitrator issued an award governing only Western Australia, varying the incidence of the scheme, and placing Western Australian officers in a better position than those, say, in Queensland. The whole scheme was upset as regards proper relativity between States, and on evidence of the most flimsy character. In a month the Arbitrator neutralized the work of eight months’ patient investigation, and hundreds of hours of careful study.
I shall cite a prize example relating to the travelling allowances of linemen, for whom the Arbitrator made an award, giving them 12s. a day when they broke camp and went into hotels or boarding-, houses. The board strongly opposed this, pointing out that these men never paid more than 30s. to 35s. a week. The Arbitrator then issued an award, giving them £4 4s. a week. Nearly twelve months elapsed before the board could obtain a hearing and submit definite evidence as to cost of board throughout the States. The Arbitrator then reduced the allowance to 35s. a week. In the meantime the cost to the Postmaster-General’s Department of this liberal treatment of linemen was £80,000, not one pound of which should have been granted.
Linemen not in camps receive 12s. a day for the first fortnight in any place. The board applied to the Arbitrator to reduce this allowance to 35s. a week.
Statements were tendered showing the actual cost at hotels in every State, and indicating what the linemen were actually paying. The Arbitrator refused to reduce the allowance, in spite of the figures submitted, and said that he saw no reason why linemen should be treated differently from any other section of the Service as regards travelling allowances. Instances have occurred in New South Wales where linemen have bought farms out of their travelling allowances and the money saved by them by being boarded at the Commonwealth expense over the greater part of the year.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes. These extraneous payments constitute a very substantial factor in the salary payments of the Commonwealth Public Service. As an illustration I mention that last year the payment of allowances, outside of salaries, cost the departments over £500,000. Much of this is due to overgenerous, and in many cases, unnecessary arbitration awards. The Public Service Board considers that £150,000 of this amount can be saved this financial year if the matter is removed from arbitration jurisdiction and placed under Public Service regulations.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes, I shall deal with that aspect of the matter a little later. In excluding individual cases from the Arbitration Committee we are following the procedure in relation to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and also the English procedure. There is a form of arbitration in connexion with the English Public Service, but it deals only with collective classes.
To show how costly is the system of hearing individual cases in this country, I shall briefly deal with a number of examples. The customs staffs throughout the Commonwealth were classified by a special Public Service inspector, with the assistance of Mr. Barkley, the Collector of Customs, New
South Wales. Those gentlemen visited every State and’ spent some months on the work. Appeals were heard and determined against the classification. Then the Clerical Association submitted claims to the Arbitrator, who made an award which seriously upset the relativity of officers and positions, and placed men who were previously senior in a junior position to’ their subordinates. Here are. tabulated examples :
” B “, previously junior to “ A “, is now made senior.
” A” was senior to “ B “ and “ C,” but by the award he is now junior to “ B “ and “ C.” The position became so serious that customs officers in South Australia petitioned the Public Service Board, asking to have all positions in that State affected by the award declared vacant.
Let me give yet another individual case, that of the Lands Officer of the Federal Capital Commission. This officer was classified by the Public Service Board with a salary range of £612 to £684. He appealed; his case was heard by the Appeals Board, and was disallowed. He applied for a further review of his case and the Public Service Board sent an inspector to investigate the matter. On his report the board found itself unable to increase the salary of the lands officer. That officer then, through the Professional Officers’ Association, filed a claim with the Arbitrator, asking for a salary range of £756 to £852 in lieu of his classification of £612 to £684. The Arbitrator visited Canberra, heard evidence and gave the lands officer all that, he asked for. He gave him a minimum £72 higher than the maximum fixed by the board, together with additional increments amounting to £96! That was an arbitrary decision, without any reference to relativity of position throughout the service. I am informed that the lands officer reimbursed the Professional Officers’ Association for bringing the case before the Arbitrator. He could well afford it.
I now come to the point raised by Senator Payne’: the cost of bringing cases before the Arbitrator and the reason why we are adopting the simpler method to which I have already referred, of bringing evidence before the arbitration committee. Here are particulars of certain cases heard by the Arbitrator, showing the extent of travelling necessary, the number of officers who attended as witnesses, and the volume of evidence recorded. The first case is that of the Federated Assistants’ Association, during the hearing of which Sydney and Melbourne were visited, 70 officers were examined, and 401 pages of transcript covered. To hear one claim by the Clerical Association, Sydney and Melbourne were visited, 62 officers examined and 1,751 pages of foolscap used to record the evidence. Another claim by the same association necessitated visits to the same cities, the hearing of evidence from 100 officers, and 1,282 pages of foolscap were covered.
