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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr COLEMAN (Reid) . - I ' direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to a complaint which was made to me by the Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists' Union. Last year I introduced a deputation to the Minister from that organization. It had relation to a. grievance about the continuance of non-official post offices where the revenue received would warrant the staffing of such offices by a permanent postal clerk. I shall quote from this letter, and I suggest that the honorable gentleman should take the opportunity, at a later stage of the debate, to make a statement on it. It reads -

The question of the necessity for bringing about the reclassification of many of the existing non-official offices is one of the utmost importance to officers of the service generally, and members of my union in particular, the great majority of whom have all the qualifications of postmasters, and aTe anxious to secure such appointments. Under the existing system, our members are being deprived the opportunity for promotion to positions as postmaster, whilst the non-official or contract system is being retained in many important places throughout Australia.

From the stand-point of public service, there can be no question as to comparison of the two systems, non-official and official;, whilst the former usually engage in postal work merely as a side line to other business, the latter is controlled by permanent officers of the department, who have been specially trained for such positions, and who entered the service thinking such opportunities for advancement would be open to them.

Another most important phase of the question is in respect to arbitration awards and conditions generally covering permanent officers of the service. Permanent officers, as you are already aware, are working under awards of the arbitrator, their rate of pay, hours, &c, being regulated by awards of the court; in addition, their service entitles them to many important concessions, such as furlough, &c, and they have also the right to sick leave, annual leave, &c. It will thus be seen that not only is- the non-official system opposed to the interest of the officers and the public generally, but it is also a direct means of evading the responsibilities of award conditions - conditions which every employee in Australia should be entitled to.

Further, the non-official postmasters have no union or association to watch their interest. They tried on several occasions to obtain registration as a union, but their efforts were unsuccessful owing to the objections raised by the representatives of the service.

You will recollect that whilst interviewing Mr. Gibson last year in Melbourne I dealt with the question of the classification of the nonofficial offices. From Mr. Gibson's remarks I understood that action would be taken to reclassify the more important places, particularly those places where the department already owned or leased a building. It will be of interest to you to know that very few of these offices have as yet been classified; in fact, it would appear that the system of employing non-official postmasters, or letting the postal work out by contract or to business firms willing to undertake tlie work gratis, has been extended. I now have in mind the establishment of post offices at Farmers, Anthony Horderns, Civil Service Stores, and other places in the City of Sydney. All of these places are in close proximity to large, well-equipped official post offices. There does not appear to be the necessity for splitting up the postal business, and if such a necessity did exist, we were under the impression that trained and efficient officers of the department would be appointed to control the business on behalf of the department. Instead, we find that the business houses above referred to are doing the work of the department without payment of fees or commission of any kind; and as far as

Ave oan ascertain they are supplying the whole of the equipment, staff, &c, at their own expense, merely as a trade draw for their business. If such a system is extended you will readily understand the far-reaching effect it is going to have on the service and its officers, and we are of the opinion that it was never intended that the important public service undertaken by the department would be handed over to private enterprise in this way.

I direct particular attention to that part of the letter -

At the present time there are thousands of officers eligible, willing and anxious to secure appointment to offices as postmasters, postal clerks, &c. Their scope is limited, and by the adoption of the non-official system or the retention of this system in live, progressive suburban country, and even city, places, there will be no opportunity afforded officers advancement, and the service generally will suffer. During Mr. Gibson's last visit to Sydney, the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, representing 12,000 postal employees, and members of my executive endeavoured to arrange a deputation to discuss the matters abovementioned. Unfortunately, Mr. Gibson was called away to the country, and he wired advising us that he did not intend returning to Melbourne via Sydney, hence he could not meet deputation.

We would be most grateful to you, Mr. Coleman, if you could further assist us in this matter. From this, together with our previous correspondence, you Will ascertain the position as it affects us. I note from recent Hansard report, Mr. Watkins sought information relative to Newcastle district offices. There is one office in the Newcastle district which calls for particular attention, and would be an excellent example - Broadmeadows. There is an official building there, and from information we ha\'e received efforts are being made to secure the services of a suitable contract or non-official postmaster - this whilst hundreds of qualified officers are anxious and willing to take the position as Grade I. postmaster, maximum salary £31.2 per annum ; and the appointment of such an officer would give entire satisfaction to the people of that district.

A further letter which I have received from that union reads -

As previously explained, Ave are of the opinion that there is justification for the establishment of official offices and staffs in many of the more important places, inquiry and investigation will show that tlie official office and staff gives infinitely better service to the people, the extra expense is negligible compared with the excellence of the service, and public accommodation generally, and it is the opinion of a large number of officers seeking appointment to positions as postmasters, postal clerks, &c., that the non-official system is entirely opposed to the interests of tlie department, its officers, and the public whom it serves, except in isolated cases in the smaller places where only a small amount of business is transacted under the jurisdiction of the district postmaster or inspector, the majority of offices should be made available for permanent officers of the Service.

That letter sets out the grievance of the union, which has also supplied a list of offices which it suggests should be manned by permanent postal employees. On the 24th November, 1927, I asked the PostmasterGeneral the following question : -

What were the receipts and expenditure respectively of the following non-official post offices during the last financial year: - Stanmore, Clovelly, Mortdale, Tempe, West Ryde, Urunga, Repton, Laurieton, Barradine, Bethunga Glenreagh, Broadmeadows, and South Lismore.

Tlie answer that I received is as follows : -


The figures in respect oi. expenditure do not include any amount for administration, interest, depreciation, and upkeep of telegraph and telephone assets, carriage of mails, stores, office, equipment, and other like charges.

It is in the interests of the service, and also of the employees, that there should be properly-trained officers in charge of postal facilities. The union has also written me as follows: -

There is also the matter of special allowances whicli are paid to officers of the department, other than the Postmaster-General's Department, who arc transferred to Canberra. I note from Ilansard reports that Mr. Perkins, M.H.R., brought this matter before the Government.

The union is anxious "to know the decision of the Postmaster-General, because this discrimination is causing dissatisfaction and irritation among the employees concerned. I have no complaints to make respecting postal facilities generally, but I hope that the Postmaster-General will expedite the acquisition of a site at Punchbowl and the erection of a post office there.

The policy adopted by the Postal Department in respect of the provision of public telephones could be considerably improved, and I should like to know just what that policy is. In certain districts big guarantees are required before public telephones are established, and in other places they are provided without expense. There is unquestionably discrimination exercised between country districts and metropolitan areas. In the outer suburbs of Syd ney. there are places from which the nearest telephone is two or three miles distant, and in case of sickness and trouble it is impossible to get into speedy contact with a doctor. When we have asked for public telephones exorbitant guarantees have been required by the department, and I wish to know the reason. Public telephones are just as necessary in metropolitan areas as they are in country districts. I am suggesting, not that the policy should be extravagant and wasteful, but that the department should be more liberal in the provision of public telephones. [Quorum formed.']

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