My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
In the early years of the reformed Union, much time and energy was spent in establishing wages and conditions with limited benefit of a legal structure to regularise, validate and enforce gains. Much was documented in agreements which were little more than an exchange of letters between individual employers and the Union, or a simple form of registration with the Registrar of Friendly Societies. In disputes with employers, members would refer to the "Rule" which bound them on some subject, such as rate of pay. Application of the rules required putting as much pressure as possible on employers to accept what the Union had written into its "working rules" which were registered as part of the Union’s general rules.
The Rules and Working Rules adopted on 14th August, 1900 and registered with the Registrar, T.A.Coghlan, on 30th August, 1900, (No.169) carried what were the signatures of the members of the Management Committee: Joseph Creighton, Thomas Anstess, Arthur Stone, Thomas Hurley, George Green, James Everry and Edward Anstess. The application for registration of the Rules was sent from the Secretary’s (Bob Mahony’s) home address at 34 Church Street, Balmain, (next to and running parallel to Mort Street) because the Union had no other official address. These Rules gave the Objects of the Union as
1st --- To, by every legitimate means, maintain Eight Hours as a Day’s Labor, also to obtain a fair wage for the same.
2nd --- To assist Members thrown out of work for upholding the aforesaid principles.
3rd --- To universally Federate Labor.
4th --- To assist all, or any Trades Unions, to obtain and maintain their rights.
5th --- To assist Members to obtain employment, co-operative or otherwise.
6th --- To assist in defraying the expenses incurred in celebrating the Eight-Hour Anniversary.
After setting out the various rules for the general running of the organisation, a separate section then provided the Working Rules under which Rule 25 prohibited men from working with non-union men (to ensure preference for union members) and Rule 26 stated
The minimum Rate of Wages for members of this Union shall be tenpence (10d.) per hour for men employed at Painting, Chipping or Scraping, and Nine pence Halfpenny (9½d.) per hour for men employed at Docking or Slipping, or any work connected therewith. Overtime shall be paid at the rate of time and a half right through….
In May, 1900, the first big issue for the Union was a strike by its members employed at Mort’s Dock when
Mr. Johnson Delegate for Hill gang reported that the men employed by Mr. Hill had come out on strike for nine pence halfpenny per hour while working at chipping on the pontoons of the Atlas Dock as they thought it would not be right for them as union men to do the same work as the Painters at less pay than the Painters….
After discussions with the Dock Master (Christie) and the Works Manager (Franki), the results of which were reported back to Union meetings, conditions offered by the company were
….Mr. Franki would be willing to pay 9d. per hour to the men who were getting less & that he would pay the Painters time & a quarter for the first two hours and time & half afterwards for overtime & that if they were called in after eight o’clock at night he would pay time and half right through. The overtime rate for the other men to be the same as usual. (Minutes, 17/7/1900).
This offer was rejected and the officials instructed to go back to the Management with demands for an improved offer, which was made, with Franki stating that
he was willing to pay the Painters ten pence per hour & time and quarter for the first two hours & time & a half afterwards & the Dockers 9¼d. per hour & the same overtime as the Painters….
This offer, too, was rejected, following which further conferences were held and Christie (Dock Master) attended a Union meeting to discuss the position further, but a motion to accept the offer was rejected. Christie was "very sorry that they had come to that decission (sic)"; a vote of thanks was given him and he left the meeting. (Minutes, 11/9/1900)
This procedure of meetings, conferences, etc., proceeded until an agreement was reached in an exchange of letters and an eventual registration of an altered working rule.
The November, 1900, meeting set in place a new set of by-laws which included provision for fining any member "who have worked a full day" then working "overtime on another job while there are Union men seeking employment (Dockers & Permanent hands exempt)". (Minutes, 24/4/1900). Thus, from its early days, the Union regarded employment as a priority matter, a principle which it was to maintain throughout its existence.
From these somewhat rudimentary, fundamental methods of establishing wages and conditions, there grew the general notion of the legal document, the Award, which would provide the worker with established rights to minimum wages and conditions, and which could continue to record improvements within the industry. At the same time, the danger of losing hard-won rights through other unions registering wide-ranging awards eventually made a legal award document essential.
Problems with employers who failed to recognise the "working rules" persisted and was one reason for the Union seeing merit in a form of arbitration which carried some authority and power of enforcement. This became more evident as members found themselves almost constantly obliged to take action to gain adherence to their "rules". In 1902, action was called for, when Mort’s Dock refused to pay men for the amount of time they were kept waiting at Woolwich for launches to transport them back to their place of finishing at Mort’s. When the company offered to pay them for half an hour, the men insisted on being paid for the full hour and a half that they were kept cooling their heels at Woolwich. (Minutes, 11/8/1902). On another occasion, Mort’s refused to pay overtime rates for a public holiday declared by the Government as Coronation Day.
In a letter to the union, Franki denied having agreed to pay for all holidays but because the Foreman had promised payment on this occasion he agreed to pay
but in future the only holidays he would pay for would be New Years Day, Anniversary Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Eight Hour Day, Prince of Wales Birthday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
The meeting decided to tell Franki that the Union intended to "adhere to our Rules in reference to payment for holidays". (Minutes, 1/9/1902)
In 1903, a new set of Rules was sent to all employers and Mort’s Dock advised that it "would acquaint us of the date of conference", and it was decided that "a shorthand reporter & three delegates be appointed temporary (the Secretary to be one)" to attend the conference when arranged. (Minutes, 9/3/1903). A report on the conference was given to the meeting on 11th April, showing the employers’ attitude to the new "Rules" was
1st They objected to Rule 27 (providing for preference in employment for members of the Union) unless it was in conformity with the Arbitration Act.
2nd They desire us to reconsider our demand for one shilling per hour.
3rd They desire us to specify the Holidays
4th They object to the rate of pay for meal hours & suggest that the Secretary have an interview with Mr. Christie & Mr. Armstead & whatever they suggest they would agree to.
5th By Law 1. They desire that this By-Law should be worded in a different manner so as to properly explain its meaning.
The Union’s response was to elect a committee of seven members to look at it and report back to a further meeting. The committee’s recommendations were then submitted to a further meeting, thus
It was reported to the meeting that the discussion with Christie and Foreman Armstead had brought a proposal that
Painters could have their dinner between 12 o’clock and 2 p.m. and the company desired to be allowed two hours after the bell to complete their work & they would guarantee to give the men their meals within 3 hours after knocking off time.
But, for the Docking Gang
They could not see their way clear to state any special hours for their meals.
Among the recommendations from the committee was that concerning Rule 27 which was adopted after Mahony had explained that
"all things being equal" meant that if two men presented themselves for employment the one a unionist and the other a non-unionist providing the men were both capable men the unionist would get the preference.
The meeting accepted the recommendation for a rate of pay of 1/- per hour except for the Docking Gang which was set at seven shillings a day or 10½d per hour. The Docking Gang was to have a set meal of any three-quarters of an hour between 12 noon and 3 p.m. Time and a half to be paid for any meal hour worked. Overtime was banned where members were out of work "unless such job is of a special nature". (Minutes, 20/4/1902)
The decisions of the meeting were presented to the employers and their response was reported to a further meeting which decided to accept the employers’ terms provided that it should only run for two years, not three as proposed by the employers. The employers’ terms included a rate of pay for painters of 10½d (not 1/-d.) per hour except in tanks which would be paid for at 1/- per hour. The Docking Gang rate was to be 10½d per hour also. (Minutes, 11/5/1903)
On 1st June, the Secretary reported on a new industrial agreement which had been prepared by the solicitors, Brown and Beeby, and which had been submitted to the employers about a fortnight after this May meeting. He reported
This agreement was considered by the Employers & they objected to it & submitted one in its place….. I strongly objected to the agreement & pointed out clauses in it that we could not possibly agree to, one in particular which read as follows: Chipping, Painting, Scraping & cleaning ships in or at Docks or Slips. I pointed out that if that was left in the agreement it would confine our work to Docks & Slips alone and therefore there was no necessity for meeting the shipowners in conference as the matter only affected Mort’s Dock alone & it being our intention to make the agreement a Common Rule for the Port, we could not agree to that clause as it would nullify the whole agreement. Had 2 & 3 interviews a day with Mr. Franki & ultimately got the agreement ready for signing. Made arrangements for the signing….Made arrangements for the Management Committee to be in attendance at office, 83 Pitt St Sydney… When we got there we found that they were not prepared to sign in conformity with the Arbitration Act. We therefore could not sign. The Employers did not seem to understand how an agreement should be signed in conformity with the Arbitration Act. Waited on the Registrar & he gave me the necessary information, but stated that the Employers had treated us in a grossly unfair manner & he was surprised at the ignorance displayed by them. Drafted out the agreement in the manner it should be signed by the employers, gave copy to Mr. Franki…. Mr Trad representing the ferry owners refused unless we had a clause on exempting permanent ferry employees. I told Mr. Franki we would settle the matter without Mr.Trad. He stated that he had a letter from Mr. Trad and wished I would submit it to the Union…..
The copy of the letter was then read up & …. It was resolved that the letter be not entertained…..
Moved & seconded that the six men that had attended for signing of agreement be paid the sum of 5/- for their lost time. Carried. (Minutes, 1/6/1903)
[NOTE: Beeby, in the firm of Brown and Beeby (a firm often briefed by the Sydney Labor Council), was later (1919) to leave the Labor Party and play a part in the forming of the anti-Labor Nationalist Government of W.Holman (who had by then been expelled from the Labor Party), in which he was appointed as Minister for Labour. Later John Storey’s Labor Government of 1920-22 appointed him as a judge in the Arbitration Court.]
Thus, an agreement, registered as "This indenture", was signed on 12th June, 1903 by Captain F.Langley Webb, N.Forsyth and Charles E.Smith for the NSW Interstate Steamship Owners Association; Laidley Mort, J.P. Franki and Leslie Herring for Mort’s Dock and Engineering Company; F.J.Thomas, Thomas Hill and W.N. Cuthbertson for NSW Coastal Steamship Owners Association. For the Union, the signatories were D.J. Watters, E. Talbot, J. Veil, F. Baker, E.H. Tarlington, F.W. Elliss and R. Mahony. The Ferry Owners were excluded from the Agreement.
Less than twelve months later, Secretary Mahony had occasion to give a lengthy report to a meeting on employers failing to observe the Agreement. He had interviewed Mr. Adamson of the Adelaide SS Co; Captain of the City of Grafton; Captain of the ketch Jubilee; and the owner of the s.s. Murray. The Adelaide SS Company, in particular, were systematically breaking the award. It was decided that the Secretary should take up the problem with the Steamship Owners Association. (Minutes, 29/4/1904)
Mahony reported to a further meeting on having a number of interviews with the secretary of the NSW Interstate S S Owners about the various breaches of the Agreement by the Adelaide S S Company. But his appeals had apparently fallen on deaf ears. He had also spoken to the President of the Association, Captain Webb,
Captain Webb had stated that he had no sympathy whatever with the action of the Adelaide Co & and asked as a special request for us not to take any action until we heard from their Secretary & then if a settlement was not arrived at by all means take the case into the Court & we would have his sympathy as when he signed the agreement he intended to carry it out honourably & would endeavour to do so.
