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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator READY (Tasmania) . - It is not often that I find myself in agreement with Senator Bakhap, and usually that fact causes me some uneasiness, and I feel disposed to examine my conscience to see what is wrong. On this occasion, however, I have no such misgivings, because I realize that he has made out a very good case for Tasmania, and I agree that the Government should take up this question of ordering supplies of sleepers at once for probable railway construction.

Senator O'Keefe - They should stock not only sleepers, but hardwood timber for other purposes, so that it could be well seasoned.

Senator READY - If any officer is deputed by the Minister to inquire into the position of the timber industry, he will find that the present time is suitable for buying, and that probably a little later on the position will not be so favorable. What I particularly want to inform the Senate on is the position of the timber industry in Tasmania. I want to stress that side of the question, as well as the business aspect. I want to impress upon the Senate the unfortunate position of the industry in the State I represent, and to urge on the Government the necessity of assisting our people. I know I am talking to a Government the members of which are genuinely concerned with the needs of the workers, and I feel sure that I will not make my appeal in vain. At present fully 30 per cent, of the Tasmanian saw-mills are closed down, and unless something is done in the near future there will be another 30 per cent, closed down, with the result that another 500 or 600 men will be thrown out of employment.

Senator Gardiner - And yet hardwood is selling in Sydney at a higher price than it was ten years ago.

Senator READY - Yes, I admit that; but it is owing to the operation of a ring or combine which exists, not only in that city, but .also in Melbourne: Timber eminently suitable for building purposes is discounted, and even in Tasmania - I confess it with sorrow - a ship arrived in Hobart recently with 1,000,000 feet of imported timber on board, to the order of people who are in the importing business, such firms, for instance, as those supporting my colleague, Senator . Bakhap.

Senator Bakhap - But I receive support from all sections of people in Tasmania.

Senator READY - The timber combine has decidedly prejudiced people against the use of Tasmanian wood to an alarm ing extent, and when the case comes before the Senate for a duty on timber I hope the position will be gone into more fully than perhaps it is advisable to do to-day. I am talking of facts which I want the Minister to become acquainted with. There are eight large mills and a great number of small mills closed down in Tasmania, while many other mills are just running on orders. The order for 100,000 sleepers given to the Huon Timber Company kept one mill afloat, but that order is now nearing, completion, and unless something is done hundreds of timber- workers will have to look for other jobs.

Senator Bakhap - It is a very sad position.

Senator READY - I represent primarily the workers of our community, and, on behalf of them, I ask the Minister to consider whether "it would not be possible, from a business point of view and from the point of view of the best interests of the workers of the Commonwealth, to obtain a stock of sleepers for future needs. We have many railways projected, including the transcontinental railway, which we all hope will be busily proceeded with at an early date. In addition, we are talking already of a strategic railway, and sleepers will be needed for that great work, as well as for the unification of the gauges, iC that big undertaking should come under Federal control, though at present that is problematical. In any case, large supplies will be needed.

Senator Grant - You can get in New South Wales all the sleepers required for the strategic railway.

Senator READY - I admit that a claim on behalf of the timber industry in New South Wales will be just as legitimate as on behalf of Tasmania or any other State of the Commonwealth, and I do not wish the Senate to infer that I am putting up a claim for Tasmania to the exclusion of any other State. But I say that the position is very acute in Tasmania, though we have a less number of unemployed there, owing to the smallness of the State, many of the workers being absorbed by the mainland. But in this time of stress, when every section of the trade unions is being faced with large numbers of men" out of employment, we cannot expect the mainland to take further drafts from Tasmania. We hope to be able to provide for our own men with a Labour Government in power doing its best to meet the needs of the people. In Tasmania at present we have the largest schedule of public works in the history of the State, and I feel sure that the Government of that State will do their part. I hope this appeal on behalf of the timber workers will not be unheeded by the Government. Petitions have come from them to the Minister of Trade and Customs, and to this Parliament, and I should be failing in my duty if I did not at least stress the fact that unless something is done the timber industry of Tasmania will be in a. very parlous condition.

