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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr MARR (Parkes) .- This is a Bill with which we can deal more effectively in Committee. I cannot agree with what has' been said by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West). There are certain aspects of employment in the Commonwealth Public Service which, I think, should be brought under the notice of the House. We have recently been considering the question of conciliation and arbitration as applied to the settlement of the conditions of employment of all classes in Australia. The desire underlying all our legislation of this character should be for the settlement of industrial disputes in as amicable a fashion as possible. In speaking on the Industrial Peace Bill the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) expressed himself as in favour of a system which would enable the. parties to an industrial dispute to avoid going to a- Court for its settlement. In my view, the establishment of Conciliation Boards or Arbitrators to deal with disputes in various industries and in the Commonwealth Public Service, without recourse to Court proceedings, would be a step in, the fight direction.

Members of the Public Service are aware of the great difficulty experienced in getting to the Arbitration Court. Whilst the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) suggested that that could be overcome by the appointment of more Judges, the difficulty today confronting the Public Service is that too many Judges have dealt with their cases. Mr. Justice Higgins, Mr. Justice Powers, and Mr. Justice Starke have each made .conflicting awards in dealing with Public Service cases. It should not be forgotten that the Commonwealth Public Service finds employment for a greater number of persons than does any other institution in Australia, and the whole of the time of one Judge or Arbitrator might be devoted to the consideration of difficulties arising in connexion with the Service.

Prior to the .passing of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act of 1911 we had a discontented Service. The Public Service Commissioner had then absolute control. Boards of Inquiry and Appeal were provided for, but the Public Service Commissioner had the right, to decide whether an employee should be given the right to appeal, and when an appeal was granted it was only from Cæsar unto Cæsar, which never took the public servants anywhere. Under the old system, when an appeal was granted it was to a man who, in ninetynine cases out of every hundred, quashed the complaint. In 1911 the Government of the day gave the right to the public servants to go to the Arbitration Court, but they have felt that they have 'been retarded in their efforts to get to the Court. One disadvantageous result of the right then given them has been that the heads of branches in the Public Service have been obliged to join the associations in the Service. I do not see how it can be considered a good thing that the head of a branch in the Public Service should be placed in' such a position that he may be called before the authorities of his association to know why he did a certain thing. That is bound to lower the efficiency of the Service. The head of a branch in the Public Service may be called before the executive of his association, and may be expelled from it for having carried out certain action, and if he is expelled he is deprived of the advantage of any award by the Court, since awards are applicable only to members of the associations. Mr. McLachlan has said that it is advisable that every member of the Public Service should belong to an association within the Service, but whilst I agree with that, the head of a branch should not be liable to be summoned to appear before men serving under him to know why he did or did not do a certain thing.

Mr West - This Bill will make no difference in that matter.

Mr MARR - I do not know whether it will or not. I can mention one award of the Public Service Arbitration Court which has certainly not tended to efficiency in the Service. The Court made an award which had the effect that a. post-office earning a certain revenue should be in charge of an officer of a certain grade and salary. Under this award, as soon as the revenue of the post-office is increased to a certain amount, the officer responsible for the increase is moved to another place, because the salary paid to him is not, according to the award, sufficiently high for the office in view of the increased revenue derived from it. The result of that award by the Arbitration Court has certainly not been to increase the efficiency of the PostmasterGeneral's Department.

Mr Charlton - Apart from the Arbitration Court award, did not the same thing follow under the Public Service Act?

Mr MARR - No; the Arbitration Court laid it down that in the circumstances I have stated the postmaster shall be removed, and another in receipt of a higher salary promoted to the office earning the increased revenue.

Mr Charlton - Were not officers graded and appointed to post-offices in accordance with the revenue derived from them, before the award referred to. was made?

Mr MARR - Yes.

Mr Charlton - Did that' not have the same effect?

Mr Fowler - That difficulty could easily be remedied bv a regulation making the man responsible for the improvement in the revenue entitled to the increased salary.

Mr MARR - If a particular post-office is placed in charge of an officer in receipt of a salary of £250, and he is successful in building up the revenue of the office, the Public Service Commissioner may say that, because of the increased revenue, the office should be placed in charge of a man in receipt of £300 per year, and then the officer who built up the revenue of the office is removed to another position.

Mr Fowler - That may be the present practice, but surely it could be altered by a simple regulation entitling the man who improved the revenue of the office to an increased salary.

Mr West - It is a question of departmental management.

Mr MARR - No, it is not. What is done is in accordance with an award of the Arbitration Court, andI have referred to it as an instance in which the right given to public servants to appeal to the Arbitration Court has not tended to efficiency in the Service.