The meeting decided to take Court action and the Secretary to procure the necessary legal advice & representation. (Minutes, 13/6/1904)
Failure of employers to recognise agreements continued. In 1905, an example of the contemptuous disregard for even the common courtesies in dealing with an issue, occurred at Mort’s Dock when the company failed to pay men employed at the Company’s Woolwich Dock in accordance with the three-hour guarantee and then had the Secretary almost chasing his tail in his effort to get a company response.
A number of men had been ordered in to paint the ship at 9.00 a.m. on Wednesday 11th October, 1905. They were employed for one hour (being knocked off at 10 o’clock) and were then told to come in the next morning at 6.00 a.m. On Saturday they received payment for the hour they worked and were not given the three hour guarantee.
On Monday morning October 10th the Secretary waited on the Foreman, Mr. Armstead….he referred him to Mr. Christie, the Works Manager. After explaining the case to him, Mr. Christie referred the Secretary to Mr. Franki. Waited on Mr. Franki. He said to see Mr. Christie. Told him that such had been done. He said he would have to have the matter in writing. A letter explaining the case was then forwarded on October 16th a reply being received on the 28th stating that Mr. Franki would see the Secretary on Thursday October 18th. The Secretary waited on him as requested when after discussing the case Mr. Franki said it was not their fault that the ship was not dry. It was pointed out by the Secretary that provision could have been made to dry the ship by stopping the scuppers etc & drying the bottom with lamps to which statement objection was taken by Mr. Armstead. Mr. Franki finally said he would give the men half an hour extra & he considered that was an equitable way out of the matter. The Secretary said he would place the matter before the Union for their decision & withdrew. (Minutes, 23/10/1905)
This case was heard by the Management Committee which recommended "taking legal proceedings for the recovery of the deficiency of wages". It was also decided to call a special meeting to decide "what steps shall be taken". The Special Meeting, a week later, had a report by the Secretary of having spoken once more to Franki who was still adamant in his refusal to recognise the Agreement. In the debate, a motion was submitted
That the money be advanced to members individually for the purpose of suing for the recovery of the amount of wages due in the Local Police Court.
Amendment …. That proceedings be instituted in the Arbitration Court for breach of Agreement…..
The amendment was carried (Minutes, 30/10/1905)
The next meeting was informed that the company had paid each man a half hour instead of the three hours and it was decided to persist with the action in the Arbitration Court. Nothing more on the case was reported to meetings and it is assumed that full payment was made.
Problems with payment of wages to casuals were ever present. At Mort’s Dock, even though men relied on the few hours work they may have obtained, the company was unconcerned about making the men wait a week for their money if it was more than 25/-. The usual practice was to pay on Saturday morning
The Paymaster said….he had laid it down as a principle that no man should get his money unless his pay came to less than 25/- but men had given in their names for Fridays money who had from 35/- to £2.0.0 to draw…. (Minutes, 6/8/1906)
But the company’s disregard for a casual workers’ need to receive his money as soon as possible, bearing in mind that casual work limited the ability to meet various family requirements (essentially those of food, clothing and shelter) with any kind of regularity, was still evident some months later when Mahony reported to a meeting
….having interviewed Mr. Franki in reference to paying men for work done on Fridays providing they did not have more than three days to draw. Mr. Franki stated that he could not do it as the men were abusing the system but he said he was prepared to pay them on Mondays providing they did not have more than a day or so to draw & if he found that they imposed on this he would stop the matter altogether…. (Minutes 14/11/1906)
Apparently the report was simply received and no further decisions taken in the matter. But some months later, another issue arose which was taken to a Board of Conciliation. On this occasion it concerned a total lack of consideration for workers left almost stranded and a refusal to pay the guaranteed three hours minimum. Mahony and the President, sat opposite Franki and a Mr. Cubbin, with a Mr. Small acting as Chairman. Franki declared
Men were told to be at Cove Street at 7 p.m. At 6 p.m., he heard that the ship would not be at the Dock until midnight. He immediately sent word to intercept the men which was done at Cove street. The Foreman telling the men they would be recompensed for the lost time. The Foreman waited on him in reference to the amount of recompense & between them they had decided that 11d. would be a fair amount and the men were accordingly paid that amount. It was afterwards brought under his notice by the Secretary of the Union that the men wanted three hours guarantee to which he would not agree on the grounds that the men did not lose the work but got 18½ hours on the job which he thought was a fair thing. He had given the men what he thought was equitable & in fact he thought he was generous, owing to something over which he had no control. The ship did not arrive on time & he did not get a penny for it & if he had to pay the money it would be most unfair.
Mr. Small said if the men had started work & dirtied their clothes he would consider they were entitled to the three hours guarantee. But as they did not start, he thought they should not claim it.
Mr. Cubbin said it would be most unfair to pay for work not done & it would operate badly against his company.
The Secretary said that was their side of the story but they had to hear his before coming to a decision & proceeded to relate how the matter had originally cropped up.
Mr. Franki objected and stated he did not want to hear that.
The Secretary then proceeded to read correspondence to prove that the three hours guarantee was put in to meet cases similar to the one under consideration, and also stated that if men were to be recklessly ordered in at night they should be paid for it, as enquiries could be made to find the exact time the work should be ready & if the ship did not arrive at the time specified she should be responsible for the loss. He also pointed out that this was an honourable Agreement entered into. It had been in existence over six years & this was the only occasion it had operated against Mort's Dock & they should abide by the Agreement.
Mr. Dulstone said he supported what the Secretary had said & considered that the Company that had caused the delay should be responsible & they should know what time the ship would be ready.
Mr. Franki then stated that if Mr. Small and Mr. Cubbin thought he was in the wrong he would pay the money, both gentlemen agreed that Mr. Franki was in the right & in reply to a question whether he would pay the money he stated he would not.
From this report, the meeting decided that since the Board would not agree to the three hours payment, "we are forced to seek redress elsewhere", though this was not spelled out. (Minutes, 4/3/1907)
The first meeting in November, 1907, was abandoned through lack of a quorum and thus the Secretary was unable to report on the handing down of the crucial judgment by Mr. Justice Higgins in the Federal Arbitration Court, which established a basic wage which was "fair and reasonable" for an "unskilled labourer" and provided for
The normal needs of the average employee regarded as a human being living in a civilised community.
His definition of "fair and reasonable" was an amount which should be sufficient to meet the needs of food, clothing, frugal comfort and "provision for evil days". The figure he decided on was £2.2.0 for a 48 hours week, based on a regimen of household needs, or 7/- per day of 8 hours, which worked out at 10¼d. per hour. At that time, apart from Docking Gangs, which still attracted a lower rate than other Painters and Dockers, the rate of pay in New South Wales was already 11d. per hour. And the Union was already talking of 1/-d. per hour as the minimum rate, with extra payment for specified places and types of work. There was no consideration of additional payment for casual employment at that time, that is, a casual loading to take account of the fact that casuals rarely worked a full week.
The shaping of what was to become the Union’s Award continued with the adoption of a new set of Working Rules in 1908. A meeting adopted a series of recommendations from the Management Committee. These included no change to the hours of work as 48 in 5½ days (Monday to Friday and half a day on Saturday); meal hours: three-quarters of an hour each for breakfast and dinner, one hour for tea (6 p.m. to 7 p.m., with an hour’s grace shall be allowed in all cases where the job can be completed within that time); overtime to be double time for all time after 12 noon on Saturdays to 7.45 a.m. on Monday); minimum rate of pay was set at 1/- per hour, with work in confined spaces (tanks, etc.) at 1/3d. per hour, and any part of ¼ of an hour to be paid for as ¼ of an hour, and a special proviso that no member of the Union whilst engaged as a Painter and Docker shall work for less than the prescribed rate. A clause was included to provide that all casual jobs be paid for on completion; a clause prohibiting the working of overtime while members of the Union were unemployed (this amended the Management Committee’s recommendation which sought to exclude permanent hands and dockers from the ban); and a clause providing preference to members of the Union all things being equal.
Among other provisions recommended by the Management Committee and adopted: men who scrubbed a vessel to have preference in painting her (a provision not included in the previous, 1906, Agreement); travelling time for work away from the main yard to be paid for; a three-hour guarantee minimum (the meeting deleted the following words in the Committee’s recommendation: provided it shall not have rained in the interval before starting time or during the time the work is being carried out (an existing provision in the 1906 Industrial Agreement); and a further provision to regularise places of engagement and thus avoid the long trek from yard to yard, to read
All labour to be engaged at some definite place or places to be determined from time to time by the employers and the Secretary of the Union provided that in the event of unusual circumstances men may be engaged elsewhere.
A number of other provisions already applying from previous Agreements were included, such as the provision for seamen to do specified work inboard on their ships. As well, the Committee’s recommendations provided for the elimination of the 1906 penalty clause under which a fine of £200 applied to employers who breached the Agreement and a fine of £5 on any member who was guilty of a breach.
A final decision was then made to notify employers that the new rules would come into force when the present Agreement expired. (Minutes, 17/2/1908).
A report was given to a Special Meeting on discussions with employers (the shipping companies and Mort’s Dock) on the new demands and the attitude adopted by them. Cuthbertson for the shipping companies
objected to entering into an agreement unless we would agree to abide by agreement. He desired a proper legal agreement drawn up to be observed by all parties.
The delegates stated that they desired to enter into an agreement but would object to putting up a bond. The matter was then passed over….Delegates pointed out that their desire in reference to working rules was to bring about a uniform starting time whereby men would know at what time to present himself for employment. The employers objected and stated that they desired two sets of working hours viz, 7.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and 7.45 a.m. to 5.15 p.m….
Our delegates desired information on rates of pay and as a special meeting of the Union had been convened for the purpose of hearing report they wanted some information on the subject. The Employers declined to discuss the matter further but stated that they would favourably consider an increase in pay…..
It was then decided that a special meeting be convened for the following Monday night to hear a final report on the subject; a larger hall be engaged for such meeting and that there be no work on that Monday night. (Minutes, 18/5/1908)
Mahony reported to this special meeting, which was held in the Workingmen’s Institute hall, in Darling Street, Balmain. Meal hours were agreed on as in the Union’s Working Rules with the addition that in emergencies men shall work from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. without a break if required and also any three-quarters of an hour between 12 and 1.45 p.m. for dinner. Employers offered a rate of 11½d per hour for painters and 10½d. per hour for dockers. Confined spaces would attract an extra 1½d per hour and the use of the unhealthy composition, Biturene, would be paid for at 1/3/d. per hour. Overtime would be time and a half and holiday rates would remain as in the previous Agreement. Wages were to be made up to the knocking-off time on the previous day and paid on the usual pay day. The three hours’ guarantee would remain, but men would be obliged to wait at Woolwich for one hour after completion of a job in case another job was due to start. The employers rejected standard places of engagement and offered to pay travelling time one way for work on vessels in the stream.
