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Wednesday, 13 May 1970


Mr WEBB (Stirling) - The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) in his reply to the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) stated that he was go ng to deal solely with rates of pay. He did of course mention also the annual leave claim of the Commonwealth public servants. 1 propose during the course of my remarks to deal briefly with the 3 points that are at issue in this debate. At the outset I would like to say to the 250,000 or more Commonwealth public servants that they would have achieved their goal if a Labor government had been elected at the last Federal elections. The Labor Party needed to get only 4 more seats in order to form a government and it had already said that 4 weeks' annual leave would be provided if it were returned to office. Commonwealth public servants would now be enjoying similar annual leave provisions to those which apply to the New South Wales Public Service and have applied to that Service since 1964. They would now have the same 4 weeks' annual leave provisions which apply to all local government employees in that State. Th s is a practice which has spread to other States where many local governing bodies have granted their employees 4 weeks annual leave as a standard entitlement. It must be remembered that 3 weeks annual leave was established as standard for Commonwealth public servants at the time of federation nearly 70 years ago. At that time it was a standard that was far above any annual leave provisions applying to any other section of the work force. But now the annual leave provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service lag behind the provis'ons which apply to many other groups of workers throughout the Commonwealth.

Last December a joint deputation waited upon the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and some of his officers. At that deputation were representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Associations and the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations. They put forward a strong claim to the Prime Minister for 4 weeks' leave. That claim was refused. The Minister for Labour and National Service stated it was considered that if the claim had been granted it would have spread generally throughout industry. Let me just draw his attent on to the fact that while this body of workers had 3 weeks' annual leave at the commencement of federation nearly 70 years ago. the standard of 3 weeks' annual leave did not spread generally throughout the work force until approximately 50 years later. If it takes that long for the 4 weeks* annual leave provision to spread most of us will not see it anyhow.

In their submissions the Commonwealth Public Service associations were able to show that production per head of population had been increasing year by year and this was a significant factor in granting increased leisure to the Australian work force other than Commonwealth public servants. They felt they should receive their share of the cake in the form of increased leisure. The members of the deputation also drew attention to an extract from a judgment of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which, they emphasised, indirectly supported their claim. It is just as well to mention this judgment which was pronounced in the 1963 metal trades case. The Commission said:

We consider it would be fair to increase margins under this award by 10%. We have reached this conclusion in the knowledge that today employees under this award have been awarded an extra weeks' annual leave.

So metal trades workers and others coming under Commonwealth awards at that time received not only the additional leave but also a 10% increase in margins. The decision of the Commission implied that had not the metal trades received the extra leave earlier there would have been a greater increase in margins. The Commonwealth public servants, of course, received the equivalent increase in the margins but their standard of annual leave remained at 3 weeks, which has been the standard since federation.

Surely Commonwealth public servants rightly claim that they have been denied their rightful share of the benefits of increased national productivity. The Government's main argument against this, as mentioned by the Minister for Labour and National Service just now. was the cost that would be involved; but the Public Service associations were able to point out that when the additional week's leave was granted in New South Wales in 1 964 to the Public Service and government instrumentalities there was no increase in the rate of growth of the staff that was employed. They were able to show that to the Prime Minister. The refusal of the Government to grant the claim of the public servants to this request is causing grave discontent in the Public Service. The unions have clearly indicated that they intend to press for this extra week's leave even if it means stopping work in support of this claim. No-one can say that public servants have a history of militancy. They are the most conservative unionists. In recent years there have been rumblings in their ranks and in the ranks of other white collar workers which indicate that grave dissatisfaction exists in the ranks of this type of worker. We have to remember also that the white collar unions have tremendous strength if they were only prepared to use it. If ever they use this strength to the full, as they have been threatening, the Government will realise it has a fight on its hands. In recent years the ranks of white collar workers have grown out of all proportion to those whom we might call the blue collar workers. Between 1947 and 1961 the proportion of professional, administrative, clerical and sales workers in the work force increased by over 4%. During the same period the blue collar workers were reduced in numbers gradually. It is clear that white collar workers now outnumber their counterparts in the blue collar field.

There are approximately 340 trade unions in Australia, of which 192 are white collar unions. These unions have actively campaigned against some Government members, and the huge vote received by the late Jim Fraser in the Australian Capital Territory a few months ago was an indication of their strength. He received 67% of the vote that was then cast. These workers are again on the warpath and I feel certain that when the Australian Capital Territory by-election takes place on 30th May we shall see a bigger swing against the Government by this group of workers. The Government should also pay close attention to the legitimate claim of its servants that their pay rates are lagging behind the pay rates of comparable workers in outside industry. Over award payments are now the accepted thing in many industries, as the honourable member for Hindmarsh clearly pointed out. The Commission lays down minimum standards. The parties then get together and bargain for over award payments. The President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has referred to this as the collective bargaining area. In the 1966 annual report he said: lt bas long been obvious that arbitration for minimum payments and bargaining of overaward payments must co-exist in this community. . . There is no real incompatibility in the mutual existence of a system for prescribing minimum rates by arbitration tribunals and of bargaining on occasion about over-award payments.

But this Government thinks that the minimum should become the maximum. That is what was indicated by the Minister, who said that the employees first go through the field of negotiation, then go before the Public Service Arbitrator, and after that they may appeal to the Commission. According to him there is no further room for negotiation about award payments. That is exactly what these people are complaining about. In the Commonwealth Public

Service the minimum becomes the maximum rate of pay, and the professional engineers case is a case in point. All these matters have been dealt with adequately by the honourable member for Hindmarsh and I do not want to trespass on that ground any further. One of the matters that reveals the reactionary attitude of this Government towards industrial conditions is its treatment of female employees. Firstly, in opposition to the unions claims before the joint bench the Government intervened-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury}Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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