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Wednesday, 16 March 1927

Senator PEARCE (Vice) (President of the Executive Council - Western Australia) . - I move -

That the Senate disapprove the Determinations Nos. 47 and 48 of 1920, made by the Public Service Arbitrator in the matter of the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association, claimant, land the Commonwealth Public Service Board of Commissioners and others, respondents, and in the matter of the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association, claimant, and the Commonwealth Bailways Commissioner, respondent, which Determinations, accompanied by a statement of the Public Service Arbitrator as to the laws or regulations of the Commonwealth with which, in his opinion, the Determinations were not, or might not be, in accord were laid before the Senate on the second day of March, 1927, and before the House of Representatives on the third day of March, 1927.

Ishould like at the outset to inform honorable senators of the facts leading up to the submission of this motion in the Senate. On the 19th of December, 1926, the Public Service Arbitrator made determinations, numbered respectively 47 and 48 of 1926, providing for the payment of child endowment to officers whose salaries did not exceed £600 per annum. Previously the maximum salary which qualified for the receipt of child endowment was £500. The determinations relate to clerical officers in the Commonwealth Public Service and the Commonwealth Railways Service respectively. The Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1920, section 21, provides that every determination made under the act shall come into operation not earlier than after the expiration of 30 days after it has been laid before both Houses of the Parliament. The following clause, which has been adopted by the Arbitrator in a number of cases, provides that -

Unless disapproved by the Parliament, this Determination shall come into operation at the expiration of 30 days after it has been laid before both Houses of the Parliament, and shall take effect on and from the 2nd day of January, 1927.

The determinations in question were tabled in the Senate on Wednesday, the 2nd of March, 1927, and in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the 3rd of March. I should like to direct particular attention to the provision I have just mentioned, because, whilst the law provides that the determinations have to be laid upon the table of both Houses to give the Parliament an opportunity to disallow them, if they are not disallowed the Arbitrator dates the award back to the 2nd of January. In this case, the determinations were not laid before Parliament before March of this year, and, if no action is taken, the determinations will date as from the 2nd of January, which, to say the least of it, is a rather peculiar procedure. Following the provisions of section 22 (2) of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act, the Arbitrator has forwarded a statement of the laws or the regulations of the Commonwealth with which, in his opinion, the determinations are not, or may not be, in accord. Section 22 (5) of the act provides, inter alia, that if, in the case of a determination accompanied by such a statement of the Arbitrator, either House of the Parliament, within 30 days after the determination with the statement has been laid before both Houses, passes a resolution disapproving the determination, the determination shall not come into operation. On 16th December the Public Service Board notified departments of the making of determination No. 47, relating to the Public Service.