A letter spelling out the employers’ offer had been handed to Mahony at 2.30 p.m., on the day of the meeting and, when a motion to accept the employers’ proposals was moved, Mahony pointed out that certain important provisions were not contained in the letter, and any decision to accept must include these matters which had been agreed to at the conference. The motion was amended to allow for this and was then carried by 150 votes to 4. The meeting then decided that the delegates to the conference with the employers be paid 10/- each and an honorarium of £1 be given to the Secretary. A hearty vote of confidence and thanks to the delegates was then carried. (Minutes, 25/51908)
As will be noted, the Agreement had been worked through by the Union on the one side and by the shipping companies and, especially, Mort’s Dock on the other. The influence of Mort’s Dock in shaping industrial agreements was clearly apparent and having thus set the standard for the industry, other employers followed suit. In the case of Cockatoo Island (under Government ownership and operation), when approached by the Union, the Superintendent of the Government Dockyard, Biloela (Cockatoo), advised the Union "that the new working conditions would be considered by the Managing Committee of the Dockyard". (Minutes, 22/6/1908)
Two years later, a new set of Working Rules was worked out providing, inter alia, for specific times for meals and a higher rate of pay for the use of paints and compositions. But a move to ban work on flying stages in docks or on slips and a higher rate of pay for work on such stages, was defeated. (Minutes, 9/5/1910.)
A later meeting, on 16th May, 1910, adopted Tarlington’s motion to claim double time for all overtime and work on public holidays. Tarlington also succeeded in having included in the claims for the next Agreement a provision in Rule 7 that
All labour for Mort's Dock shall be engaged at the back of the Paint Shop and that the words "provided that in the event of an exceptional circumstance men may be engaged elsewhere" be deleted from the printed rule
Rule 9 was amended to ensure that the men who scrubbed a ship were kept on until the painting was completed. In the case of Rule 10, which limited the amount of overtime worked by all but dockers and permanent hands, for which a motion to adopt was moved, Tarlington proposed that the Rule be struck out and replaced with
Any man that have worked 48 hours or its equivalent shall not be employed unless at overtime rates……The motion was carried.
The recommendations from the Management Committee on the important issues of health and hygiene were adopted in the form
Employees shall not be required to go into the water to scrub the bottom of vessels, nor shall they be required to commence painting on the bottom until the part of the dock on which they are required to stand has been swept.
And, in Rule 12
The employer shall provide an efficient system of lighting and ventilation on all jobs where necessary. Lamps of the same pattern as or similar to that now in use at Mort’s Dock by agreement between the secretary of the claimant Union and the manager shall be deemed an efficient system of lighting.
Consideration of the new Rules was once more adjourned, and on 23rd May, the definition of confined spaces was clarified by the inclusion of the words "air-tight compartments". After adopting other recommendations from the Management Committee, the meeting reconsidered Rule 7, concerning picking up men for Mort's Dock and
The Secretary … stated the way it read as amended localised the Rule. He suggested to get over the difficulty that a schedule be drawn up containing the places of engagement of labour. Then the starting place for each company would be contained therein. At the present time only one Company was named which was not the correct way of dealing with the matter.
In adopting Mahony’s suggestion, the move was made to regularise picking up places, thereby obliging employers to specify where men would be picked up, instead of having a variety of picking up points for each employer.
It was then decided that copies of the amended Rules should be forwarded to the employers.
At the half-yearly meeting, on 20th June, 1910, together with the election of officers, the meeting also elected representatives to meet the employers. Those elected to accompany Mahony were G.Dulstone and H.Scrimshaw representing Painters and W.Daley for Dockers.
The meeting with the employers occurred on 3rd August, when, with Franki in the Chair, Captain Webb and Cuthbertson confronted Mahony and his delegates.
The claims as submitted by the Union was then gone into, the working hours were first considered and agreed to.
The meal hours were next considered when great objections were taken to them particularly by Mr. Franki he stating that he could not agree to any alteration of meal hours.
Rates of pay were next considered as far as the minimum of 1/- per hour for the Painters it was agreed upon, but no advance would be considered for the Dockers.
The three hours guarantee was also agreed upon but when it was asked that this should apply to Dockers the Employers representatives refused. A general discussion took place on the remaining claims when the Employers stated that they would only agree to the old Agreement. Your delegates then informed them that if that was their ultimatum it was no use further discussing the matter and the conference adjourned.
Mr.Jno. Mallinson considered that we should fight for the one rate of pay all round, There should not be two rates.
The Secretary stated that as the conference was abortive there was only two ways of having the matter dealt with. The first was by ceasing work and the other by the method of Wages Boards. He at the present time could not advise them to cease work as they were faced with many difficulties at the present time. The Painters Society were registering under the Industrial Disputes Act as the Federated House, Ship Painters Paper Hangers & Decorators Society of Australia…. It was necessary for us to do something to protect ourselves.
Moved by Mr. J.B.Jenkins and seconded by Mr.E.H. Tarlington that this Union register under the Industrial Disputes Act and apply for a Wages Board.
The motion was carried by 56 votes to 16, and thus it was decided that the Union would come closer under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Act as it existed at that time. Mahony was elected to represent the Union on the Wages Board (Minutes, 15/8/1910). Following his election to the position, he applied for registration of the Union under the Act and for the establishment of a Wages Board for the industry.
However, the Union was confronted with an early hurdle to its application when it received notice from the Painters Society, under its long-winded title which showed the inclusion of the words "Ship Painters". Mahony explained
that if the Painters Society were successful in their objection they would legislate for our class of work and we would be in the position of either joining their society or go out of existence. He stated these people did not assist in any way in the organising of the shipping work but when they found other unions had cleared away the path for then they desired to take the work from them.
It was then decided that the Secretary proceed with the registration case and call all the necessary witnesses as to the various classes of work members of the Union performed. (Minutes, 26/9/1910)
The case was heard on 29th September, 1910, with a number of witnesses called including the Foreman at Mort’s Dock, W.Armstead. After adjourning for a week, the Registrar granted the application with a proviso that the Union confer with the Painters Society on their differences. Following Mahony’s report to a meeting, it decided
that a letter of thanks be written to Mr. Armstead for his assistance in going as a witness in our case with the Painters Society
and Mahony advised that the necessary paper work applying for a Wages Board would now be filed. (Minutes, 10/10/1910) At the next fortnightly meeting, he reported he had filed the necessary papers and had appeared before the Registrar who had instructed him on who should be served with notices and on the need to advertise the application in two morning papers. He was asked by Thomas Sloan whether the "deep sea boats" would come under the Board and was told that they would as well as all other employers in the Port of Sydney.
At its next meeting, the Secretary reported that the application would be dealt with on 18th November and that
if we were successful on that date we would then have to consider the position as to legal advice: we were not in a good financial position. He would either have to withdraw as the representative on the Board to conduct the case or special efforts should be made to raise the necessary amount required.
Mr.Talbot stated that he considered the biggest fight would take place after the Board adjourned to consider the evidence and he considered the Secretary should remain on the Board and that Legal advice should be procured for the case.
A fortnight later, Mahony reported that the lawyer, Mr.Croft, would take the case for £2.2.0 per sitting if held at night and that there would be no trouble in getting the Board to sit at night. Mahony also reported on the setting up of the Wages Board:
The Employers had suggested Doctor Brissenden for the Chairman. He had suggested Mr. Spencer. several other names were discussed but no agreement arrived at. The matter would be referred to the parties interested and failing an agreement the Court would appoint a Chairman. (Minutes 21/11/1910)
The meeting decided to engage the services of Croft to represent the Union as advocate before the Wages Board. On 5th December, the meeting was advised that, owing to disagreement on the appointment of a Chairman for the Wages Board, the Industrial Court had appointed H.R.Curlewis, Barrister, to the position. At its meeting on 19th December, it was reported that Mahony had been appointed to the Ship Building (Port Jackson Painters and Dockers) Board.
At the outset of 1911, a report on proceedings before the Wages Board sparked an argument when H.Ostler and Thomas Sloan proposed that the Union dispense with the services of the solicitor, Croft. Talbot, however, argued that "it was bad policy to change horses whilst crossing a stream" and "he had attended board meetings and was well satisfied with the way the case was going". The President ruled the motion out of order on the grounds of it requiring a Special Meeting to rescind what had been decided. (Minutes, 30/1/1911).
There was no report on any results from the deliberations of the Wages Board, until 13th March, 1911, when Croft & Co., Solicitors, account for £37.15.6 was received, for legal fees up to 28th February. Due to the financial difficulties of the Union, it was decided to pay "£15.0.0 off the account and as occasions arise the balance be paid off". At that meeting, Mahony reported on some results. The employers
were prepared to install a new system of lighting, viz., Electric light to the Bilge and covered lights under the bottom. They were also agreeable to pay on Fridays and Saturdays as at present in operation at Mort's Dock. A schedule containing the recognised places of engagement had been drafted which made the principal wharf or workshop the place of engagement. If the meeting agreed this schedule would be put. It defined the starting place for Mort's Company as behind the paint shop at Mort's Dock and for the Shipping Cos as their principal wharves
The meeting adopted the schedule and the new lighting proposals and left to the Secretary the matter of payment of wages "to get the best terms possible".
Eventual results from the Wages Board were reported by Mahony to a meeting in April, after having told a meeting in March of inspections at Mort’s Dock and the Adelaide S.S.Co, where members of the Board had gone into tanks, chain lockers, bilges and coal bunkers on ships moored there. He reported the Union’s first Award had been gazetted on 19th April and that a separate hearing was to be held for the application by Sydney Ferries to be exempted. The Secretary then explained the Award
….and pointed out the difference between it and the old Agreement. The Award provided for fixed meal breaks and continuous overtime when working through any meal break…. Increase of two pence per hour in confined space and the Union’s definition of confined space had been accepted. It prevented working in water and provided for better lighting and ventilation……
A vote of thanks was carried by acclamation to the Secretary for his work on the Wages Board to which he replied. (Minutes, 24/4/1911)
Among the remarkable provisions contained in the Award was the continuation of the 1906 Industrial Agreement condition concerning overtime:
10. Overtime limited.--- Employees (except dockers and gangers) who have worked a full day shall not work overtime on any other job, unless such job is of a special nature, while there are members seeking employment.
The Award as determined by the Chairman, H.R.Curlewis, was published in the Government Gazette, as No.48, and was printed and issued to members. It carried on the first page the imposing title Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union of Australia, New South Wales Branch, although the Federation was not officially formed until 1916. The address was given as Union Office: Mort Street, Balmain, and the phone number as 276 Balmain.
Following granting of the Award, the Wages Board was convened to deal with a dispute at Mort’s Dock where the company had refused to pay 1/3d. per hour for boiler work. The Chairman held that the Award was clear and the company was obliged to comply, by paying the new rate. (Minutes, 22/5/1911.)
A further problem arose a few weeks later, when a member, Binder, reported
that the dinner hour clause in the Award was working detrimental to the Dockers at Jubilee Dock….they had to go to dinner at 12 o’clock and the shipwrights went at 1 o’clock. It meant that if something was not done….they would lose five hours per week,…they started at 7 a.m. and had breakfast at 8 a.m. the day was not divided equally.
Mr. George Welsh stated….it would not be right to alter conditions as it would be putting in the thin edge of the wedge to break the Award.
The Secretary explained….that no consideration was given to the dinner hour when the 7 to 5 hours were put in. the fact that the shipwrights would not change…would operate against the dockers….
