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Wednesday, 2 November 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania)

Honorable senators- should give their attention to the wording of this clause and the possibility of an amendment which would be useful to lads employed as telegraph messengers. 1 should like to have a statement showing the number of telegraph messengers whose services are dispensed with year by year. I believe that in Melbourne and suburbs there are some 200 odd who work as telegraph messengers. They cannot all be admitted into the Public Service of the Commonwealth.

Senator Russell - That is, if they do not pass a very simple examination.

Senator PAYNE - Even if they do, vacancies cannot be found for all of them. Legislation throughout Australia for some years past has made the position very difficult for boys who must cease the occupation in which they are engaged when they reach eighteen years of age. The limitations now placed on juvenile labour, and especially the awards made requiring wages to be paid according to agc, and not according to ability, annually prevent hundreds of boys in every State following occupations in which they would be useful to the community and might make a success of life to themselves. I raise the question whether it would not be -wise to consider the reduction of the age to seventeen years. If a lad in the service of the Post and Telegraph Department as a telegraph messenger reaches the age of eighteen years, and has not been able to pass an examination, or there is no position in the Service open to him, he is thrown on the world, and even in the big city of Melbourne I make bold to say that the chances are 100 to 1 that he will not then be able to find an occupation in which he can learn a trade which will be useful to him and to the country. The reason is that no employer will take the lad on because of the restrictions placed upon his employment, and especially those fixing wages according to age.

Senator Russell - The Bill does not say that the lad will be dismissed. If he passes an examination he will not be dismissed. Can the honorable senator mention one case in which a lad who passed the examination was dismissed?

Senator PAYNE - I find that on this subject the statement that in Victoria there are 700 telegraph messengers and, from my knowledge of the operations of the Postal Department, I should say that a very fair proportion of these lads will never become permanent employees in the Public Service.

Senator Russell - If they do not attempt to improve themselves. I do not know of one lad who, having passed the simple examination set, has not been appointed to the Public Service.

Senator PAYNE - If, as the Minister says, every lad must pass an examination to secure appointment to the. Public Service, I am sure a great proportion of the lads would not pass the examination, and that might not be their own fault.

Senator Foster - Then you think it is better to turn the lads adrift in a cold and cruel world a year earlier?

Senator PAYNE - They would then have a better opportunity of engaging in some other occupation likely to be useful to them in later life.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Perhaps the honorable senator would say it would be better still for the lads if they were not admitted to the Public Service at all ?

Senator PAYNE - Perhaps it would be better for them, but it seems to me that some system should be adopted by which the capabilities of a lad may be gauged more effectively than at present, before he reaches the age of eighteen years. He would then have an opportunity of seeking other employment.

Senator Reid - Would it not be better to have the examination at seventeen years instead of eighteen years ?

Senator PAYNE - This question is well worthy of consideration. The avenues of outside employment for skilled workmen are being closed more and more each year owing to the attitude, of the trade unions towards apprenticeship, and to the wage now being fixed according: to age and not to the ability of workmen. Consequently, employers always prefer to start a lad at fourteen or fifteen years of age rather than at eighteen years.

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