Clerical Association: and intimated that it was intended to amend the Public Service Regulations in order that the award might apply, not merely to officers of the Clerical Association, but also to all public servants with salaries between £500 and £60f» ,per annum. The amended regulation was contained in Statutory Rules 1926, No. 212, which were made on the 21st December, 1926, and approved in Executive Council on 22nd December, to come into operation as from 30th December, 1926. Regulation 86 of these regulations provided, in effect, that, in addition to the rates of salary fixed by the Public Service Regulations, or under any determination made by the Public Service Arbitrator, there should be payable to all officers in receipt of a salary of less than £600 per annum child endowment at the rate of £13 per annum in respect of each dependent child; provided that the total sum per annum paid to any officer by way of salary and child endowment should not exceed £600. The regulation has been legally operative since 30th December, 1926, although, ae I have pointed out, the determinations will not operate until they have been before both Houses of the Parliament for a period of 30 days. If, within those 30 days, either House disapproves of the determinations, they will not come into force. I wish to refer briefly to tha history of this matter, so that honorable senators may be made acquainted with the motive of the Government in asking the Senate to take this action. The matter of child endowment involves, to a certain extent, a consideration of the basic wage that is payable to the Commonwealth Public Service. By the Public Service Act of 1902, a minimum wage of £110 was fixed. In 1911, that was raised by regulation to £.126. In 1915, the Arbitration Court, in. the Letter Carriers' case, fixed a minimum wage of £132, and that figure was adopted by regulation. In 1916, the Arbitration Court made a distinction between the salaries of married and single officers, and as from 1st July, 1916, fixed the minimum wage at £150 for married officers, and £126 for single officers. That £126 applied to clerical officers only, general division officers still continuing to receive a minimum of £132 per annum. During the war, various costofliving allowances were granted. In 1920, Mr. Justice Starke, as Deputy President of the Arbitration Court, swept all allowances away and fixed instead an allowance of £50 for married officers, with £30 for single officers. He, however, fixed £196, not £200, as the minimum wage for married officers, and £162 as the minimum wage for single officers. In 1920, the Basic "Wage Royal Commission, appointed by the Commonwealth, recommended a basic wage of £5 16s. The then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in tabling the report in Parliament, tabled, also, an additional memorandum which he had received from Mr. Piddington, who had been chairman of the commission, as to the effect on industry of the provision of a minimum wage of £5 16s. Mr. Piddington dealt also with the basis of the minimum wage as providing for a wife and three children, and pointed out that under this calculation, allowance was made for 450,000 nonexistent wives and 2,100,000 non-existent children. He considered, therefore, that it would be better to pay a basic wage of £4 to each workman, and then pay 10s. 9d. into a pool, so that a payment of 12s. per week might be made to employees in respect of each child. The then Prime Minister stated to the Parliament that the Commonwealth Government had decided generally to adopt these principles, and apply them to the Public Service. Accordingly, as a result of a deliberate act of public policy by the Government, by Statutory Rules 1920, Nos. 263 and 266, there was provided a basic wage allowance to bring the salary of married men to £208, and that of single men to £174 - an increase of £12 on the rates fixed by Mr. Justice Starke - and child endowment of £13 for the children of officers receiving less than £500 per annum. This was the first occasion on which child endowment, as such, was paid by the Commonwealth. It was done as an act of policy by the Government of the day, and announced to Parliament. In June, 1921, the combined Public Service associations applied to the arbitrator for a basic wag« of £5 16s., in accordance with the recommendations of the Basic "Wage Commission, but this was refused by the arbitrator. In 1923, the Public Service Arbitrator consolidated salaries and allowances, and abolished differential rates for married and single men. He found that the basic wage should be fixed at £205 8s., but that, whereas the outside basic wage was based on the normal requirements of a man, his wife, and three children, the average number of children of adult public servants was .84 of a child per adult officer. Reckoning .84 of £13 at £10 8s., he subtracted that sum from £205 8s., and, therefore, decided that the remainder, namely, £195, was the basic wage of the service. In consequence of this decision, the Public Service Board repealed the regulation providing for the basic wage allowance. In 1924j the Public Service Arbitrator increased the basic wage to £215, but deducted .S6 of £13 for child endowment, the average number of children per adult officer having increased from .84 of a child to .86, leaving the balance £204. The Public Service Board, however, still adhered to £19S, but it has. I understand, recently adopted the arbitrator's view of £204. On 5th October, the present Prime Minister delivered his policy speech at Dandenong, and announced that it was proposed to refer the- question of child endowment to the Commonwealth and State arbitration judges, with a view to their recommendations being considered at a conference between the Commonwealth and the States. This course having been found impracticable, owing to the congestion of work in the Arbitration Court, the Prime Minister has now invited the Governments of the States to meet the Commonwealth Government in conference on the whole question of child endowment generally. A bill providing for the payment of child endowment has recently been introduced into the Parliament of one of the States - New South Wales - though it has not yet passed into law. The arbitrator has now, by determinations Nos. 47 and 48 of 1926, varied the conditions under which child endowment is paid in the Commonwealth Service, so as to extend its provisions to officers receiving less than £600. Previously it applied only to officers receiving less than £500. The Government takes the view that, at the present time, there should be no alteration on such an important question of policy, until Parliament has had an opportunity of expressing its view on the matter. Obviously, the fixing of the salary limits within which child endowment shall operate is a vital point of policy. The discussions that have taken place in the New Sauth Wales Parliament clearly indicate that it is If no action is taken by the Government or Parliament then, under the procedure I have indicated, its inaction is regarded as an endorsement of the determination of the Public Service Arbitrator. The Government is not asking the Senate to fix the limit of salary at which child endowment should operate, but it asks that it should not say, by its inaction, that £600 should be the limit. The Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association has sent to honorable senators a circular in which there are two points to which I wish to draw attention. Paragraph 1 c, referring to child endowment, says -

It formed a part of the basie wage as fixed in the last two basic, wage declarations of the Arbitrator. The basic wage is now £204, plus child endowment. If child endowment were not paid, it would bc £215 per annum.

If the motion I now submit is carried, and this determination by the Arbitrator is disallowed, his previous determination, fixing £500 as the limit of salary under which child endowment is to be paid, will still stand, so that a man receiving a salary of £204 will not be affected, and will still be paid the child endowment. The other point in the circular is paragraph 1 (d), which reads as follows: -

The raising of the maximum amount of child endowment eligibility from £500 to £000 was expressly due to considerations of salary relativity. Officers in receipt of salaries exceeding £500 wore actually financially prejudiced by the bar at £500.

But if my motion is not carried, and the limit of £600 remains, will not an officer in receipt of a salary exceeding £600 be actually financially prejudiced by the bar being fixed at £600 1

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