Moved by Mr.E.Talbot and seconded that the request of the Jubilee Dockers be complied with for Jubilee Dock alone. (Minutes, 5/6/1911)
The motion was put and carried. The same meeting instructed the Secretary to take up with the Minister for Works the fact that Cockatoo had not paid the new rates provided under the Award retrospectively to the date of commencement of the Award.
In January, 1912, a move was made to seek a variation of the Award to provide for higher rates of pay by reason of "the fact that living and rent had gone up and that the rate was not sufficient for the work".But there was opposition because "the time was inopportune" and "last year was the best year we had had and if an alteration was made we might have more time in the paddock". There was opposition also from those who were "in favour of a higher rate of pay but did not favour fattening up the Lawyers" and from those who did not favour going to the Arbitration Court and considered that if an increase was wanted they "should be prepared to say so and cease work if necessary to get it". The motion was defeated. (Minutes, 15/1/1912)
A cause for many complaints concerned the employers’ tardiness in paying wages, men being obliged to wait, on pay day, for lengthy periods until the paymaster appeared and began paying. Mahony advised that the Union should seek a variation of the Award to provide for waiting time and the meeting adopted the suggestion.
In April, there were complaints against Sydney Ferries and the Adelaide Company of breaches of the Award, by failing to pay the correct rate for work in bilges. The Department of Labour and Industry was called in and agreed to make inspections. As a result, back pay was achieved for a number of men in the Ferry yard, but with the Adelaide Company the Secretary reported that a proper definition of bilges would be required. Eventually, however, in July, the Secretary reported that the back pay had not been given to the men and, if it was not paid in a week’s time
It would be necessary to proceed against the Company. This could only be done through the men concerned and it would be advisable to pick one man and test the case.
His suggestion was adopted. (Minutes, 15/7/1912) But some months later, the Secretary reported that
The Adelaide Company case was put in the hands of a solicitor to proceed against the company the case being instituted by one of the men concerned. The company was offering them £4.4.0 each when they were entitled to £24.14.0. (Minutes, 4/11/1912)
In July, Mahony reported that the Union had been granted a separate Wages Board for the whole of the State of New South Wales. In September, he reported that the Wages Board, by majority decision, had decided to grant an increase of one penny per hour. The Board was Chaired by Mr.Newbury, a barrister; there were 14 meetings of the Board; 24 witnesses were called with the Chairman
at the outset pinning us down to evidence on the increased cost of living and average earnings. The Board terminated on September 23rd when the Chairman held he could only deal with the minimum rate as by decision of Judge Scoles in the Milk and Ice Carters case it had been laid down that awards could only be varied where it was shown that living had gone up and men were not getting a living wage. He therefore ruled out all applications to vary confined space etc. The Board discussed the matter and the Chairman decided he would give 1/1d. per hour in place of 1/-. The Secretary protested and quoted other awards. The Board then proceeded to discuss minor matters and decided as follows: dockers to get 3/3d. in place of 3/- when ordered in after the usual knocking off time, waiting time to be paid for if men are not paid within a quarter of an hour of the usual pay time. The Secretary further reported that evidence had been submitted to show a very substantial increase in cost of living yet the Board gave an increase of only 8½%. (Minutes, 30/9/1912)
As a result of this report, it was decided to lodge an appeal against the Board’s decision, after defeating amendments to strike and to accept the Award. As well, the meeting was advised that back pay from the penny-an-hour increase was available at various pay offices.
On 4th November, Mahony reported that leave to appeal had been granted "last Monday" and the Union would be "first on the list for tomorrow". It was then decided that the Management Committee should consider the result of the appeal and "call a special meeting if desired". The meeting also heard that the recently formed Newcastle Branch had written complaining that it had not been notified of the result of the appeal, to which Mahony had responded that the appeal had not as yet been heard.
A Management Committee meeting a week later heard a full report on the appeal case and the judgment and decided to recommend to a Union meeting
1st That the evidence in the case shows that a very large number of members are not earning a living wage.
2nd That the increase granted is only equal to Two shillings and sixpence per week and does not equal the increase in the cost of living
3rd That for the purpose of the more regular employment of members no overtime shall be worked until a living wage is paid to all members. (Minutes, 12/11/1912)
A Special Meeting on 18th November, adopted the recommendations by a vote of 96 to 4. Fresh problems arose from this decision as other unionists carried out Painters and Dockers’ work, especially during overtime hours. And Mort’s Dock and the shipowners advised the Management Committee that they were prepared to meet the Union providing the overtime ban was lifted. The Committee decided to recommend to a Special Meeting that the ban be held in abeyance pending the outcome of the conference and that the claims which had been submitted to the Wages Board would be the basis of the discussions at the conference.
The Committee’s recommendations were adopted with addendums: first, that a claim for double time for all overtime be made; and second, that the ban be held over for two days. Two members, Scrimshaw and Ostler were elected to accompany the Secretary to the conference. The result of the conference was later reported to a further meeting of the Management Committee
Our position was explained ….and the claims argued. Captain Webb then stated that the rate of 1/6d. and 1/9d. per hour could not be entertained under any circumstances.
The position was then discussed from the basis of a minimum of 1/4d which the employers would also not entertain. No head way being made it was suggested that the delegates go back and consider a further set of claims….the Management Committee decided ….the claims to be an increase of three pence per hour on the 1911 Award rates. (Minutes, 27/11/1912)
With the employers’ refusal to accept the amended demand, the ban on overtime was reintroduced and continued for some time. Early in the new year, Franki made an offer of 1/2d. per hour for ordinary work and 1/4d. per hour for confined space work. At a Special Meeting, it was decided to accept the offer if all other employers adopted the offer. (Minutes, 20/1/1913.) The shipowners rejected the increase in the confined space rate and the ban continued.
Problems arising from the ban were many, with shipwrights doing the dockers’ work and staff members flooding the dock and putting ships out of dock. Eventually, the shipowners advised of acceptance of the increase in both rates, 1/2d. ordinary rate and 1/4d. confined space rate and a Special Meeting on 24th February decided, by 147 votes to 47, to finalise the issue on those rates for all employers.
In August, 1913, the Management Committee decided to recommend a revision of the working rules to provide for an Ordinary rate of pay of 1/5d. per hour, with 1/9d. for Special Places. As well, it proposed a new provision for Sailor Gangs to cover rigging and splicing of wire and shifting ship. A claim was to be made for payment for all time involved in travelling to and from a job or ship; the provision banning work in docks or on slips until they had been swept was extended to cover work in tanks until they had been cleared of water; Special places would cover all forms of tanks, (including fore and after peaks) and bilges, chain lockers, tunnels (through which ran the shafts driving the ship’s propellers) and boilers (and under boilers).
A Special meeting was held in the Workingmen’s Institute to consider the Management Committee’s recommendations and that meeting decided to adopt the Committee’s proposals with the following variations:
In November, the Management Committee heard a report from those elected to meet the employers: Mahony, Scrimshaw, Talbot and Sloan:
The employers stated that they would not pay the rate as contained in our claims but were prepared to discuss revised claims. The delegates stated that they had no power to suggest any alteration but if the employers would make an offer they would take the report back to the Union….The employers refused to make an offer so the conference adjourned. But it was understood that if the Union submitted revised claims the conference would meet again and consider them. (Minutes, 11/11/1913)
It was decided that the delegates return to the employers with authority to discuss a revised scheme, and if the employers made an offer, it be brought back to a summons meeting.
However, a second conference found the employers still rejecting the Union’s claims, refusing to make an offer and asserting the outrageous opinion that the Union had made the claim and should now make some alternative "offer". The delegates then left the conference.
Later, at the meeting on 15th December, it was reported that the employers were prepared to meet the Union with an offer of an increase of 1d. per hour, with other claims still to be considered.
A debate began on whether an overtime ban should be implemented until a "further increase was offered". Talbot and Gillies proposed that the employers’ offer be accepted and the Secretary seek further "concessions", but Tarlington and White sought to reject the employers’ proposal and seek a further conference with the object of "getting something definite". The debate waxed and waned between acceptance and rejection until Mahony intervened to state that the employers’ offer
was definite…. If we do not accept the offer we have two courses to pursue. One is to refer the matter to the Wages Board and the other is to refuse to work until our demands are granted… we are not in a position to cease work and if we go to the Wages Board we are going to a man who last April refused to grant 1/2d. per hour. The best course to adopt would be to make the best terms possible. (Minutes, 15/12/1913)
The debate then proceeded and eventually saw a decision to accept the employers’ offer and seek further improvements in other sections of the Award. This decision was taken by 150 votes to 32.
Eventually, Mahony was able to report that he had received a draft new Agreement from the employers which contained
Two clauses that we objected too and would have to be referred to them for alteration. (Minutes, 9/2/1914)
At the same time he reported that talks with the employers had led to agreement to pay: Ordinary rate --- 1/3d. per hour (including for Sailor Gangs); Confined Spaces --- 1/5d. per hour; Rigging and splicing --- 1/6d. per hour.
The report was simply received, and at the following meeting , he once more advised that
Certain points had to be discussed with Mr. Franki and certain points with Captain Webb. Up to the present the matter was not finally fixed up, certain points as to overtime and ships crews were still in abeyance. (Minutes, 23/2/1914)
In March, Mahony reported that the employers had indicated that they would not oppose a State-wide Award and in April, he reported having attended a hearing before the Wages Board where the Award was adopted after the Chairman had struck out two clauses, one from the Union and the other from the employers.
After argument he put our clause in but left the Employers’ out. By majority the Board decided that the Award should remain in operation until February 1917. (Minutes, 6/4/1914)
It was reported that the new Award was gazetted on 8th April, 1914 and copies sent to all interested parties.
Mahony also reported at this meeting that the BHP had sought a separate Board for the whole of its employees at the Newcastle Steel Works. He indicated that it would be necessary for the Union to be represented at this hearing "otherwise it would place the Newcastle members in a false position" and the meeting instructed him to attend the hearings.
In the next month, Mahony advised a meeting that Colonial Sugar had applied to the Arbitration Court for exemption from the Award. He had attended the hearing and
The Chairman seemed inclined to grant the exemption. After argument the case was adjourned. The representative of the Sugar Company was interviewed and he agreed to withdraw the application. (Minutes, 18/5/1914)
On 10th August, 1914, the first mention of The War appeared in the minutes with a request from Mr. King Salter, General Manager at Cockatoo Island, who asked
where he would communicate with the Secretary at any time for the purpose of getting men during the present crisis
and it was decided
that Two o’clock rule remain in abeyance as far as the Government is concerned during war. (Minutes, 10/8/1914).
This left it open for the Secretary to supply men after 2 p.m. each day if requested.
