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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr LACEY (Grey) (2:25 PM) .- Notwithstanding the fact that honorable members have been sitting for 27 hours, I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without saying something on the vote for the Department of Works and Railways. The Commonwealth railway employees, other than civil servants, do not, at the present time, enjoy the same long-service leave as do employees in the other railway systems of Australia. Some time ago the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) and myself walled upon the Minister for Railways in regard to this matter, but we have not yet received a reply to our representations. In Queensland, railway employees are entitled to three months' holiday leave on full pay after fifteen years' service. After twenty years' service they are entitled to four and a. half months' leave, and after 25 years' service, to six months' leave. In New South Wales," after twenty years' service, they are entitled to one month's leave. Victorian railwaymen are on the same footing as those in the Commonwealth service, and no long-service leave is granted. In South Australia, the long-service provision has been in operation only during the last few years, but at the present time employees who joined the service prior te the 9th December, 1905, are entitled to four months' holiday leave on full pay after ten years,' service. After twenty years' service they receive eight months' leave. Employees who joined after the 9th December, 1905, are entitled to two months' leave after ten years' service, and to four mouths' leave after twenty years' service. In Tasmania, railway employees who retire through sickness or retrenchment after four years' service are allowed one month's wages, and one week's wages in respect to each subsequent year's service, provided that the total allowance does not amount to more than 52 weeks. In Western Australia, four months' leave of absence is allowed after ten years' service, six months' after twenty years' service, and nine months after 27 years' service. Therefore, in every State except Victoria, railway employees are entitled to long-service leave. The trans-continental railway employees mingle, to some extent, in the course of their work with those of Western Australia and South Australia, as they come in contact with them at each end of the trans-continental section. I do not go so far as to say that there is any sign of industrial unrest amongst the Commonwealth railway employees, but I submit that it is not in the best interests of industrial peace that different conditions in regard to leave should obtain for two sections of workers who come into contact in this way. I also wish to refer to housing conditions as they apply to employees working on the railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. Some three years ago I moved a reduction of the Estimates in the House to draw attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the housing accommodation provided for these men. I admit that since that time the position has been remedied to some extent, and at Tarcoola the housing is now 'quite satisfactory. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), a gentleman who travels over that section of the line perhaps more than any other member of this House, mentioned during the discussion' on the proposed construction of another railway line, that if that line were built it might be possible to do something in the" way of housing for the workers engaged in those areas. He made that statement because he was impressed by the houses in which the employees are now living. At all the stations other than at Tarcoola the houses were regarded as temporary ; but they are still occupied by the employees and their families. Every Railway Department in Australia m has improved its cottages. The last government in South Australia erected fine buildings for the railway employees. If good service is expected from them, they must be granted decent living conditions. I suggest that this Government should adopt the scheme that has been responsible for the building of the houses at Tarcoola. The employees pay 6 per cent, on the capital cost. I hope that the Minister will give the matter serious consideration in the near future, since the sites of the permanent stations have been fixed.

The Workmen's Compensation Act was passed by this Parliament in 1912 and has not been materially altered since. The weekly payment under it is £2. When the measure came into operation originally, it was regarded as the best act of its kind in Australia, and now that better conditions obtain ali round, it is the worst. The New South Wales measure is extraordinarily beneficient. The South Australian and Western Australian measures give about the same benefits, but uniform housing conditons should apply to the railway employees in all the States. In 1912, the payment under the South Australian Act was £1 a week, and little else was provided. Since then, a number of amendments have been made, and the weekly payment has been increased to £2 or half wages, whichever is the greater. The present measure in my State, however, now provides also that the employees shall receive 7s. 6d. a week for each child under the age of fourteen, and the maximum sum is fixed at £3. No such payment is made under the Commonwealth statute. The old South Australian act had no schedule providing for definite payments for specific injuries. I have known persons to be entitled to compensation ; but, as no agreement has been arrived at between employers and employees, they have had to go to the courts, with the result that most of the available money has gone into the pockets of lawyers, and those entitled to compensation have received little or nothing. Until definite payments are provided for particular injuries, those conditions will continue. The schedule should be so clear that a layman could understand the measure; there should be no scope for litigation. The Commonwealth Act applies to persons other than railway employees, and I urge the Government to give consideration to its amendment, as early as possible.

I have often referred to the sum of money made available each year for the ballasting of the East-West railway. The way in which the work is now done is not economical.' We employ an excellent gang of men ; but the sum expended is too small. One honorable member said that the Commonwealth Railways were employing a large number- of foreigners ; but I stated a few weeks ago that 300 or 400 Australians were within an ace of being thrown out of employment. As the East-West railway is to be ballasted sooner or later: and as that work would be of benefit to the department, we should make the necessary funds available, and do the job properly. Whatever work could be done to relieve unemployment during the next few months should not be postponed.

The subject of the education of the children of Commonwealth railway employees has never previously been raised in this chamber, and it may be considered to be essentially a State matter. On the eastern side are two primary schools, one at Cook and the other at Tarcoola. During the term of office of the last South Australian Government, provision was made for the erection of cottages on the new plan, and 1 am pleased to know that the Government is proceeding with the building of schools there. At other points along the line the children have to be educated by correspondence, although many of them are at an age when they require more than a primary education. I do not ask this Government to erect a hostel or high school to provide those children with the education to which they are entitled, but I do urge that this Government should confer with the South Australian and Western Australian Governments to see whether some concerted action cannot be formulated, possibly with the help of a subsidy, to give those children such facilities as are provided in the cities. When passing through to Western Australia I met a mau whose child was then sitting for his qualifying high school examination. The father of that boy has been in the Commonwealth service for a long time. Should that lad be successful in qualifying for the high school, his father will not be able to afford to pay his board, and it will mean that he must either relinquish his position on the transcontinental railway, and so forfeit his accumulated privileges, or deprive his son of the educational privileges to which he is entitled. The State Governments have subsidized hostels, and this Government has granted bounties to assist industries. The education of children who are above the average is more important than the fostering of an industry, and it is certainly not right that the children of Commonwealth employees should be deprived of educational advantages that are available to other children in the Commonwealth. I commend the matter to the serious attention of the Government. I have stressed secondary education, but our primary education is of equal importance and must not be neglected.

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