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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- It is difficult to understand why the Government desire to differentiate in the matter of arbitration. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) has referred to the Tribunal which dealt with the mining industry last week. May I remind him that the employees in that industry are not a registered body under the Arbitration Act, whereas our public servants are. What is more they desire to continue under the Act so that their position is entirely different from that of the men to whom he referred. The honorable member further stated that there is no unanimity among the different sections of our Public Service in regard to this Bill. From information which honorable members have received we know that there is a disposition on the part of a very large number of them to remain under the Arbitration Act. I well remember that When our public servants banded together for the purpose of dealing with the differences which might arise between themselves and the heads of Departments they were told by this Parliament, " If you have difficulties which you desire to remedy, you must adopt the same method as is adopted by every other industrial body. You must go to the Arbitration Court." It was the deliberate act of this Parliament which forced our public servants to go to that Tribunal. Having compelled them to go there, the Government now propose to drag them away from it, much against their will.

Mr Groom - We are still preserving arbitration.

Mr CHARLTON - But a system of arbitration which does not appear to be giving satisfaction. One of the reasons advanced by the Government for the introduction of the Industrial Peace Bill was that certain organizations do not approve of the Arbitration Court.

Mr Marr - I do not know that they quite understood the position.

Mr CHARLTON - I do not quite understand it either. Under this Bill, the Government will select the Arbitrator who is to be appointed. They may, of course, select the' best" man possible, but on the other hand they may select a man who the public servants may consider possesses a bias against their organization. Our public servants do not know who he will be, but they do know that under present conditions they must go before certain Justices of the Arbitration Court. This Parliament has already decided to appoint additional Judges in order to relieve the congestion of business in that Court. Seeing that we have enacted audi legislation it is very doubtful whether there will be sufficient work forthcoming to keep the Arbitration Court, the Tribunals to be appointed under the Industrial Peace Bill, and this Special Arbitration Court for public servants fully occupied. It is quite possible that in the near future there will be very little work for the Arbitration Court to do.

Mr Maxwell - Especially if an attempt be first made to arrive at agreements in industrial disputes by means of conciliation.

Mr CHARLTON - Exactly. If that means be adopted there will be less work for the Arbitration Court to do. But we must always have at least three permanent Judges sitting in that Court. Is it wise, therefore, for us to make the departure that is proposed in this Bill, especially in view of the fact that our public servants do not approve of it ? The honorable member for Parkes has stated that there is no ' unanimity amongst them in regard to this matter. In reply to his contention let me quote the following paragraph from a letter, a copy pf which has been forwarded to every member of this Parliament : -

As public servants we do not admit the right of the Government to remove us from the Arbitration Court. We consider we are workers in the same sense as all employees in concerns outside of the Public Service, and as such demand the same Court or other such body as may be established from time to time to deal with any matters connected with our employment. We, however, are forced to conclude that the Government is determined to take this course of action, and we are consequently obliged to direct our energies to securing such a Bill as will provide fair and equitable means of dealing with such matters when they are submitted to the Arbitrator.

That letter is signed by Thomas C. Maher, on behalf of the Clerical Association; J. H. Cameron, on behalf of the Letter-Carriers Association ; J. W. Doyle, on behalf of the Postal Sorters Union; P. J. Toohey, on behalf of the Post and Telegraph Association; J. J. Wray, on behalf of the Postmasters Association; W. P. Anderson, on behalf of the Federated Public Service Assistants Association; W. Jarvie, on behalf of the Artisans Association : W. H. Wykes, on behalf of the Customs General Division Officers

Association; C. Pearson, on behalf of the Telephone Officers Association; P. Meier, on behalf of the Postal Electricians Union; and J. O'Reilly, on behalf of the Postal Linesmen's Union. It will be seen, therefore, that a large number of unions desire to remain under the present Arbitration Court. Consequently, the statement by the honorable member for Partes that there is no 'unanimity amongst our public servants in regard to their attitude towards this Bill is difficult to understand.

Mr Burchell - Does the honorable member mean that the various organizations concerned have considered this Bill?

Mr CHARLTON - Yes, and they are suggesting amendments to it.

Mr Burchell - But the organizations are not the executives.

Mr CHARLTON - There may be a general executive - I do not know. But theseare distinct organizations belonging to our Public Service, and they would have representatives upon any general executive.

Mr Groom - The honorable member does not suggest that the executives of those organizations express the opinion of the whole of the Public Service? The Bill was only introduced on the 22nd July, and the circular letter which has been quoted is dated 27th July.

Mr CHARLTON - Those executives stand in the same relation to our Public Service organizations as every head of a trade union stands to the members of that union. When the head of any union speaks he does so on behalf of its members. Consequently, I assume that the men whose names I have quoted speak on behalf of their respective organizations. Here is another letter, dated August, 1920, which says -

The Bill dealing with the conditions of employment in the Public Service makes provision for an Arbitrator. It is the unanimous request of the Service that the Arbitrator should be assisted in his duties by one representative from the officers and one from the Government, to be elected jointly by the various Ministers and the Public Service Board. We feel that if the Arbitrator had the assistance of these officers he would be able more effectively to discharge his duties.

There is a good deal to be said in favour of that view. I do not care whether he be a Judge or a layman - it is impossible for any single individual to possess the quali fications necessary to enable him to have a proper grip of the conditions which obtain in all our huge public Departments But if he has upon the Bench assisting him men who possess a fair share of that knowledge, very much better decisions will be forthcoming than would otherwise be the case. The honorable member for Parkes stated that arbitration awards have worked injuriously so far as postmasters are concerned. I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that prior to any awards being made by the Arbitration Court, a similar state of affairs obtained. I have had many cases brought under my notice in which a certain revenue has been forthcoming from a particular post-office. A postmaster has been appointed to that office, and by his diligence and constant attention to duty has increased the volume of business passing through it, with the result that the revenue has correspondingly increased. Then it has been found that his classification did not entitle himto fill the position which he was holding, and he has been transferred elsewhere.