To hear the claim of the Postal Electricians’ Union, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide were visited, 72 witnesses were heard and the evidence covered 671 pages of foolscap. The Arbitrator stated that no pains were spared to deal with all phases of the work! That of the Clerical Association necessitated visits to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart, 250 witnesses were heard, and the evidence covered 2,935 pages of foolscap. That was a claim by the third division officers of the State branches of the Trade and Customs Department. Every capital city in the Commonwealth was visited, and in each State evidence was taken from men performing the same class of work.
The claim of the Federated Assistants’ Association related to the salaries of assistants of the fourth division of the service, typists and machinists. During its hearing every mainland capital was visited, also Canberra. The evidence in each centre was largely a repetition of evidence heard elsewhere, there being in the great majority of cases no material difference in the duties. Six hundred and fifty-eight witnesses were heard, and the evidence covered 2,993 pages of foolscap.
Notwithstanding the exhaustive hearing in 1926, the Postal Eelectricians’ Union again appeared before the Arbitrator a few months ago. While there is no feature of the work of the members of this union that could not have been seen in either Sydney or Melbourne, or which had not already been considered in the previous case, the Arbitrator visited all the mainland capital cities to deal with this further claim, which involved the attendance of 147 witnesses, and the transcript of the shorthand notes covered 1,215 pages of foolscap.
In . the hearing of these seven cases, used by way of illustration 1,359 witnesses were called, and the evidence covered 11,248 pages of transcript. The figures for the three cases last mentioned, which are also the most recent, indicate an increased tendency to the elaboration of evidence. The examination of so many witnesses involved a serious interference with departmental work as well as considerable expense. The witnesses attended the court during working hours, and not only was no deduction made from their pay, but the Government had also to pay for others to do their work in their absence. Where a temporary officer was employed, his salary was paid, in addition to that of the witness ; and where the place of the witness was taken by an officer receiving a lower salary, that officer for the time may, under certain circumstances, receive the higher pay.
Among the replies recently received from Public Service associations in relation to Public Service arbitration, in response to an invitation from the Government, the Commonwealth Legal Professional Officers Association suggested the substitution of written statements for viva voce evidence, such statements to be similar to pleadings in a law suit. The association also suggested that, where it was considered necessary to elucidate any point raised in written statements, evidence could be called by consent of the tribunal. Under the procedure proposed in this bill the tribunal will not travel, but will remain at Canberra. Its travelling expenses will, therefore, be saved. A further saving willbe made by reason of no witnesses being called, and the preparation of the case will” mean an effective presentment by the parties concerned.
It may be asked why such a condition of affairs has been allowed to ‘continue so long. I point out that the Public Service Board objected to sending its advocate and a clerk to Adelaide and Perth, because sufficient evidence had already been taken, and Melbourne evidence was still to follow ; but the Arbitrator decided to visit those cities. The board met the situation by arranging for local Public Service inspectors to attend the court. Evidence was then taken in Melbourne. With certain breaks, the case lasted from the 15th October, 1928 to the 80th April, 1929. Altogether, 658 witnesses were examined, 619 being for the union and 39 for the board. The report of the evidence consisted of 8,998 foolscap pages and cost the board and the department, and also, presumably, the union, £168 each. I emphasize that this case, which involved so much time and expense, dealt with the pay of typists and assistants. I have been unable to obtain the . costofthe case as represented by the salaries of the Arbitrator . and hisstaff, and -of the advocates and the witnesses, but it undoubtedly is a big amount.
In the postal . electricians’ case, the mechanics were first classified by the Public Service Board. The hearing of appeals against that classification occupied some months. They received an awardsome months ago, but the matter is again before the court. Further evidence and arguments were recently heard, and the matter now awaits the Arbitrator’s decision.
