18a["Better Conditions for Seamen", The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 27 November 1911, page 8]


The decision of Mr. Justice Higgins to award the seamen on Interstate steamers an eight hours' day at sea is not so revolutionary as appears at first sight. Engineers and firemen work their four hours on and eight hours off, or a working day of eight hours. Hence the way was already paved for the change, and that change could hardly have been unexpected. With the principle of the eight hours' day acknowledged in nearly all shore callings, it would be difficult to understand why it should not be conceded to the equally laborious and - in the shoreman's belief - more hazardous occupations at sea. