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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 828

Mr WILLIS (Gellibrand) - In my comments on this Bill F will be referring to aspects of the economic impact of the measures undertaken in this Bill which were mentioned by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Viner). Other aspects raised by him will be mentioned by later speakers on the Government side. This Bill seeks to grant Commonwealth public servants one additional week's leave and in considering the Bill it is imperative to bear in mind that when it is passed by this Parliament it will result in the first increase in annual leave for Commonwealth public servants since Federation. That is almost three-quarters of a century ago, during which time this nation has made immense economic progress, but despite their important contribution to that progress Commonwealth public servants have not had their annual leave entitlement increased one iota. That is the broad context in which this Bill comes before the House and forms an important argument in its support.

However, before going into any detail on arguments in support of the Bill I should like to make it clear that the previous Government had plenty of opportunity to implement 4 weeks annual leave for its employees but constantly refused to do so. It was formally approached regarding 4 weeks annual leave for Commonwealth public servants by a joint deputation of the 3 national trade union councils, namely, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Council of Salaried Professional Associations and the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations, 3 times in its last 7 years in office. On each occasion there was a different Prime Minister and on each occasion the claim was rejected.

On the first occasion in October 1965 Prime Minister Menzies gave some reasons for refusing the claim, and I shall have something to say later regarding those reasons. But the subsequent deputations to Prime Minister Holt in 1966 and to Prime Minister Gorton in December 1969 had their claims summarily rejected. Prime Minister Holt merely endorsed the reasons given by Prime Minister Menzies the year before and Prime Minister Gorton deemed it appropriate to convey his rejection of ' the various claims by way of a pithy telegram in which he said:

The Government has concluded that having regard to the existing relevant circumstances it would be inappropriate to grant an extra weeks annual leave at this time.

That telegram was sent on 1 1 th December 1969. Mr Gorton did not bother to say what were the 'existing relevant circumstances' that made it inappropriate to grant 4 weeks leave at that lime but whatever they were they were apparently still applicable in the previous Government's view in 1971 when the 3 national trade union bodies lodged claims before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for an additional week's leave, not just for Commonwealth employees, but for all employees under Commonwealth awards who were not already receiving 4 weeks leave. These claims were strenuously opposed by the previous Government which intervened in the case supposedly in the public interest. In any event, the Commission refused to grant the additional week's leave and perhaps this was not surprising given the vehemence of the Commonwealth's opposition.

This then is the recent history of attempts by employee organisations to obtain 4 weeks leave for Commonwealth public servants and it is a history of implacable opposition by the previous Government. That opposition has been principally based on the alleged cost of an additional week's leave. That was the main reason used by Prime Minister Menzies in 1965 and it again formed the basis of the previous Government's opposition in the 1971 annual leave case. In fact, this cost has been vastly overstated and does not represent a valid reason for rejecting the sound arguments which had been put forward by unions in the past in their deputations for the granting of an extra week's leave for Commonwealth employees.

It is impossible in the time available to spell out all the reasons which support the action contemplated by this Bill, but I would like quickly to mention some of these reasons. Firstly, there is the fact, as I have already mentioned, that Commonwealth public servants have not received an increase in annual leave in the history of the Commonwealth. They were awarded 3 weeks leave at the time of Federation at which time State public servants received 3 weeks leave and in fact had done so since the 1860s. The Commonwealth merely established the same standard. Since then, despite the tremendous expansion in the economic prosperity of the nation, annual leave for Commonwealth public servants has remained unchanged. However, in the rest of the community annual leave entitlements have changed considerably in the last 35 to 40 years.

In private industry annual leave was virtually non-existent until the late 1930s when one week's annual leave became general and was expanded to 2 weeks immediately after the end of the Second World War. The 3 weeks standard was generally obtained in 1963 and in1964 the NSW industrial commission upheld, in appeal proceedings, the award of 4 weeks leave to employees of the Murrumbidgee County Council by the County Councils (Electricity Undertakings) Conciliation Committee. In the same year - 1964 - NSW Government employees were granted 4 weeks leave and in 1967 the South Australian Government granted 4 weeks leave to its wages employees. Since then salaried employees of the South Australian Government have also received the additional week's leave. The incidence of 4 weeks leave has continued to increase in recent years with 4 weeks leave being obtained by agreement by many employees in a wide range of occupations.

I have mentioned that public servants in New South Wales, and government employees working for New South Wales State instrumentalities, commissions and authorities also receive 4 weeks leave as do employeesof New South Wales universities and employees of local governments in New South Wales. In South Australia, apart from public servants, employees of State instrumentalities, commissions and authorities also receive 4 weeks leave. In Victoria 12 municipal councils awarded their employees 4 weeks leave. All employees in the coal industry receive this benefit as do employees under the artificial fertilisers and chemical workers award in the carbon black industry. Employees of the Rural Bank of New South Wales are covered by 4 weeks annual leave as are employees in the amusement and theatrical area covered by agreement with cinema proprietors. Employees under the Western Australian government executive officers award which covers town clerks, shire clerks, engineers and so on receive 4 weeks leave. So too do the employees of the State Bank of South Australia and of the Australian National University. All school teachers - at primary, secondary and technical levels - receive considerably more than 4 weeks leave. All foreman stevedores in Australia receive 4 weeks leave as do waterside workers and other employees working in container terminals. Employees in the oil industry receive 4 weeks leave.

