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Friday, 8 December 1911

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I think that the Government ought to make a statement in regard to their intention with respect to the report of the Postal Commission. So much is due to the employe's of the Post and Telegraph Department. If this Bill passes, will it mean that the work of the Commission and all its recommendations, and the money it cost, and everything connected with it, will be thrown upon the scrap-heap.

Senator Pearce - The great bulk of the Commission's recommendations have been adopted.

Senator STEWART - Some may have been, but there are others undoubtedly affecting large bodies of men which have not been adopted. The men will be very anxious to know whether after this Bill passes they will have to approach the Arbitration Court with fresh evidence, repeating everything that was laid before the Royal Commission.

Senator Pearce - The PostmasterGeneral made, a speech in another place ir» which he stated definitely what recommendations were accepted, and what it was not intended to accept. The officers will know exactly what is to be done if they read that speech.

Senator STEWART - -There is a great, deal of dissatisfaction in the service. I have a letter from an officer who tells me that the recommendation of the Commission with regard to day-work was that the hours should be forty-four per week, and that the hours for night work should be thirty-six, whilst with regard to broke shifts the hours should be forty.

Senator Pearce - For what class of work.

Senator STEWART - I think this refers to sorters.

Senator Pearce - They would haveaccess to the Arbitration Court, which would be able to give them satisfaction ir» regard to their hours of work.

Senator STEWART - That is exactly the point upon which I wish the Government to be definite. Do they intend to throw the Commission's report on the scrapheap.

Senator Pearce - It has not been thrown on the scrap-heap. Part of the recommendations have been adopted.

Senator STEWART - Will the men have to go through the same operation, again stating their case before this Court, ranging up their witnesses, and going to a great deal of expense and trouble to state their disabilities, which they have already explained to the Postal Commission. That Commission, which was appointed several years ago, was careful and laborious in making its investigation, doing more than any Judge is ever likely to do. It visited a number of post-offices throughout Australia, saw the men at their work, saw the conditions under which they laboured and generally collected all the information which it was possible to get. I do not suppose that the Judge of the Arbitration Court is likely to do that sort of thing. My contention is that work has already been exhaustively done for the Post and Telegraph Department by the Royal Commission. The Government ought either to adopt its report or reject the recommendations. They ought to tell the men definitely what they do not accept, so that they may be in a position to know what to do. I should particularly like to hear a statement from the Government with regard to the hours of labour. Although the Commission recommended that forty-four hours per week should be worked, there are men who are working ninety-three hours per fortnight as a minimum. They might even be required to work ninety-three hours in one week if the Department demanded it. Certainly no more than forty-four hours should be worked in any one week, and those hours should as nearly as possible be evenly distributed over the week. With regard to night work, I consider six hours per night are quite enough.

Senator Givens - I used to have to work eight hours per day or per night, and did not get a farthing extra for night work.

Senator STEWART - I am sure that the honorable senator grumbled very much. I am of opinion "that more should be paid for night work than for day work, and I am satisfied *hat Senator Givens will assist the men who are doing night work in the Post Office, if not to get more money, at all events to get shorter hours.

Senator O'Keefe - Every miner in Australia has to work at night, and does not get more pay for it.

Senator STEWART - It does not matter to the miner whether he works by day or by night. He is working in the dark under any circumstances.

Senator Givens - He misses the daylight which he would have if he were working on top.

Senator STEWART - Any man who works at night, whether below or above ground, is entitled to more pay than is given for day work.

Senator O'Keefe - Miners cannot get more.

Senator STEWART - Not from private employers, but the Commonwealth is in a position to do justice to its employes. Night work is very unpleasant. All that these men ask is that their night duties shall be limited to six hours per night. My correspondent says that the books at the office where he is working show that men are doing night duty for from fifty-two hours down to forty-one per week.

Senator Fraser - Were they paid extra?

Senator STEWART - I do not know. I do not think so.

Senator Givens - They were allowed time off next week, I expect.

Senator STEWART - I know nothing except what I have been informed. Yet the recommendation of the Commission is that thirty-six hours should be the limit for night work. Honorable senators know what broken shifts are. They mean that men sometimes begin work at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning, and their day is not ended until 10 at night.

Senator Givens - That is worse than night work.

Senator STEWART - It is very bad and most disagreeable.

Senator O'Keefe - That ought to be remedied.

Senator STEWART - I think the men are entitled to what they ask for. They should be told either that the recommendations of the Royal Commission in this connexion are to be carried out, or that they will have to state a case to the Arbitration Court. I invite the Government to make a statement on the subject. With regard to the general question of arbitration, I recognise freely that if the men are not satisfied with what Parliament, representing their employers, has done for. them, it is only right and proper that there should be some other authority to which they can appeal. So far as that goes, I approve of the establishment of the Arbitration Court to hear appeals from public servants. But then another consideration comes in. The Arbitration Court may fix wages, conditions, and hours of labour such as no Parliament, having a majority of Labour members in it, could agree to. What would happen then? The award of the Arbitration Court would have to be overridden. If it was not, our supporters outside would bring political pressure to bear upon us, as they would be quite entitled to do, and the work of the Arbitration Court would go for nothing. So that we are in an extremely difficult position whichever way we look at it. I think the Government should make a definite statement with regard to a number of the recommendations of the Postal Commission which have not been adopted, so that the men concerned may know exactly where they are.

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