In his report on the Public Service, Mr. McLachlan has made many statements with which I do not agree, though he has said some things which I personally approve of. Having had twenty years' knowledge of the Public Service, I can speak on this question with some authority, especially as I have been closely connected with associations in the Public Service, and for eight years was secretary of one of the biggest associations in the Service. The delay in getting to the Court has been one of the greatest troubles. It is stated that the appointment of a greater number of Judges would overcome that difficulty, but I have already pointed out that that might only accentuate the trouble, and make for a discontented Service. If one inquired of the first 100 Commonwealth public servants he met, he would probably be provided with 100 different proposals for overcoming the difficulties of the Service.

Mr Ryan - Does the honorable member not agree with the Public Service view of the matter?

Mr MARR - I am trying to give the Public Service view. I have one view expressed in a long telegram which was only just handed to me, and, as I have said, if one appealed, to individuals he would probably get 100 different proposals from the first. 100 members of the Public Service he appealed to. The trouble is to get a consolidated view from the Public Service.

Mr Ryan - Is this Bill necessary at all?

Mr MARR - If it will lead to industrial peace within the Public Service, it certainly is necessary. I havementioned that the honorable member for Wentworth suggested that better results in promoting industrial peace would probably be achieved if employers and employees could meet under conditions that would be as far as possible removed from any appearance of Court proceedings, and could hear evidence when lawyers and others were not present, who might make witnesses nervous. I met a deputation of Commonwealth public servants yesterday who told me that one award had cost them something like £1,400. If justice is to be done to members of the Commonwealth Public Service, they should not be called upon to pay any such price for an arbitration award. They should be able to get that without retaining lawyers and without having to resort to a Court at a cost of hundreds of pounds. Let us give to all employees, inside and outside the Service, easy access to some tribunal, so that they may get justice quickly and cheaply.

Mr Makin - Does not the honorable member think that a Public Service organization ought to be able to speak with a certain amount of authority for the Public Service?

Mr MARR - It is a difficult job to get even all the organizations to speak with one voice. In New South Wales there are twelve Public Service organizations.

Mr Ryan - Should not the Bill be delayed, so that it may be submitted to the organizations?

Mr MARR - That might be advisable if there were any likelihood of getting a united opinion from the associations, but that is not probable. As secretary, I convened a meeting of a council of organizations in New South Wales, but on not one matter did the council arrive at a consolidated opinion. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) hit the nail on the head when he said that there is a certain amount of class distinction in the Service. Yesterday an officer asked me why we did not appoint a Judge and two assessors to deal with all Public Service cases. I asked him who he would select as the assessor for the public servants. I pointed out that the General Division, being the largest numerically, would have a preponderating vote, and its delegate would be selected. The clerical officers would not be satisfied with such a choice, whilst if the selected man were a clerical officer the Professional and General Divisions would be dissatisfied.

Mr Ryan - The public servants have not asked for this Bill.

Mr MARR - They have asked for easier access to the Court.

Mr Ryan - This Bill does not provide that.

Mr MARR - No, but I agree with the proposal that we should remove all suggestion of a Court of law from arbitration proceedings. A Public Service organization ought not to be compelled to pay £1,400 to have its claim heard by an Arbitration Court.

Mr Makin - Why compel any union to pay these heavy costs?

Mr MARR - I do not think we should. ,

Mr Gabb - Under this Bill, will the public servants be recouped the costs of their claims?

Mr MARR - No.

Mr West - Why should the public servants get cheaper arbitration than outside organizations?

Mr MARR - They do not. The Industrial Peace Bill, which recently passed this House, creates inexpensive machinery for the settlement of industrial disputes, and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) described it as one of the best measures of its kind ever passed by this Parliament.

Mr Charlton - I was speaking of the machinery it provides.

Mr MARR - Anything we can do to bring about industrial peace amongst both Government and private employees will be a step in the right direction.

Mr Gabb - Differential treatment will not tend in that direction.

Mr MARR - I think it would be better to have one man dealing with all Public Service claims. At present the public servants have to go before one of three Judges, and the result, so far, has been conflict in the terms of the awards.

Mr Riley - Who made the majority of the awards?

Mr MARR - Mr. JusticePowers.

Mr Riley - How could there be any great conflict if the majority of them were made by one Judge?

Mr MARR - Other awards have been made by Mr. Justice Higgins; and Mr. Justice Starke is hearing a Public Service claim at the present time. It would be better if all claims were heard by the one Arbitrator. The Parliament will always stand in the relation of a last Court of Appeal for public servants. The point in regard to which public servants are most concerned is the calibre of the man who is to be appointed Arbitrator. Honorable members will agree that in the early days of Federation the Commonwealth Public Service was the best treated of any; 'to-day it is the worst paid Public Service in Australia,

Mr Fowler - Is that not the whole cause of the trouble?

