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Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I have been partially satisfied by the Minister's explanation of the difficulty arising from the fact that artisans in the employ of the Commonwealth Government are not getting the union rate of wage. There are not many farriers in the employ of the Commonwealth Government in New South Wales, and that is all the more reason why the Government and the Public Service Commissioner should immediately have brought their pay up to the rate fixed by the award" that' was given in connexion with the rates paid to farriers outside the service. I may be told that men in the Government employ are entitled to certain privileges, but it should be borne in mind that they have probably given their services for several years at a wage below the rates paid to journeymen in the different trades outside the service. If we take the case of carpenters, for instance, the Commonwealth minimum rate is £140 a year, but owing to briskness in that particular trade, one can safely say that for a considerable time past the minimum outside has been considerably over £3 per week, or £156 a year.

Senator Pearce - The Commonwealth minimum wage for carpenters employed directly under a Minister is the same as the minimum wage outside the service.

Senator GARDINER - I recognise that a. distinction is made between employe's under the Minister and employes under the Public Service Commissioner. Serious dif ficulties will arise if the Commonwealth Government set a bad example by paying lower rates of wages than private employers are compelled to pay under an award of an Arbitration Court or a Wages Board. The master farriers of New South Wales are compelled to pay their employe's a certain minimum wage fixed by an award of a Wages Board after considerable trouble and deliberation, and yet a few hands in the employ of the Commonwealth Government are not given the same wages, simply because it is said that they have privileges which are not enjoyed by tradesmen outside the service. The seriousness of the matter should at once be brought under the notice of the Public Service Commissioner by the Government.

Senator de Largie - They cannot do anything with the Public Service Commissioner.

Senator St Ledger - Put all your sins on the Commissioner.

Senator GARDINER - I am not suggesting that anything should be done to the Public Service Commissioner. I have never met the gentleman, but I assume that he is a man of ordinary common sense, and that, if a Wages Board in New South Wales has, after considerable trouble and expense, on inquiry into the cost of living and other circumstances, increased the wages of farriers, for instance, up to a certain amount, which would only involve an increased expenditure of a few shillings per week for ten or a dozen hands in the Public Service, he will see that his duty is to pay such men exactly the same as private employers would be compelled to pay them under the award. We cannot expect that there will be peaceful working in the Commonwealth Departments unless a disposition is shown by the Government or the Public Service Commissioner to adopt the rates of pay secured by the different organizations and unions for workers outside the service. It may be said that men in the employ of the Public Service have certain privileges in the way of holidays, for which they are paid, and other advantages which outside workmen do not enjoy. But I say that a great employer like the Australian Commonwealth can well afford to set a good example in the treatment of its employes. So far as farriers, carpenters, and other skilled tradesmen are concerned, I "hope the Government will recommend the adoption of rates of pay in accordance with the decisions of Wages Boards or Arbitration Courts. If this course is not followed, members of organizations and trade unions employed in the Government service will be faced with I the alternative of retaining their positions in the Public Service or giving up their membership of their various unions.

Senator Millen - There are not many resignations.

Senator GARDINER - I do not suppose that there are any. I suppose that, like most sensible people, men in the Public Service will exhaust every means to bring about a desired end before compelling the Commonwealth to lose their valuable services.

Senator Fraser - They do not care to lose a good and permanent billet.

Senator GARDINER - If they are in good billets, no doubt they give good work in return for what they are paid, or they would not be there. I would ask Senator Fraser whether he thinks that a man who is giving his services for less than 70s. a week is not giving a fair return for the money he is getting; is not that little enough for any man to live on? Men in the Public Service should have better employment than men in private employ. This country demands fair conditions for men in the Public Service. I hold the Government responsible for every officer in the Public Service, including the Public Service Commissioner, and the moment an award is made by an Arbitration Court or a Wages Board, it is, in my opinion, the plain duty of the Government, as well as of the Public Service Commissioner, to see that the rate of pay of their employes is the same as that given to men in private employment.

Senator Millen - No more and no less.

Senator GARDINER - I do not care how much more the Government employes may receive. I know that Senator MilJen is very anxious that the Commonwealth Government shall pay no more for services rendered than is paid outside. He holds the view that a man in the Public Service is in a secure billet, and should be paid as nearly the minimum rate of wage as possible. A serious position has arisen in certain unions. Men who have been members of those unions for a number of years, and have also been employed in the Public Service for a long time, are now, because the Public Service Commissioner refuses to comply with an award of an Arbitration Court or a Wages Board, compelled to sever their connexion with one or the other. That is not a fair position in which to put men in the employ of the Commonwealth Government. These men are called upon to accept a wage less than that fixed by an award of an Arbitration Court or a Wages Board.

Senator St Ledger - The Commonwealth is bigger than any union.

