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Wednesday, 1 October 1902

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I should like the Minister to give the committee some information in respect of the non-payment for overtime worked by the out-door hands in the Customs department. There are a large number of men engaged in each of the States as out-door officers, and on some occasions they have to work all night, and practically without notice, at the behest of the department. Until the control of the Customs was taken over by the Commonwealth, these men in the New South Wales department were paid for overtime, whether they worked at the instance of the Government or a private individual. The Minister, however, has introduced a new regulation by which they obtain nothing by way of payment for overtime, but are given a certain amount of leave if they work an excessive number of hours.

Mr Kingston - The leave is almost hour for hour.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable gentleman has surely heard something of the conditions applying to employes, whether in Australia or one might say, in any other part of the world, and he knows that it is never conceded by any fair employer that hour for hour is a fair return for overtime. After a man has done a full day's work he is asked, without notice in some instances, towork overtime, to pay for his tea, although his -wife has already prepared his evening meal at home, and then in his tired condition to carry on for perhaps twelve or fourteen hours at a stretch in addition to his ordinary hours of employment. The Minister seems to be quite overjoyed to think that he has been liberal enough to give something approaching hour for hour for this overtime.

Mr Wilks - Overtime should not be encouraged.

Mr WATSON - I agree with the honorable member ; but when, men are compelled, to work overtime in these circumstances it is shameful to refuse to pay them anything for it. It is especially unjust when it is recollected that these men are not only at the loss of their own time at an inconvenient period, but are actually out of pocket. Out. of a scanty wage of about 7s. a day, they have to provide tea money, and supper money if they work late, and sometimes they have to pay for their own breakfast if they remain on duty all night. I do not know whether the Minister thinks that is proper, but I regard it as . a most improper thing. There seems to be a willingness always to give every consideration to the clerical staff, but to leave other employés without any chance of obtaining fair treatment. I trust the Minister will see the propriety of making some monetary allowance to these men when the Government insist upon their working overtime. I might say that the Minister does allow payment if the men go back to work at the instance of a private firm. The private firms pay the Government, and the Government in turn hand over the money to the employes; but I am referring particularly to cases in which men are compelled to go back at the instance of the department.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the Government make that distinction?

Mr WATSON - Yes. This is an innovation which has come into force since the control of the Customs was taken over by the Commonwealth.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member does not expect them to get fair play, does he?

Mr WATSON - I do, and I do not think it is yet too late for the Minister to redeem himself in this respect. If he persists in this practice a great number of people who have regarded him as a fair man will arrive at the conclusion that he is something the opposite of that. Surely he cannot reconcile the system with his own idea of what is right. It prevails in no other employ that I am aware of, and it is not right that the Government should initiate such a practice.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).- I hope that the Minister will also inquire into the Customs department generally with a, view to seeing the amount of sweated labour there is there. The right honorable gentleman has some knowledge already of the condition of things obtaining, and I look to him with great confidence to stop this sweating at the earliest moment. There are a number of young men who do not seem to be able to secure any advance in wages. Some of them, who have been in the department for eight, nine and ten years, are getting to-day only £52 a year, whilst others are getting £65, £70 and £80. When men who are handling money all day are being paid such salaries it occurs to me that they are under strong temptation to peculation. I know of one who is a clerk to the cashier, and he is handling money all day long. He has not had an advance in wages for five years.

There is nothing against him ; his reports are all good, but somehow or another he is stuck there. I know of another, one of the best hands in the office, who has been getting a salary of £52 ayear for years past and can get no advance.

Mr Watson - Is he over 21 years of age? If he is the Public Service Act will bring him up a little.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, it will ; but there are some other cases to which the Act will not apply. Where men who have the handling of money have arrived at years of maturity they should at least receive a sufficient salary to enable them to keep themselves. That is not the case in many of the instances to which I refer, and I confidently appeal to the Minister to rectify this state of things.

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