In November, Mahony reported that a proposal to suspend any new awards during wartime had caused the Labor Council to decide to call a special meeting of unions for the purpose of electing a representative to appear before Mr. Justice Heydon who would be dealing with such matters as well as suspending sittings of Wages Board. Without elaboration in the minutes, Mahony advised the meeting that the Painters and Dockers Award would not be affected by the proposals and suggested that the Union need not be represented at the meeting. (Minutes, 2/11/1914)
Towards the end of the following year, a meeting adopted a motion to seek "ways and means for bettering conditions…. on account of the general increase in cost of living" and then decided to claim 1/9d. per hour with an extra 3d. per hour for Special Places. These decisions were then followed by adoption of a motion from Swadling and Sawyer that a claim be made for a 44 hours week. (Minutes, 29/11/1915)
A week later, the Management Committee met on two nights to prepare a new log of claims. This document opened with a claim for a forty-four hour week (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 12 noon. It further contained a claim for 2/6d. per hour for rigging work (nine pence above the general rate), and set out a number of important provisions, including specified times for meal breaks; wages to be paid within a quarter of an hour; engagement of labour to be at places agreed upon between employers and the Union; paid travelling time from yard to yard or yard to ship and ship to yard; those who scrubbed a vessel to have preference in painting it; prohibition on working in water in docks, slips or tanks; overtime limited while members out of work; adequate lighting and ventilation provisions; preference to members of the Union; and ships’ crews permitted to do certain specified work.
These "Working Rules" were adopted by a Special Meeting, later in the month of December, with the only alteration being
that an extra threepence per hour for height and heat money be applied for, the Management Committee to report as to height and heat.
By the end of 1915, similar-type unions in Victoria and Queensland had agreed to join New South Wales and form a Federal organisation and at the meeting on 21st February, 1916, Mahony was able to announce to a meeting of the New South Wales Branch that objections to registration of the Federal body had been overcome and registration finalised. In the interim, the Log of Claims had been sent to the Branches of the new Federation and they had written back agreeing to its terms. (Minutes, 10/1/1916)
The Log was served on various employers around the coast from Rockhampton to Port Adelaide and unsatisfactory responses received. The Steamship Owners declared that
they saw no reason why they should depart from the practice of` local awards and agreements and pointing out to us that our members in Sydney and Brisbane were working under State Awards. (Minutes, 13/4/1916).
Impatience with the employers’ attitude towards the Log of Claims appeared when the Victorian Branch wrote to the N.S.W. branch declaring
If the Steamship Owners do not give a favourable reply to a conference before 30th inst. the Management Committee of the Federal Council be called together immediately to consider what action the Federation shall take re the log. (Minutes, 1/5/1916)
A fortnight later, the New South Wales Branch adopted a similar attitude by calling on the Federal Executive to "take drastic action to put the log in force".
Mahony (still Branch Secretary as well as Federal Secretary) reported to a Branch meeting in June that the Federal Executive had held two conferences with the shipowners in Melbourne. From these talks, it was made plain that there would be no discussion on the claim for a reduction in working hours to 44 per week. An offer was made of a minimum rate of 1/4½d. per hour, with 1/6d. per hour for confined spaces and 1/7d. per hour for riggers. The employers also asked for the ban on picking up men after 2 p.m. to be lifted and allow pick-ups up to 5 p.m.
Mahony advised that the Federal Executive had considered the offer and recommended to the Branches that it be rejected and the Branch adopted this recommendation. (Minutes, 12/6/1916)
A Special Meeting in the Oddfellows Hall, Darling Street, Balmain, on 4th July, 1916, heard a report from Mahony on the results of further conferences with the employers, and particularly of a conference in Melbourne ordered by the President of the Arbitration Court, Mr. Justice Henry B.Higgins. The various proposals were explained and a motion to accept them was moved by Talbot and Thomas and this was carried after the defeat of an amendment to discuss the employers proposals "seriatim".
The Queensland and Victorian Branches sent advice that they were prepared to accept and, in the case of the Victorian Branch, it also offered its "deepest thanks to the General Secretary for his untiring efforts on behalf of the Federation". (Minutes, 11/7/1916)
Problems were experienced with the riggers at Cockatoo Island, who would not accept the provisions in the new Award for rigging and sailor gangs. Such problems arose from time to time with some of those in the Union who were semi-skilled, such as riggers and laggers, and who considered that they were more entitled to consideration for wage increases than the unskilled general membership. Possibly it reflected some tainting by tradesmen who always insisted on greater improvements than labourers, because of their apprenticeship training. Elvin, a rigger at Cockatoo was later permitted to attend a meeting of the Management Committee on 31st August, convened to consider a draft agreement drawn up by the Naval Dockyard. He attended to watch over the interests of riggers and he was authorised to call a meeting of riggers at Cockatoo Island to gauge their views and report back.
In the following month, advice was received that the Naval authorities had suspended their proposed draft agreement, "pending further conference re Preference Clause". As well, the Professional Painters had entered an objection against the Ship Painters and Dockers being a party to the agreement (which was to cover all workers at Garden Island). (Minutes, 18/9/1916)
Finally, on being notified of the Union’s acceptance, Higgins ratified a Memorandum of Agreement (No.26 of 1916) on 31st July, 1916, and brought it down as an Award on 13th October, 1916, but made it applicable for a limited period, from 30th June, 1916 until 30th June, 1917.
Recognising that the Award was limited to 30th June, 1917, the Management Committee met on 27th March, 1917, and prepared a new log of claims aimed at attaining increases in rates of pay.
The Committee’s proposals were presented to a special stop work meeting on 2nd April, when it was adopted with the addition of a number of new requirements: an extra 3d. per hour for bailing water out of tanks; provision of an "obnoxious places clause"; and a claim for casuals to be paid immediately their job was completed. The Federal Council was due to meet in Sydney in April and the log of claims was presented to it. The Council decided on a log of claims based on the submissions from New South Wales and other Branches and instructed Mahony to serve it on all employers in Australia with a demand for implementation on 30th June, 1917. It was also decided to levy members 1/- for "fighting expenses".
The half-yearly meeting of the New South Wales Branch, on 23rd July, in the Oddfellows Hall, heard a report from Mahony on a conference with the employers in Melbourne, where he was supported by J.Dunn, Secretary from Queensland and H.Moloney Secretary from Victoria. All the shipowners organisations were represented, as well as the dockyards and shipyards.
Having gone to the trouble and expense of gathering all its representatives to confer on the Union’s claims, the employers then frosted over the conference by presenting a counter-log which provided for a minimum wage of £3 per week for permanent employees (defined as any worker employed for one month or more.) When the report was received, the Branch decided to call on the Federal Management Committee to "take immediate drastic action to put the log in operation". (Minutes, 23/7/1917)
In the midst of the 1917 turmoil from the general strike arising from the Tramways dispute, the second referendum on conscription and the frame-up and gaoling of the twelve IWW men, in all of which issues the Union was involved, Mahony was obliged to report that he had received a legal opinion that the log of claims would have to be resubmitted to the employers through some technicalities in their first presentation. This report opened up the subject of claims from which a decision was made for the Management Committee to prepare a new set of claims to be submitted to a special summons meeting. (Minutes 29/10/1917)
Some months later, Mahony reported as Federal Secretary, on progress on the log of claims and the employers’ general attitude towards it, following which, the meeting decided
That immediate steps be taken to put the Log into operation….the Secretary….make application to the Judge of the Federal Court to call a compulsory conference as at the present time there was a great deal of industrial unrest amongst the members. (Minutes, 7/1/1918).
By March, Mahony reported that the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration had summoned him to a compulsory conference in Melbourne to deal with the Log. He then reported on the results of this conference to a meeting in April. The conference had been held under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Higgins. He reported that he and Moloney (Secretary of the Victorian Branch) had been confronted by a vast array of employers and their organisations: J.King Salter (Cockatoo Island), G.H.Bronwich (Garden Island), R.R.King (Mort’s Dock), C.Dillon (N.S.W. Interstate Steamship Owners Association), H.M.Adams (Commonwealth S.S.Owners Association, N.C.Neale (N.S.W. Coastal S.S. Owners Association and Sydney Ferries), Mr. Orr (Duke and Orr’s Dock, Melbourne), J.Hansen (Holyman’s and J.B.Elecker Shipping), W.C.Coan (W.C.Coan & Co.) and Captain Tyer (for Brisbane respondents).
Higgins was then told that the most important issues were rates of pay and preference to unionists and he then advised the conference
that before he gave an award he would have to have substantial assurances from the Union that there would be no further strikes…. assurances against sympathetic strikes….. The President wanted to know on what we based our claim. He was told on the basis of his living wage and an average of 30 hours per week. The cost of living was read out and showed a reduction of 3.7% or a reduction on the living wage of 1/6d. per week. No agreement being arrived at the Judge ordered the case into Court but instructed the parties to meet privately and see if an agreement could not be arrived at.
The parties met on the next day when the employers stated they wanted a permanent rate fixed. we would not agree. The Government representatives were persistent in their demand and quoted what the Judge said in reference to permanent hands. We were asked what was the bedrock rate we would accept from the Government. We stated 1/6d. per hour for permanent men with a guarantee of at least six months work and 1/10½d. per hour for casual men…. We met again on the Tuesday when we were told that Government representatives desired to meet us separately.
The S.S.Owners and the Docking Companies would agree to a penny per hour increase on their counter proposals. This would include preference and took some of the confined space away. The meeting decided to reject the employers’ proposal. (Minutes, 15/4/1918)
In the following month, the Federal Management Committee received the opinion of the Managements of Cockatoo Island and Garden Island calling for a reduction of 2¼d. per hour on the minimum rate, provision for shift work and other backward moves. As well, the views of all Branches were received, rejecting the employers’ counter-log and calling for the matter to be referred to the Federal Arbitration Court. The Federal Management Committee endorsed the Branches’ approach. (Minutes, 13/5/1918)
Because the Union’s Log of Claims sought coverage for all States, it was necessary to prove an interstate dispute before the Court could deal with it, "otherwise we might slip on our rights and be ruled out". In this regard, Mahony reported being able to establish a dispute within the meaning of the Act, by presenting all minute books and documents from all Branches to the Registrar in Melbourne. (Minutes, 22/7/1918).
But, by September, a report was given to a meeting on various manoeuvrings in the Court, where the Queensland Government had asked to be removed from the list of respondents to the Award, while agreeing that it would enter into an Agreement in terms of the Award. It seemed certain that this was a move to destroy the Union’s case to establish that an interstate dispute existed. However, the Court ruled that the dispute existed as envisaged under the Act and covered all parties named in the summons. In deciding this, the Judge also granted costs in the case against all the respondents except the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales, and the Brisbane City Council and the Bulimba Shire Council. The Judge also said that "the time had not arrived yet to deal with the points raised by the Queensland Government that it should be exempt". (Minutes,2/9/1918)
The steamship owners wrote suggesting that the Union should "come to terms" with regard to its Log of Claims, to which Mahony had responded that they should make an offer. From this, the shipowners had made an offer of "an all-round increase of Two pence per hour" and Mahony advised that this was "the best offer the employers were prepared to make, if the offer was not acceptable we would have to go to Court". The meeting decided to accept the offer. (Minutes, 16/9/1918)
Mahony continued to battle with other employers, in Melbourne hearings of the Union’s claims. The NSW Branch Acting Secretary received a letter from Mahony stating that he was
up against a stiff proposition re constant hands at Cockatoo Island and Garden Island in the Arbitration Court and sent telegram for witnesses for same which the Assistant Secretary had acted on immediately.