Senator GARDINER - I am not speaking of this from the point of view of urging that any union should exercise an undue influence.' I am putting it as it might be put to any fair-minded employer of labour when I ask that the minimum rate of wages paid should be equal to the minimum rate fixed by an award of an Arbitration Court or Wages Board. ' The Government have tardily passed a measure, under which public servants will be permitted to appeal to the Arbitration Court for a redress of their grievances. But whilst waiting for that measure to become law, I hope that Ministers will bring under the notice of the Public Service Commissioner the necessity which exists for insuring that when an award is made in respect of the means of any trade outside the Public Service, the wage prescribed in that award shall be paid to persons in the employ of the Commonwealth who are performing similar work.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [5.16].- After listening to the remarks of Senator Gardiner, one can only conclude that his idea is that a trade union should be regarded as the superior body, and the Commonwealth Public Service as the inferior body, and that, because the former objects to a man joining the Public Service at less than the standard wage, the Commonwealth ought to give way. I feel sure that the honorable senator must recognise the absurdity of that position, if he will only reflect upon it for a few moments. In the first place, we have appointed a Public Service Commissioner to grade the positions in our Public Service, It has been said that the remuneration, of certain members of the service is 'less than the remuneration fixed by the Arbitration Court for private employes doing similar work. My reply is that the men in our Public Service enjoy certain increments which eventually cause them to receive a much higher rate of pay than they would receive if they were remunerated in accordance with the award of that Court. When a man enters the Public Service, he generally steps into a permanent position. He has regular work, regular pay, and regular holidays, so that his position is by no means an unenviable one. If the Public Service Commissioner expected men to work for less than the wage ruling outside in the particular branch of industry to which they belong, without offering them any compensation whatever, the position would be a singularly unfair one. We have appointed Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards to determine the wages which shall be paid in various industries, and we have a right to assume that those tribunals have taken into consideration every circumstance before fixing those wages. But neither the Arbitration Court nor Wages Boards decree that a man in private employ shall receive an increment every twelve months, or that he shall enjoy a holiday upon full pay. It is true that he may take an extended holiday if he chooses, but it he does so, he risks his position being filled during his absence. In such circumstances, how much better is it to subscribe to the conditions which obtain in our Public Service? If men are not prepared to observe those conditions, the only other course open to us is that which was indicated by the Minister, namely, to pay them in accordance with the awards of the Court.

Senator Gardiner - I think that would be preferable.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - But it must not Be forgotten that a man in the service of the Commonwealth is assured of regular employment, whereas a person outside the service may secure continuous employment for several years, and then suddenly be discharged. The officers of our Public Service thus enjoy a security of tenure. I agree with the honorable senator that the Commonwealth ought to be the best employer in the country. The conditions which obtain in our Public Service ought to be such as will attract the most skilled and conscientious men. I believe that it does attract those classes of men. Whenever a position in our Public 'Service becomes vacant, are there not plenty of applicants for it, and good men, too? Any man who wishes to secure employment is only too glad to get into that service. Consequently, he will - if his union will allow him to do so - accept a slightly less wage than the standard wage which obtains outside. I would further point out that we are the trustees of the public, and that it is our duty to see that the public get a fair deal. Because the money for the payment of our officers does not come out of our own pockets, have we a right to pay them more than they are entitled to? If Senator Gardiner were a private employer, he would give his employes the rates of pay and conditions of employment which are prescribed by the Arbitration Court. Consequently, he ought not to endeavour to persuade the Government to assume a different attitude. They must bold the balance evenly as between the man who gives his service to the Commonwealth, and the people to whom that service is rendered. To my mind, a little give and take would overcome a number of difficulties which are experienced from time to time. I come now to a matter which was mentioned by Senator Millen, namely, the postal facilities in some portions of the Northern Territory. Whilst it is perfectly true that in a number of places we are carrying on postal services which are not directly remunerative, it must be recollected that we have a vast country to develop, and that we need to be rather ahead of its development than behind it. The Northern Territory has a population of less than 1,000 white persons, although it contains an area of 550,000 square miles. We must face the problems which there confront us, not by saying that we shall spend only so much money as we get out of the Territory - if we adopt that policy we shall never develop it - but by offering inducements to people to settle there. One of those inducements should take the form of providing means of communication and mail services between various centres. I hope that the Government will not hesitate to spend any sum which may be reasonably required to develop the Territory. We must develop it. Do not let us haggle over the expenditure of money which will tend to settle it, and ultimately to make it a revenue-producing instead of a revenuespending department. The Opposition, I think, are prepared to back up the Government in any attempt to effectively develop it. Coming to the question of wireless telegraphy, I note that the Minister has promised that this system of communication shall be established at the principal centres throughout Australia at a very early date. When one is travelling the world, one cannot help being ashamed of our backwardness in this connexion. When crossing the ocean, one finds small islands at which wireless telegraphy is installed; but until one gets into very close proximity to Australia, this country might as well, from the stand-point of communication with it, be thousands of miles distant. I am aware that the Government say that they have been hampered by .the action of their predecessors in this matter. I admit that the negotiations of the previous Government did not work out in the way that was anticipated, but it is quite up to the present Ministry to get a move on, with a view to letting the world know that Australia is seized with the necessity of installing wireless telegraphy throughout this continent. In New South Wales a wireless station has been established at the Hotel Australia by private enterprise. It is surely up to the Commonwealth Government to get rid of this silent reproach on their lack of progressiveness. There is no need for me to mention how valuable wireless telegraphy is as a life-saving instrumentality. There should be communication between ships and the mainland. Most of our merchant vessels are already equipped with wireless apparatus, and it only needs the Federal Government to erect stations to make the service effective.

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