It may interest honorable senators to know the salaries of the persons engaged on this claim, not including the witnesses. The Public Service Arbitrator receives £2,000 per annum, and his senior clerk £516 per annum; the union advocates . Mr . Settle and Mr. Meier, receive respectively £500 and £379 ; Mr. Becher, the departmental advocate, receives £768 per annum ; while the salaries of the representative of ‘the Public Service Board, Mr. Watt, and a clerk were £744 and £516 respectively. . The total salaries of the personsmentioned amounted to £5,423 per annum. Honorable senators can easily ascertain the cost of the inquiry by taking into account the time occupied by the case. The . cost of the Public Service Arbitrator’s . office for the year 1926-29 was £5,112, made up of the following itemsArbitrator’s salary, £2,000; salaries of staff, £1,203; contingencies, £1,262; and shorthand notes, £647.
I have endeavoured to obtain particulars of the cost to the taxpayers of Australia of some of these eases, and have been successful in obtaining from the Postal Department particulars of one case. During the hearing; of the case in which the Federal Public Service Assistants’ Association was concerned, 621 witnesses werecalled by the association and 39 by the Public Service Board. Evidence wastaken in all. the. . capital cities, with the exception ofHobart.The association lodged 670 exhibitsandthe board 65. The Post Office estimates that the cost to that ‘.department . of conducts ing that case was more than £2,000. Had the members of . the association received substantial increases of salaries as a result of the hearing of the case it might be said- that that expensewas justified, ‘ but the gain to them was in no way commensurate with the expense incurred. As a result of the appeal the Arbitrator varied the salaries of four officers by . a maximum increase of £24 ; fourteen over- seers and 41 counter officers received increases varying from £6 to £18 in their maximum salaries; and incorporated in the award was an increase of £18 already granted to typists by the Public Service Board during the hearing of the case. In addition, some individual officers in other departments . received increases up to £18 per annum.
I do not wish it to be : thought that, in giving these particulars to the Senate, I am reflecting on the judgment of the Public Service Arbitrator.. I am not. These results follow inevitably from overlapping jurisdiction. They are . unavoidable; for while the. Public Service Board is equipped with an Australian-wide . organization which enables it to obtain a comprehensive knowledge of the details of public service administration, the Public Service Arbitrator is not so equipped-, and, therefore, has to call a mass of evidence to inform his mind.. Under the provisions of this measure that will no longer be necessary.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasize that the bill will retain for public servants an effective appeal, in respect of their salaries and wages, to an impartial tribunal fully informed on such matters. It will do so, moreover, at reasonable cost. The bill also restores to the Public Service Board and the departments, control over administration and will, it is believed, tend to efficiency and economy in the Public Service.
Debate (on motion by Senator Dooley) adjourned.
Business of Senate -Wireless Exception in Canberra.
Motion (by Senator, Sir George Pearce) . proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- When the debate on the Public Service Bill is resumed on Wednesday next, will the right honorable the Leader of the Senate take honorable senators into his confidence and supply the names of those linemen who are said to have bought farms out of their overtime receipts ?
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General the difficulties connected with the reception of wireless messages by Canberra residents. Apparently, some electrical disturbance seriously interferes with the receptivity of their ‘ instruments. I do not need to stress that residents of this city are unable to visit theatres and other places of entertainment to any considerable extent and are largely dependent on their wireless equipment for entertainment, and general information. I do not know whether the poor reception of wireless messages here can be attributed to a leakage of electricity from the local power bouse but, apparently; weather conditions are not responsible.
. -I shall bring under the notice of the Post master-General the matter referred to by Senator Carroll, It is common knowledge that in high altitudes there is frequently considerable electrical disturbance. Last year, when I was at Geneva, a highly technical examination was made of the proposal of the Swiss Government to install’, at the expense of the League of Nations, a high power wireless station on the shores of Lake Geneva. The discussion showed that that site was not suitable either for the transmission or the reception of wireless messages. I understand that until the existing difficulties have been overcome the proposal has been postponed. I am not aware whether the difficulties to which Senator Carroll refers are of long standing or of recent occurrence. If they are a recent development, I should be disposed to explain them by reminding the honorable senators that during the last few days the telegraph lines have been very highly charged, or perhaps electrical disturbances in the political atmosphere are responsible!
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.27 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 August 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1929/19290830_senate_11_121/>.