Mr. Griffiths one of the witnesses gave a brief account and stated that the Secretary was working till 2 and 3 a.m. every day trying to combat the efforts of the Commonwealth Government which was trying to get a constant rate of £3.3.0 per week but he was hopeful of success. (Minutes, 30/9/1918)
In November, Mahony was able to report on his work before the Arbitration Court in Melbourne where Judge Higgins had handed down a new Award (No.19 of 1918) which provided for a minimum rate of 1/8d. per hour and 1/10d. per hour in special places as defined. The nearest that Mahony could come to achieving restoration of full preference in employment for Painters and Dockers was Clause 15. Discrimination
The employers undertake not to discriminate in the selection of employees against members of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers, Union of Australia on the grounds of` such membership.
The Award was to run for two years.
In handing down his judgment on this Award, Higgins quoted from his earlier judgment on the Waterside Workers case:
The vital facts of the position are that the work is casual, uncertain, that the jobs are short, that the men have to wait at the wharves, often fruitlessly ; and that the necessities of the man and his dependents are certain, continuous and incessant.
Under the existing circumstances, with the lack of organisation among the employers as to the times for arrival and departure of vessels, and as to the employment of men,, each employer naturally endeavours to have at his wharf as man men as he may require on his busiest days, and there is on nearly every day a surplus of men seeking employment at most wharves. At every port in the civilised world, I am told, the wharf labourer depends on casual employment; and in saying this one should include Hamburg and Liverpool, even with their recent exceptional arrangements. As one man explained to me, though sometimes there are not enough men for great pressures at wharves A and B, there are more than enough at wharves at C, D, E, F, etc. If a man leaves his own wharf (or wharves) he is frequently not selected there for employment the next time --- he fears being tabooed by the foreman if he does not always turn up.
It is lamentable that so many men, mostly in the prime of life, should have to stand about, idle, waiting for a job at their usual places of hiring --- earning nothing some days, nothing even some weeks, and
Earning high wages in some weeks by excessive hours of toil. The frequent bouts of idleness must of necessity lead to bad habits and to loss of muscular condition. There is a tremendous waste of human potential energy involved. Yet, under existing conditions, it is essential for the carrying on of this industry that these men shall hold themselves free from other engagements, and ready for the ships when they come.
As one man puts it, "….They look to a certain boss for their living, and the boss expects them to roll up…." Their service to the public is not confined to the actual physical exertion; they serve the public by waiting in readiness for ships to come. They are entitled, at the least, to food, clothes and shelter for themselves and their dependents during the whole time of their service. If a man keeps a horse, he has to feed the horse on days when he does not use him, as well as on days when he does. If he keeps two horses, and use them in rotation, they must be fed all the time. If people expect cabmen to be ready for a call at the stand, they must pay an extra rate to cover the time lost in waiting. It would be absurd to say, as has been urged here, that the obligation of the master ceases with the actual physical exertion: They also serve who only stand and wait". (see 8 Com. Arb. Reports, 72-3, page 4)
At the same time, Mahony reported that Higgins had ratified a separate award for the two Islands, which provided for the working of shift work "when required", at Cockatoo Island.
A motion of thanks for the Federal Secretary’s work and achievement of the new Award was carried by the N.S.W.Branch. (Minutes, 25/11/1918).
In 1920, early moves were made for improved wages and conditions, but attempts to confer in order to come to an agreement, were rejected by employers. However, a conference was held with representatives of Garden Island and Cockatoo Island and claims were forwarded to the Naval Board for consideration. But within a month, the Naval Board advised that it "could not approve any departure from the Award". In the case of other employers, their refusal to discuss was based on their hoary excuse for always opposing improvements in wages and conditions --- repeated monotonously over the years during which the industry continued to operate and make profits. This was simply expressed by the Manager of the Walsh Island dockyard in Newcastle
If granted the Industry could not carry on!
The Naval Board joined in the general refusal, claiming that it could not approve any departure from the Award. (Minutes, 2/2/1920)
Soon after, Mahony reported to a Special Meeting in the Temperance Hall, Balmain, that the Commonwealth Steamship Owners had offered an increase of threepence (3d.) per hour, which the Branch decided to accept. (Minutes, 29/3/1920) At the following meeting of the Branch, he reported that all Branches had accepted and that the Federal Management Committee had recommended that the Branches associate with all movements for shorter hours. As well, the Branches were reminded that the Award would expire in September and any proposals for changes should be sent to the Federal Office by August. Finally, Branches were requested to pay two quarters extra in contributions for the year to meet the expenses of the case before the Arbitration Court. (Minutes, 12/4/1920)
In the next month, Bob Mahony reported on a summons he had issued against the Commonwealth Government to show cause why the Award rates should not apply to Government employees.
[ The Government representatives asked for a lower rate for constant, that is, "permanent" hands. Governments generally favoured what became known as full employment and, in fact, continued to do so until the advent of economic rationalism and emasculation of job working conditions, such as "permanency", opened up by the Hawke and Keating Governments and then savagely developed by the Howard Government, whereby any suggestion of "permanency" was expunged from industrial thinking, being replaced by individual contracts of employment for limited periods.]
The Court ordered that a variation sought by the Union for increased rates should be granted and apply from 26th March, 1920.
The Department of the Navy still made moves against the Union wherever it considered that some reduction was possible. Thus, it rejected the claim for an extra rate for work in the constricting environment of submarines. The New South Wales Branch then carried a motion of protest at this attitude drawing the distinction between men working in submarines the Federal politicians’ decision to increase their own salaries and called on the Government "to give us our just and moderate claims". The resolution was sent to the Prime Minister, Minister for the Navy, the Press and the member for the district (Mr. Mahony). The Federal "Member for the District" was "Billy" Mahony, brother of the Union’s Secretary, Bob Mahony. (Minutes, 24/5/1920)
During the month of July, the Management Committee gave attention to a new Log of Claims and then convened a Special Meeting of the Branch on 2nd August to consider its recommendations. This meeting decided to adopt the recommendations and forward them to the Federal Management Committee.
The new Log contained provisions for a 44 hours week to be worked in 5½ days. It also sought to reduce meal breaks to one hour for each meal break; height money for work in excess of 25 feet and heat money when the temperature was raised above 115°; accommodation to be provided for men to change their clothing; 15 minutes to clean hands at each meal break, with suitable cleansing materials provided; hot water at all meal breaks; overalls for work in submarines, bilges, oil tanks; masks, goggles, gloves when required; overtime (double time) for all work before and after the usual starting time and finishing time, and work during meal breaks (triple time); overtime limited while members were unemployed.
As well, claims were made for a guaranteed minimum payment of 4 hours; casuals to be paid on completion of the job and failure to pay within ¼ of an hour, any excess to be paid for at the rate for the job performed; places of engagement spelled out; travelling time and fares for work away from the place of engagement; scrubbers of ships to have preference for painting; work in water in docks, on slips and in tanks banned; adequate lighting and ventilation for all jobs; preference for members of the Union.
In early November, Bob Mahony reported that a conference with the employers in Melbourne, had produced an offer of an increase in rates of 2d. per hour, which he and the other delegates rejected. The shipowners then indicated a wish to meet separately from other employers and then advise the Union of their deliberations. This report resulted in a decision by the Branch
That failing an immediate settlement the Management Committee take drastic action to enforce our claims. (Minutes, 8/11/1920)
It was not until 9th May, 1921, that Mahony was able to report on a new Award handed down by Judge Powers in Melbourne. The Minutes do not record the views of the members as to whether the Award was satisfactory or not, but simply a decision to have 3000 copies printed. However, the Powers Award, No.3 of 1921, made on 29th April, 1921, provided for continuation of the 48 hours week; a base rate of 2/3d. per hour; heat money "whilst the temperature raised by artificial means exceeds 115° Fahrenheit"; double time for work on Sundays and public holidays. It included provision for various safety requirements, such as size of planks for staging with life lines, lighting and ventilation, no work in water, etc. and the undertaking by employers not to discriminate against members of the Union in the selection of labour.
1922 saw a report in February of a "round table conference" called by Prime Minister Hughes, and the Branch decided to advise the Federal Council of the Union (which later adopted the position)
- That ….. no Branch of the Federation should take part in any conference convened for the purpose of reducing wages
- That …… the conference convened by the Prime Minister has for its object a reduction on wages and the lowering of the standard of living of the workers. (Minutes, 13/2/1922)
In keeping with the Federal Government’s position, was the attitude of the President of the Arbitration Court, Sir John Quick, in dealing with the Union’s application for an award, as reported to a Union meeting by Mahony,
…..I have arranged that the attitude of the Judge in our case shall be discussed in Federal Parliament in as much as he went behind previous decisions of Presidents of the Court and furthermore he altered his proposed award on private suggestions made by certain respondents to which documents the Union had no access. (Minutes 24/6/1922)
But moves for reduced wages persisted. Later in the year, Mahony reported on an application by the shipowners for a new award and that
no doubt other employers would serve us with a plaint. The longer we keep from the Court the better as when we get to the Court we are bound to get a reduction…. (Minutes, 17/7/1922)
A fortnight later, a report was given of a meeting of union secretaries, arising from which the Branch decided
That we pledge ourselves to do our utmost to resist a reduction of wages and a lengthening of hours and will assist all other bodies in that direction.
The Federal Government and employers’ moves for reductions in wages and increase in working hours, continued and a meeting of the Branch in October adopted a call from the Labor Council
That the Trade Union movement should immediately launch a propaganda campaign against the wage reductions and lengthening of hours now being enforced by the capitalist class courts and employers. (Minutes, 23/10/1922)
In early 1923, McDonald reported to the Branch on the case of a company lagging boilers on s.s. Moonbah. The company was not a respondent to the Union’s Award. He had interviewed the manager of the firm, Australian Pigment and Firebrick Co, and the manager had claimed that
He could not pay the Award rates on this job as they were not aware of it being covered by any award, but would amicably settle with the Union on any future contracts.
This was apparently acceptable to the Union since the minutes contain no decision to take any action. (Minutes, 3/1/1923.)
A Log of Claims in 1923 once more produced a long-drawn-out procedure of conferences in Melbourne and Sydney and reports to meetings of members. The New South Wales Branch continued to call for reports on progress and, at one stage, Acting Secretary McDonald read a letter from the shipowners in response to the Log. Mahony was unable to attend the meeting, having now become a member of the Upper House and appointed to the Government’s Public Works Committee which took up much of his time, and Swadling and Thomas had a motion adopted
That a Special Meeting be called when Mr. Mahony arrived back from his present tour on Public Works business and that the Preference Clause should be included along with others mentioned in the letter. (Minutes, 9/4/1923)
Eventually, Mahony’s Parliamentary duties allowed him to attend the Branch meetings again and, in May, he reported on
the claims served on the Federation by the shipowners & also a very clear explanation of the items arrived at through the conference between himself and the Secretary of the Steamship Owners Association.
Arising from his report, it was decided to accept the shipowners’ offer except on the subject of preference, on which Mahony was called on to argue further. (Minutes, 14/5/1923) A brief motion followed, from Swadling and Murphy, "That the General Secretary’s expenses be paid", and this, too, was carried unanimously.