It can be seen from that information that the benefit of 4 weeks leave applies to employees over a wide range of employment. But it does remain true that in the main this covers Government employees. In fact, 37 per cent of Government employees in Australia receive 4 weeks leave. It can be seen then that the Commonwealth Government is now providing a standard of annual leave that is less than that which is received by many other government employees. Indeed it is providing a standard less than that which now applies to some employees in private industry who 40 years ago would not have received any annual leave at all. Given that their annual leave entitlement has not increased in threequarters of a century, that almost two-fifths of government employees in this country now receive an extra week's leave and that that standard is gradually expanding into private industry, Commonwealth public servants can be seen to be well overdue for the receipt of 4 weeks annual leave.

If Jong service leave is taken into account Commonwealth public servants are seen to be in an even more adverse situation vis-a-vis the general position of State public servants than on a direct comparison of annual leave. Except for Queensland, long service leave entitlements of public servants in the States are at least as good as those applying in the Commonwealth and in Western Australia they are markedly better. Thus there can be no suggestion that long service leave entitlements of Commonwealth employees in some way make up for the fact that they receive less annual leave than New South Wales and South Australian government employees.

Overseas comparisons are difficult to make but it is relevant that a number of developed overseas countries have 4 weeks as the minimum standard for annual leave. Norway and Sweden passed legislation in 1964 giving a minimum 4 weeks leave to all employees - not just to government employees but to all employees. In France legislation in 1968 provided for a minimum of 4 weeks leave for all employees and many employees receive additional days leave, according to a publication from the European Economic Community called Trade Union News, No. 5, Winter 1970/71 - a publication of the European Economic Community press and information office in London.

The same publication shows that in other European countries the minimum annual leave is generally 3 weeks with many employees receiving a greater amount by collective agreement. In the public service specifically there is no European country that has a lesser amount of annual leave than the Australian Commonwealth Public Service and most of them have considerably more. Thus a standard of 4 weeks leave for Commonwealth public servants would not create some revolutionary high standard beyond anything applying overseas. The fact is that 4 weeks leave is common in Europe so it cannot be said that that standard is impractical in any way. Indeed the countries to which I have specifically referred seem to be flourishing economically with at least that standard of annual leave applying to all employees. Despite this evidence and many other subsidiary arguments supporting this claim for 4 weeks leave the previous Government - (Quorum formed).

Mr WILLIS - 1 was making the point that the arguments to which I have been referring supported the claim for 4 weeks annual leave. Despite those arguments the previous Government rejected the claim mainly on the basis that this would lead to an increase in labour costs and therefore, it was said, in prices. That was Sir Robert Menzies' argument in rejecting the unions' claims in 1965.

Mr Lloyd - He was probably right.

Mr WILLIS - I am coming to that. He maintained that the granting of the additional week of leave would require recruitment of a large number of additional Commonwealth employees, thereby substantially increasing the wage and salary bill of the Commonwealth and 'straining the labour resources of the community'. Sir Robert claimed that an additional 5,800 employees would be needed at a cost of SI 8m per annum. He arrived at that amount by assuming that with one week less in work time production would fall in proportion, that is, he assumed that there would not be any increase in employee productivity as a result of reduced working time, whereas in fact there are good reasons for assuming that such a consequential productivity increase would occur.

The previous Government continued that line of argument in the 1971 annual leave case but I will not repeat exactly what was said in that case. To say that this approach of the former Government overstated the cost of 4 weeks leave would be indeed euphemistic. For a start, the Commonwealth in the 1971 case made no allowance whatever for the fact that at least 10 per cent of Australian employees already received 4 weeks leave. That alone has resulted in a substantial costs overestimate. But in addition, as I have said, no allowance was made for increased productivity of employees as a result of increased leave. This consequential increase in productivity is quite likely. The reason for it was well expressed by counsel for the State of New South Wales in intervening in the 1962 annual leave case before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I had intended to refer to the statement by the counsel for New South Wales. Briefly, he spells out 4 reasons why there would be a consequential increase in productivity if increased leisure were granted to employees, but in view of the hour I will not bother reading his comments.

That argument was put forward by New South Wales in 1962. In 1964, following the general spread of 3 weeks leave, the New South Wales Government decided to grant 4 weeks leave to New South Wales public servants. Tt is relevant to note what happened in New South Wales following the increase of annual leave from 3 weeks to 4 weeks. If the arguments of the previous Government had been valid one would have expected a substantial increase in the recruitment of additional public servants in New South Wales following the implementation of this increase in annual leave. In fact this did not happen, as a table which I have clearly shows. I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document reads as follows) -


Mr WILLIS - I thank the House. The table shows that when the increased leave was granted the percentage increase in recruitment compared with recruitment in the previous year was 6.5 per cent. In the following year, the rise was only 5.1 per cent.

Debate interrupted.

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