Mr MARR - The principal cause of the trouble is the existence of different awards as to the living wage in various parts of the Commonwealth, and the fact that the Commonwealth takes no cognisance of any awards by a State Arbitration Court. In New South Wales the basic wage has been fixed at £3 18s. per week, but the Commonwealth will not recognise it. If the basic wage in New South Wales is £3 18s., and the basic wage in Victoria is £3 9s., and the Commonwealth raises the salaries of its servants in those. States to the minimum, the man in New South Wales becomes senior to the man in Victoria who is doing the same class of work. Seniority in the Service is always determined by the salary which an officer receives. A man who enters the Service to-day at £400 per annum becomes senior to a man who has been in the Service for twenty years, but is receiving only £300.

Mr Maxwell - Senior for what purpose ?

Mr MARR - For promotion to any vacant position throughout the Service. When the Commonwealth took over certain services from the States, it was laid down that the transferred officers should take with them their accrued and existing rights. That undertaking has not been honoured in regard to certain rights that were enjoyed by officers transferred from the New South Wales State Service. For instance, after twenty years in the State Service an officer is entitled to six months' furlough, and for every additional five years of service a further six weeks' fur- lough. Thus, a man who has been thirty years in the New South Wales Service is entitled to nine months' leave on full pay. That accrued right is not being conceded by the Commonwealth. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) said that he was opposed to coddling the Commonwealth public servants and giving them benefits that are not enjoyed by employees outside the Service. It is true that public servants are entitled to certain benefits not conferred upon persons in private employment, amongst them being sick leave, annual recreation leave, and long-service leave.

Mr Makin - That is no more than they ought to have.

Mr MARR - Quite so, and I would like to see the samebenefits extended to employees outside the Public Service. Every man who is working hard for his living is entitled to an annual holiday. At the same time, I think everybody knows that a Government employee is restricted in a way that private employees are not. I know of men in private employment in New South Wales who are able to earn a little extra money by night engagements, such as contributing musical items. In the Government Service earnings of that kind are forbidden.

Mr Makin - The honorable member would not countenance a system which required a man to supplement his income from other sources?

Mr MARR - Whether I approve of that system or not, the honorable member knows that it exists, but an officer of the Public Service is owned body and soul by the Commissioner; he is bound hard and fast by regulations.

Mr Ryan - The decision of the Arbitrator will not be binding on the Commissioner. .

Mr MARR - The present Arbitration Court gives awards which are binding on the Commissioner, but there is continual fighting as to what interpretation is to be placed on them. I have known an award to be interpreted in three different ways. If there were a permanent Arbitrator for the Public Service any controversial point in an award could be referred to him, and he would declare straightway what he meant. At the present time the Department, the Public Service Commissioner, and the employees may each take a different view of an award, and the only means of getting a definite interpretation is by resorting again to. the Court. That trouble would be avoided by the appointment of an Arbitrator, who would have his own Department.

Mr West - Is he to be a public servant?

Mr MARR - So far as that goes, every Judge is a public servant. I do not know what man the Government have in view for the appointment, but I hope he will be a man of common sense, who will be acceptable to both Parliament and the public servants.

Mr Fowler - Is it possible to get such a man?

Mr MARR - I do not think so.

Mr Gabb - The honorable member said that the Public Service Commissioner owns the Service, body and soul. Will not the Arbitrator own the balance - the spirit - and break it?

Mr MARR - I do not think so. He should be a man who will be bound not so much by legal considerations as by the dictates of common sense. This measure seems to me to offer a means of bringing about industrial peace in the Commonwealth Service. The more we can get away from the atmosphere of a Court of law the better it will be. It will remove that feeling of restraint which members of unions have when they appear before a Judge. If we can establish in connexion with all industries non-legal Tribunals for the settlement of disputes we shall be conferring a benefit upon the whole community. If, for instance, the Government could appoint a man well acquainted with the iron industry to arbitrate in all disputes in relation to it they would be justified in doing so. In America the big industries have their systems of internal arbitration. In the big Ford Motor Works all complaints and grievances are dealt with by small Tribunals created within the works. We should adopt a similar system in Australia. In connexion with the coalmining industry in New South Wales, a Special Tribunal has been already created, and, although it is outside the Arbitration Act, nobody will deny that it is a wise innovation. I hope this Bill will promote industrial peace in the Public Service. If we can secure industrial peace in that Service by the appointment of an Arbitrator it will be a step in the right direction.

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