Mr Fowler - It is the system of classification by seniority that is at fault.

Mr CHARLTON - Exactly . There are many good men in the Service who have immensely increased the revenue from post-offices to which they have been appointed, and who, as a reward, have been transferred. Upon being removed to fresh localities they naturally say, "It is not to my advantage to improve the position of this post-office, otherwise it will get beyond my classification, and I shall be again removed." That is the position which obtained before the Arbitration Court was created. It is a question of classification which is involved, and I think that the honorable member for Parkes will recognise that.

In regard to Mr. McLachlan's criticism of public servants, when he states that they are disloyal and inefficient, he may have some isolated cases in mind, but my own belief is that our public servants are intensely loyal to their Departments, and render most efficient service to the Commonwealth. If there are any men in this country who have reason to complain of their "treatment it is our public servants. During the past five or six years of war conditions, no end of additional work has been imposed upon them. Yet they have never complained. They have done that work without any extra remuneration apart from the payment of a small bonus, and yet we are now told that they are disloyal to their Departments. Take the case of the postal officials. Many postmasters in various parts of Australia are to-day performing double the work that they were required to perform ten years ago. As the result of legislation which this Parliamentenacted, they now have to attend to matters connected with the payment of oldage and invalid pensions, not to mention a number of other matters. Nobody can estimate the amount of money which passed through our post-offices during the war period forthe purpose of paying the allotments made to the relatives of soldiers who were absent in the fighting line. Upon top of all this additional work, postmasters were obliged to change their system of keeping their books and accounts. I know of postmasters who have almost broken down as the result of carrying out their duties during the past five or six years, and I have not hesitated to raise my voice in this Parliament upon their behalf. The cost of living has gone up enormously in the last few years, and if an inquiry were held to-morrow it would be found that the increases of salary in the Public Service have not risen in proportion. This affords further ground for complaint.

Mr Fowler - The wages have not increased by anything like proportion to the cost of living.

Mr CHARLTON - Exactly.

Mr Groom - The Court has adjudicated on some of those matters.

Mr CHARLTON - That may be, but the decisions of the Court have not been in keeping with the increased cost of living. The attitude of the public servants only displays their loyalty to the Government and to the country, and we ought to be proud of them. I have in my mind at least four or five men who have practically broken down in health through the excessive work imposed upon them during the war period, and servants who work like this for their country are worthy of some consideration. I do not at all agree with Mr. McLachlan in his wholesale condemnation of the public servants. We are told that there are something like thirty cases awaiting hearing in the Arbitration Court; but that is no reason, if the men are satisfied with thepresent Court, why we should appoint an Arbitrator, and create another Tribunal. There ought to be no distinction made between one set of employees and another; the public servants should not be given different treatment from that afforded to men in other callings, but should be able to take full advantage of the Court as constituted.

Mr Marks - Is this hot the day of specialization ?

Mr CHARLTON - I do not know that it is in matters industrial.

Mr Marks - But in regard to a huge Service like this.

Mr CHARLTON - In 1911 there were nearly as many employed in the Public Service as there are to-day, and it was then that Parliament, in its wisdom, decreed that these men should go to the Arbitration Court.

Mr Marr - There are 10,000 more civil servants throughoutAustralia now.

Mr CHARLTON - The numerical strength of a union is not the point. If there are 50,000 men in a particular organization, and in five years they increase to 100,000 men, the claims that come before the Court are not increased, for the same process serves whatever the number may be. If, instead of sectional unions, all the men were embraced in a large union, there would be fewer claims still. I see no necessity for the Bill.

Mr Marks - Would the Bill not mean quicker methods?

Mr CHARLTON - I do not think so.

Mr Atkinson - Will the public servants be prejudiced in any way by the change proposed ?

Mr CHARLTON - It is a matter of doubt - much depends on the future. The public servants do not know who is to be appointed Arbitrator.

Mr Atkinson - A great deal, of course, will depend on that appointment.

Mr CHARLTON - I may not agree with the public servants in every particular on this phase of the question, and I am not now urging my individual opinion ; but now, after they have been driven to the Arbitration Court, they are told they are to. be given another Court of which they know nothing.

Mr Groom - It is hardly fair to say that the public servants were "driven " to the Arbitration Court; we gave them the right and privilege to use the Court.

Mr CHARLTON - We urged then that if the public servants were not satisfied with the then existing conditions, they could go to the Arbitration Court like other employees.

Mr Marr - At that time the majority in the Public Service objected to arbitration.

Mr CHARLTON - But they were driven to the Arbitration Court, and now it is proposed to give them a new Tribunal, of which they know nothing. The Arbitrator may be some one whom they consider to have a bias against them, and. they urge that if this Bill be passed they

Ought to be given a representative in the Court.

Mr Maxwell - In an advisory capacity.

Mr CHARLTON - In any capacity, they- ought to have a representative there.

Mr Marr - A clerical officer could not represent the postal officers.

Mr CHARLTON - There may be some difficulties of that kind, but any man from the Public Service has a better chance of knowing the general working conditions than has a man from outside. If I were to hear such cases I should have to' be guided entirely by the evidence, and might make some mistakes in my ignorance of technicality. "With the assistance of an employees' representative, however, such mistakes would be obviated. In my opinion the Bill is not necessary, and it would be much better to leave matters as they are.

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