I should like to bring under the notice of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, as representing the PostmasterGeneral, an anomaly in regard to the pay of telephonists. They form a section of the Postal Department that, as a rule, has not created much agitation for better conditions. This applies to the telephone operators and assistants, who consist mainly of girls and women. As a member of a party that believes in equal pay for equal work by either sex, I think their claims for better conditions are unanswerable. Owing to the action of the previous Labour Government, the telephone operators and assistants are in a better position than they were previously, because it was provided that no one permanently employed in the Postal Service, and over twenty-one years of age, should get less than £110 per annum. Not only has this been paid, in spite of gloomy predictions to the contrary, but it has tended to better conditions in the Department generally.

Senator Gardiner - Is there not a better way of dealing with this matter than on the floor of the Senate?

Senator READY - I thought this the most suitable way. My experience is that some letters written to the PostmasterGeneral have not always received prompt attention, and that the replies are often delayed.

Senator Gardiner - That is not correct. I challenge any honorable senator who makes that statement to produce one case.

Senator READY - In many instances there has been considerable delay in get- ing a reply to letters addressed by mc to the Postmaster-General. He is a busy man, and his officials have to dig out a certain amount of information for him. It may be that the information on the matters I have written to him about has not come to hand. If so, I have been singularly unfortunate.

Senator Keating - My experience is that direct communication with the PostmasterGeneral is the most expeditious way to get a matter remedied.

Senator READY - If the honorable senator means by letter, that has not always been my experience. I have always been able to get a more expeditious reply by seeing the Postmaster-General personally or bringing the matter under the notice of my own Minister. The trouble is that, while all telephonists over the age of twenty-one receive £110 per annum, those with longer periods of service receive no increments. Thus, a telephonist with ten years' service receives only the same salary as an assistant who has been in the office for two or three years. That seems hardly fair. The work is highly specialized and requires trained service. The minimum wage for fully qualified telephonists with a certain number of years' experience should be at least £126 per annum, or Ss. a day. The work is very trying, and if men were engaged to do it, they would probably ask for and get that sum. The girls can legitimately put in a claim for the same salary.

The position with regard to the pay of telephone monitors is not satisfactory. Telephone exchanges are often shorthanded, and the monitors have responsible positions. The following is a short summary of their duties: -

To answer inquiries, supply information, and receive all complaints. To report all faults on subscribers' lines and exchange working gear. To teach new telephonists and messengers desirous of learning the exchange work. To " listen in " to each telephonist for a period of at least fifteen minutes twice a week. To supervise the staff generally, and see that they carry out the regulations, which number about 300. To assist at the switchhoard when very busy or shorthanded. To see that the following work is done whenever a telephonist can be spared from the board: - Trunk line analysis, traffic record return, addressing and wrapping telephone books and slips each mouth, and other items, which would keep one person fully, occupied always.

That would keep one person not only fully occupied, but in a condition of some strain. The maximum for this class of workers is £156 per annum. I would not complain of that, but it is by no means high in comparison with other branches of the service.

Senator Gardiner - They also get certain holidays.

Senator READY - I freely admit that the conditions are good, but men in the Genera] Division in the Post Office start at .£126, and go up with increments to £156. Monitors who occupy a more responsible position .should get more by comparison. Male clerks in the Departments go up to a maximum of £200 at twenty-six or twenty-eight years of age, which makes the monitors' salaries look small. There are only a few of them at each exchange, but their responsibilities must not be forgotten.

Senator Gardiner - One hundred and fifty-six pounds, with holidays, for a single young lady is surely not a small salary.

Senator READY - It" is a fair salary, but that is the maximum, and it looks small in comparison with other branches. The Department could also grant, without incurring an enormous expense, some increase to telephonists of a few years' service, so as to. put them at least in a better position than the newcomers. Many of these girls are the mainstays of homes, and many are unable to speak for themselves. I, therefore, judge it my duty to bring the matter directly before the Minister in the hope that something may be done to improve their conditions.

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