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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr LAZZARINI ("Werriwa) .- I can see no reason why the Public Service should not be catered for by the ordinary Arbitration Court. Repeatedly we have heard the statement bv Government supporters that, although there is much important business to be done, honorable members on this side are constantly delaving the progress of measures. As a matter of fact, we seem to get nothing but Bills dealing with arbitration. Four measures of that character have been introduced during the present session, and each one merely tends to increase duplication and confusion, thus promoting rather than preventing industrial unrest. Why cannot the whole question of arbitration be dealt with in one measure, so that all organizations of employees may go to one Tribunal to have their claims heard ? This proposal to create a special Arbitrator for the Public Service will not tend to the promotion of contentmentand satisfaction in the Service. It apparently originates in the desire of the Government to keep public employees isolated from their fellow-workers, and placed on a different footing. Even if the footing were a better one than that on which outside workers stand, it would still be wrong to discriminate between the men who work for the Government and others who work for private employers. The question of the economic position of the workers, whether employed by the State or by private enterprise, should be dealt with as a whole. One possible reason for the introduction of this Bill is the state of affairs disclosed by the disgraceful figures quoted by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), in regard to the remuneration of postal officials and other public servants. For some time these men have been trying to approach the Arbitration Court. It was due to no fault of their own or the Court that they have not succeeded. The obstacle lay in the constitution of the Court and the wording of the original Act, which made for confusion and congestion in the Court by its limitations and its failure to provide for the appointment of a sufficient number of Judges. It is obvious from the figures quoted by the honorable member for Hume that nearly all operatives in the Public Service are due for a big increase in salary. Of course, the Arbitration Court would not be able to discriminate between them and outside employees. But an Arbitrator appointed under this Bill will be able .to do so. He may, if he wishes, assist the Department to continue their cheese-paring policy and the sweating of their employees in order to produce a credit balance at the end of the year, and a surplus for which the Government may claim credit in the country. There is to be no appeal from the decision of the Arbitrator. Therefore, instead of this scheme conducing to the smooth running of the Departments and the contentment of the employees, it will make confusion worse confounded, and create trouble similar to that which has occurred in some of the States. I have previously brought under the notice of the House the case of a postmaster in a little town in my electorate. He is a married returned soldier supporting u family, and he receives from the Postal Department £131 per annum. It is certain that if he were to appeal to the

Arbitration. Court bis salary would be* advanced to at least the standard wage fixed by the Court. Apparently the Government know what wages are likely to be fixed if public servants are able to appeal to the Court, and they are endeavouring to evade that liability by creating a Special Tribunal to fix the remuneration of all Commonwealth Government employees. "We know that intimidation takes place in the Public Service. If a man employed in a Department makes himself a nuisance by agitating for better conditions he is either dismissed or denied promotion.

Mr Poynton - I have heard of instances of agitators being promoted.

Mr LAZZARINI - Possibly, but such instances have been very few. A suspicion is created in the minds of the people, that under the proposed system there will be too much secrecy. Inquiries that are now held in open Court will be conducted in camera, and will be shrouded by the official atmosphere of secrecy. Intimidation will be used, and very often men, in order to retain their positions, will have to smother their desires. The public will never know how claims have been dealt with, and there will be no satisfaction. The House has expended much time and energy in dealing with legislation for the promotion of industrial peace. The only means by which that can be assured in connexion with the Public Service is by adopting the amendment in order to ascertain if the public servants themselves will be satisfied with the scheme contained in this Bill. Honorable members may say that we have no right to consult them on this question. Why not? Certainly the public are concerned in .the postal services, but the men who have to rear their families, and to whom an efficient arbitration system means either economic slavery or economic salvation, are surely entitled to say whether the proposed Tribunal will be satisfactory to them, especially as it is alleged by the Government that the Tribunal is being created for the benefit of the Service. I wonder how many employees in the Department will say that any of these inquiries are held for their benefit. I hope the amendment will commend itself to the House

The Government cannot argue in connexion with this Bill, as they did in regard to the Industrial Peace Bill, that the measure is urgent because an industrial upheaval is threatened. The Bill is said to be for the purpose of creating a better feeling and more contentment in the Service. But how can we know that it will have that effect until it is referred to the Service, and Ave are assured that it will not create more dissatisfaction than exists at presents ? I fear there is a grave danger of the Public Service not receiving as impartial a deal from the proposed Arbitrator as it now receives from the Arbitration Court, and for that reason I shall not vote for the Bill until it has been approved by the Public Service organizations.

Mr. MAXWELL(Fawkner) [4.311.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) rightly said that Parliament has established the principle of arbitration for the settlement of disputes in connexion with the Public Service, 'and the one question we have to determine in regard to this Bill is as to whether or not it represents, the best method of applying that principle. . Many of the speeches that have been delivered have tended to obscure that simple issue. The burden of. a good many of them has been the character of the Public Service. Compliments have been paid to the Service, which I am sure every one indorses. Those who have had experience of the Commonwealth Public Service know that it is well manned and efficient, and deserves the very best at the hands of Parliament as its employer. But that has nothing to do with the Bill. Another question that has very largely occupied the attention of honorable members who have addressed themselves to the Bill is the motive actuating the Government in introducing this Bill. It surely does not matter what motive actuated the Government. The only question is whether or not the Bill is a good one. The Government may be actuated by the most sinister of motives, and yet the Bill may be excellent. It does not matter to us how execrable the motive behind its introduction may be; we must discuss the measure on its merits.

Mr Ryan - That is what I did.

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