At the next fortnightly meeting of the Branch, Jack McDonald gave a report on negotiations over the Preference Clause and
congratulated the General Secretary Mr. Mahony on the able manner in which he handled the case.
Moved Mr. Swadling, seconded Mr.Lannen That Mr. Mahony and Mr. McDonald be complimented on the manner in which they fought for the Preference Clause.
The motion was carried. However, it was clear from the Award that no change had been made to the existing provision whereby employers undertook not to discriminate against members of the union in the selection of labour. However, while Clause 17 left it open for non-members to be employed, in practice, employers never availed themselves of this option. The other "preference" provision, ensured that men who did the arduous work of scrubbing ships’ sides and bottoms, would have preference in painting them.
Various Award issues persisted in making demands on Mahony’s time and that of the Acting Secretary, McDonald, as one employer or another found matters to challenge or sections of the Award to ignore. All such problems had to be dealt with between conferences, Court hearings, Boards of Reference, ordinary Union meetings, special meetings and Management Committee meetings. In one such case, a Union meeting authorised McDonald to take Bill Swadling with him to a conference with the Management of Cockatoo Island on the subject of an Award to cover members since Cockatoo was still a Government concern and not directly covered by the Award. (Minutes, 27/8/1923.)
One issue which called for frequent attention concerned the picking up of labour. McDonald reported to a meeting on the shipping company, Burns Philp, refusing to establish a picking up place for its labour; he had been prepared to agree to two places, Circular Quay and Federal Wharf, but the company wanted "about five places". A Special Meeting of the Union decided to adopt McDonald’s proposal for two sites. After pressure from McDonald, based on the Union demanding a resolution of the matter, the company agreed to accept the two sites. McDonald was also able to report that he had achieved a satisfactory arrangement with Patrick Patrick Steamship Company to establish No.10 Walsh Bay as its picking up point. (Minutes, 22/10/1923)
In 1924, the Management Committee was once more charged with the task of preparing a Log of Claims which it presented to a meeting on 14th July. It was adopted by the meeting with some alterations, including seeking a limitation of the next Award to 12 months, and then was submitted to the Federal Management Committee. It was not until October that a conference with the employers convened in Melbourne and McDonald accompanied Mahony to it. Later, he reported to a Branch meeting on the results of the conference. All employers were represented, including Schwilk for Mort’s Dock, Goddard for Cockatoo Island and Dillon for NSW shipowners. An offer was made by the employers which the Union representatives rejected. They were also told that Melbourne Harbour Trust, Mort’s Dock, Walsh Island and Cockatoo Island wanted two rates: one for permanents and one for casuals.
In the case of the Melbourne Harbour Trust, which sought a permanent rate "based on the £4.1.6 living wage", the Manager of the Williamstown Dockyard was called as an employers’ witness. He claimed "that he would carry on the dockyard with 40 permanent men", but on cross-examination by Mahony, the witness stated that "since July last he had employed 45 permanent and about 200 casual men…." Mahony then reported
After getting the admission from their witnesses that they were in competition with private employers, I decided not to put in our witnesses and concentrated my argument on the question of competition of private enterprise and the fact that the previous application showed that they only employed permanent men.
The Judge then postponed making a decision.
Meantime, the BHP had become a shipowner and sought exemption from the Federal Award, but the company’s application was deferred. (Minutes, 10/12/1924)
Early in 1925, while the Award issues were before the Court, the Union became involved in the seamen’s dispute when a number of ships (including the s.s.Eromanga and s.s. Volumnia) were declared black. At a Special Summons Meeting, the President opened the meeting by stating that the members were called together
to consider the case before the Court and the Employers’ proposals. He also wanted to bring under notice of the members a serious position that had cropped up on the s.s. Eromanga during the absence of the General Secretary R Mahony and the Acting Secretary in Melbourne. Mr. Weston then read a telegram received from Mr. Mahony stating that the Executive of the Federation had met the Steamship Owners and that they had not agreed….
The President’s report was followed by a report from Bill Swadling concerning the s.s. Eromanga which was to be moored alongside the already declared black s.s.Volumnia. The possibility of the seamen’s strike affecting the Union’s Award claims was appearing as a possibility when the President advised the meeting that he had received a late telegram to the effect that the Award case was before the Court in the morning. (Minutes, 18/3/1925)
At a Special Meeting on 30th March, the President, Charlie Weston, informed the meeting that it had been called to consider the "Eromanga dispute" and Sir John Quick’s hearing of the Award matter,
The Court’s decision ruling the Union out of Court on the grounds that the men were alleged to be on strike in Sydney…..
Mahony continued with a lengthy report on negotiations with employers who had agreed to meet the Union representatives on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. The shipowners had finally agreed to an increase of 1½d. per hour from April 1st. However, Judge Quick later indicated that he had no intention of granting increases in Special Places rates by reason of
the award made by him for the Boilermakers which he thought was a good award and did not intend to make two awards on Special Places, this would have cut about half our Special Places.
On top of this outrageous way of dealing with one union’s application by reference to an entirely different, tradesmen’s, award, Mort’s Dock, Cockatoo, the BHP and Melbourne Harbour Trust pressed for permanent hire rates, and then
On the first day of the case a telegram was produced in the Court by the representative of the Commonwealth Line stating that the donkeymen and riggers were on strike on the s.s Eromanga and that he believed they were members of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union…. Telegram after telegram was arriving at the Court re the Eromanga trouble ultimately we were ruled out of Court on these telegrams.
Mahony continued his report by indicating that he had endeavoured to prove that it was a skilled industry and that the average number of hours worked did not exceed 30 per week, but was prevented by the s.s. Eromanga dispute and Quick’s haste to decide on the basis of a telegram to stop the hearing "until our men returned to work and that we were in contempt of Court"
An appeal was made to him (Quick)…. not to leave all the work that had been done for four days go by….. It may be possible to bring about a solution and if so, now that we had nearly finished the Melbourne evidence, the Sydney evidence could be taken in Sydney. The judge stated that he would consider the position. (Minutes, 30/3/1925.)
This report led to a decision to call on the Water Transport Group of unions to reconsider its ban on the s.s. Eromanga, so that Painters and Dockers would not be denied any possible benefits likely to flow from a new Award. On 20th April, it was reported that the embargo on the s.s. Volumnia had been lifted, thus freeing the s.s. Eromanga also.
Mahony reported in May to the NSW Branch on the concluding stages of the Award hearing in Melbourne and explained that in cross-examining employers’ witnesses, he had been able to show that their evidence consisted of earnings of permanent hands, but not of casuals who were "the big bulk of the men".
It was agreed that Mort’s Dock should be the place of engagement for all men required for work at Mort’s Dock and Woolwich, and Chapman’s Slip to be the picking up place for Chapman’s Slip, Jubilee Dock and Ward’s Dock.. It was also asked that a shelter shed be provided for the convenience of the men.
The Cockatoo Dock ….advocate asked for a constant rate. The definition of a constant man being a man who received one month’s employment… They also wanted two picking up places and a number of other conditions which were against the best interests of the men….The position was then criticised by the Secretary and after discussion Mr. Morgan (who appeared for Cockatoo) withdrew his claims.
The Garden Island position…..315 men of whom it was alleged 37 had been employed for the whole twelve months. When the list was analysed it was found that only one man worked the full number of hours, that is, 44 hours per week for 52 weeks for the year. Walsh Island, 109 men, 19 got regular employment.
Biggest employers, the steamship owners, agreed to pay award rates, but the Commonwealth Government, New South Wales Government, Victorian Government and Mort’s Dock objected…..
Mahony then stated that the employers’ demand for a Penalty Clause based on a guarantee by the Union against "unrest" was rejected by the Judge. McDonald in amplifying the report declared that "no industrial advocate or Barrister could have put up the fight that our General Secretary had and the successful conclusion it had been brought to".
The Award made on 1st June, 1925 (No.206 of 1924), was put under threat by an application by Mort's Dock and Engineering Company, some twelve months after it was made, in an application to the Court which called upon the Union to show cause why the Award should not be cancelled. As an alternative, the Company asked for variations to the Award which would have reduced its limited benefits. The decision by the Judge, Quick, took up some of the Company’s applications; so much so that the Federal Council which met and considered Mahony’s report decided
That this Federation emphatically protest against the Award and variations made by His Honour Judge Quick, by having scrapped five State Awards and three Federal Awards, also altering the settled conditions of the Union for 25 years. (Federal Minutes,13/5/1926.)
One of the issues involved was from a decision by Quick, in his 1925 judgment, to create two sets of wages: one for casual employees and one for permanent employees. The Union had argued throughout the case that the casual rate should be "a common all-round rate applicable to casual hands and permanent hands without discrimination." (see Quick judgment, handed down on 1st June, 1925 and later varied on 25th December 1925.)
When the Federal Council met in May 1926, the New South Wales Branch had already become embroiled in arguments with other unions and the Court, over its decision to only work 44 hours. This, in turn, led to the Court refusing to consider any application by the Union for a new Award. The Federal Council, at the time, however, supported the New South Wales Branch action.
Despite the Court’s attitude, however, moves were made in 1927, to prepare a new Log of Claims. The New South Wales Branch established a committee comprising two representatives from each section of the industry to work with the Management Committee on the project. (Minutes, 7/3/1927.)
The draft Log of Claims was submitted to a meeting at the end of March and contained a number of changes, including provision for a 44 hours week. Height money was to be determined "from the base of the job" instead of "from the ground"; the Guarantee Clause was to provide for a minimum of a day’s pay, instead of three hours; only two centres to be provided for picking up labour: one on the Sydney side and the other the Union Rooms; travelling time to include fares from the mainland to Cockatoo Island; the ban on painting in water in tanks to be changed to working in water in tanks. The Branch meeting adopted the Committee’s draft. (Minutes, 4/4/1927.)
The proposed Log was then submitted to the Federal Management Committee which adopted it together with submissions from other Branches, with the exception of the "latter portion of Clause 20 Prevention of Accidents re Chipping Machines (or where there is a free current of air) because it is not definite enough". That expression concerning the supply of fresh air was to remain in the Award for many years and be the cause of much disagreement, particularly on jobs where the employer insisted that there was a "free current of air" when it was supplied from a compressor, a form of air supply that was suspect, since it contained a great deal of oil and other pollutants which the filters could not always completely remove. When working in confined spaces such an air supply could be dangerous. (See Appendix 5)
Mahony, still regularly attending meetings of the New South Wales Branch, reported having served the Log on employers, some of whom had rejected it, some were considering it and
There was every possibility of the Commonwealth Steamship Owners and the Commonwealth Shipping Line meeting us in conference and that whatever decision they came to…..would be placed before the Branch….The other respondents who would not agree….would have to be fought in Court….(Minutes, 27/6/1927.)
While these discussions proceeded, and produced little by way of agreement to approach the Court for a new Award, other claims were being made separately from the Award as a whole. Thus, negotiations proceeded on the claim for a special rate for men working in specified compartments of seaplanes at Cockatoo Island. Eventually agreement was arrived at on a Special Rate for certain spaces below the decks, where the effects from fumes emanating from paints and compositions raised issues of discomfort, illness, etc. The Special Rate was to apply to the blisters on naval ships. The blisters were the balloon-like, air-filled side tanks which stood out from the bilges on each side of the ship as an added provision to maintain stability for the vessel, particularly in the landing and take-off of seaplanes
In September, Mahony applied to the Ship Painters and Dockers Conciliation Board for an Award to cover Walsh Island in Newcastle. He was met with an objection from the employer by reason of the Union being covered by a Federal Award, so that the Conciliation Board, as a State authority, had no jurisdiction. Mahony did not proceed with the application by reason of this objection, although the union did have State as well as Federal registration. In fact, later in the meeting at which Mahony’s application was reported on, McDonald reported that the Conciliation Board had granted him a Right of Entry to employer’s premises, a right which did not lose power by reason of an employer’s Federal coverage. (Minutes, 19/9/1927.)
At this September meeting, Mahony also reported on discussions with the Sydney Ferries company where an agreement had been worked out for a 44-hour week with 48 hours pay and an increase of 2d. per hour. The meeting decided
That an agreement be drawn up for a period of two years, viz., 48 hours pay for 44 hours work, other conditions to remain. (Minutes, 19/9/1927.)
Other attempts were made to hive off some employers from the employers’ general attitude of no agreement, but with little success. As well, Mahony continued to seek conferences with the main employer organisations. Thus he reported on one such conference which he attended together with the Victorian Secretary (Moloney) and the N.S.W. Secretary (McDonald). They met in Melbourne with representatives of the Commonwealth S.S.Owners, the Interstate S.S. Owners, McIlwraith & McEachern, Adelaide S.S.Company, Duke & Orrs (Melbourne Docking Company), Union S.S.Co., Howard Smith, Huddart Parker and the Melbourne S.S.Company.
After three days of discussions, the steamship owners stated that they would convene a meeting of their Association and notify the Union of the results. The response, when it came, was a negative: the shipping companies were only prepared to work under the conditions set out in a Log which they had prepared.
The meeting, having heard Mahony’s report adopted a motion from Ted Dodds and E.Murphy
That we refuse to accept the conditions contained in the steamship owners log and letter and we further demand the Federal Management Committee take drastic steps to put the log into immediate operation. (Minutes, 17/10/1927.)
From this, a Compulsory Conference was convened by the Registrar in Melbourne in December. All employers were represented and Mahony was once more accompanied by Moloney and McDonald. All that arose from this hearing was a statement by the Registrar that he would refer the whole matter to the Court. (Minutes, 19/12/1927.)
Other discussions occurred with shipowners, separate from the dockyards and slipways proprietors, but nothing was achieved, with shipowner declarations that there would be no change in working hours outside the Court.
In the following year, more discussions were arranged with Mort’s Dock, Cockatoo Island, Garden Island and others, but it was all to no avail. In every instance, the Union’s insistence on an agreement on shorter hours, caused the talks to bog down.
In February, Mahony reported on a conference which he and McDonald had attended with the Mort’s Dock Management. This conference had been arranged at the behest of the Registrar. The principal matters discussed, as at talks with shipowners and others, was the 44-hour week and rates of pay. In his report, Mahony said that Silk (for Mort’s Dock) had stated that
Our men were practically on strike, having refused to work on Saturday and also declaring not to accept the Permanent Rate……Mr. Silk stated that they were not prepared to discuss anything further, unless our members agreed to work Saturdays and accepted the Permanent Rate.
McDonald added to Mahony’s report on their further meetings with the shipowners and with Cockatoo Island. No agreements were arrived at and the meeting decided
That we reaffirm our previous decision re Saturday work and the permanent rate. (Minutes, 6/2/1928.)
The frustration from never-ending talks and no access to the Court brought a decision, a month later,
That the Committee of Management …. go into ways and means of getting before the Court as soon as possible…. (Minutes, 5/3/1928.)
Mahony, at a later meeting advised that there was no possibility of the Union getting to the Court for a new Award, until the question of the 44 hours was resolved by the Full Court which might hear the matter in April.
It seemed that the only Court which the Union could approach, was the State Wages Board which could not make any awards applicable to Federally-registered employers. But, there were always dangers in the State area, such as the move by Hoskins Steel and Iron Company to be exempted from the provisions of the Boards, including the Ship Painters and Dockers (State) Award. Mahony reported on the hearing of this matter where
the Court decided to hear argument on the question of Industrial Boards as against Craft Boards, but any objector could have a chance to come in later on. It appeared by the attitude of the Court that if they granted an Industrial Board they would preserve the rights of the Union to the rates of pay contained in an outside Award.
No decision was made at that meeting since the matter was still to be heard by the Court. (Minutes, 16/4/1928.)
While the hours issue and the exemption claims proceeded, the Union found itself also obliged to fight on another front, when it was confronted with Court applications from the shipping companies for breaches of the Award (No Saturday Work and ban on Paint Spraying Machines.) Together with these attacks, the shipowners had filed a new log of claims. Mahony outlined the differences between this new log and the Union’s log to a meeting of the Branch Management Committee which then decided to recommend to the next Union meeting that the shipowners Log of Claims be rejected. (Minutes, 18/7/1928.)
Mahony reported later in the year on the Compulsory Conference which the Industrial Registrar had arranged under the Chairmanship of A.M.Stewart, Conciliation Commissioner, at Darlinghurst Courthouse. His report to the Union meeting included a full reading of the transcript of the Conference, beginning with
Commissioner: …..You cannot expect to go into a conference and at the same time refuse to observe the conditions of the old award…. You would say that there is nothing about a paint spray in the old award but…. we discussed that matter at a Board of reference in Melbourne and I made it clear that if an employer desired to improve his methods he was at perfect liberty to do so…..
Moloney: The Union claim provides that men shall not be required to work on flying stages on vessels in dry docks etc or operate paint sprays…
Commissioner: You must be aware that the paint spray is being used everywhere and if a small section of workers are going to say "no, we will not permit any innovations that are going to cheapen the work or hasten the work", then it reduces the thing to a farce…. If the use of the spray is dangerous to health then the Court certainly will not permit its use….. if the paint spray is going to be used in tanks and places where there is no ventilation…. then that is quite another matter….. You cannot dictate as to how an employer is going to improve his methods….
Moloney: ….we have no objection for the introduction of the machines …. But when a machine is introduced that we think is detrimental to the men’s health then it is necessary for us to step in for their protection…….
In reading from the transcript, Mahony also quoted from the reports of two doctors: Dr. Robinson of the Health Department and Dr. Charles Badham, Medical Officer for Industrial Hygiene , N.S.W. Both doctors considered that the equipment could be used in the open air, such as painting the outside of vessels, but except when lead-based paints were used. Following the debate about whether the employer could simply introduce and, without any reference to safety and precautions, oblige men to use such new equipment or materials, the issue was deferred to allow a fresh debate on the demand for a shorter working week; Mahony made it plain from the outset by declaring
This is where we split….
And the debate proceeded from the accusation that only shipwrights and painters and dockers were refusing to work to their awards and thus, as Captain Walton (for the shipowners) put it
The docking operations …. are a dead letter in Sydney…. Docking both unions took action …
Commissioner: The only fly in the ointment is New South Wales and I want to advise you, Mr. Mahony, that you have a first class case for 44 hours….
After hearing the lengthy report from Mahony, which also included an undertaking to put to the members the Commissioner’s proposal to work according to the Award while discussions continued, the meeting debated a motion
That we agree to abide by the Award providing that the first matter discussed is the 44 hours.
But, while one or two members supported this approach, the majority of speakers rejected it and, when put to a vote, the motion was roundly defeated. (Minutes, 3/9/1928.)
With Mahony absent on Public Works business, McDonald reported on the second conference convened by the Commissioner, where he was informed of the New South Wales Branch decision. The Commissioner expressed his regret at this failure to take up his suggestion and indicated that there was no benefit in further discussion, and the transcript shows how the Conference closed
Commissioner: If you decline to be picked up for work on Saturday morning…. And if they decline in combination to continue on after Friday night or to turn up on Saturday morning, they are making a breach of the award….
Mahony: Say that they have been fighting for something for many years and they have got this thing. Then the suggestion is made that they should give that up and after they have given it up they say "we will discuss the thing, and after we have discussed it then we may give you what you’ve already got".
Following this exchange, it was agreed that Mahony would report to a Union meeting and bring back a considered reply. But when reported to a further Stop Work Meeting, the decision was very simply expressed, but it spoke volumes as to the mood and opinion of the Branch. The motion was carried unanimously,
That in the opinion of this Branch, no breach of the Award has taken place. (Minutes, 10/9/1928.)
The New South Wales Branch continued to apply its No Saturday Work rule as essential to the demand for a 44 hours week, and the Federation, therefore, was still unable to present a Log of Claims for a new Award. However, the shipowners submitted a new Log to the Federation with a demand for a response within 14 days. Mahony reported this to the Branch Management Committee which recommended that the Federation meet the shipowners on the Log even though it was a worse set of claims than previous logs(Minutes, 28/1/1929.) A Branch meeting later endorsed this. Later in the year, when Mahony reported to a meeting on the shipowners’ attempts to reduce working standards and the minimal benefits of the Award, the meeting carried the somewhat tongue-in-cheek motion from J.Hagen and W.Davis:
that in the opinion of this Branch we cannot see our way clear to accept the terms laid down in the latest log. (Minutes, 15/4/1929.)
And, to display a solid front, the meeting a fortnight after, reaffirmed this decision when Mahony reported having had further discussions with the shipowners.
Still under pressure from the employers, the Federal officials attended a compulsory conference in June, on which Mahony reported at length to a New South Wales Branch meeting. This conference, as with previous ones, was deadlocked on the issue of No Saturday Work, but the Commissioner had asked whether there was any suggestion for overcoming the impasse and Silk (representing Mort’s Dock) suggested
That the Union accept the working of 44 hours in 5 days and the Union guarantee to supply men to work on Saturday mornings (ordinary rates) when necessary. He, Silk, would only engage men for Saturday work who had not worked 44 hours during the week. Mr. Schwilk…. asked if the Union would be prepared to work 44 hours in 6 days.
Mahony had stated that he could not agree but would give the Branch the opportunity of responding by arranging for a "hurried" meeting of the members. The report was debated and a decision made "not to entertain the suggestion of Mr. Silk" after which the meeting also adopted a motion from Sloan and Shaw
That we agree to consider the question of 44 hours to be worked in 5 days or 6 days to suit the convenience of the employers, with the understanding that the existing conditions remain as in the present Award.
With the addition of a proviso that a claim be made for double time for all work on Saturday, the motion was carried. (Minutes, 26/6/1929.)
No advance was made towards a new Award, at a further conference with the employers, the issue of 44 hours standing in the way of any discussion on other matters, and this was reported to a Branch meeting which simply agreed to defer the matter for a month. (Minutes, 8//7/1929.) By September, Mahony was still reporting attending compulsory conferences which were aborted when once the question of hours was raised. The Commissioner had indicated that he would refer the whole matter to the Court. Nothing came of this and the Union continued to work under the Award, with the exception of Saturday work, and to make claims for increases in wages but for little else as the Depression began to affect the work opportunities of the members.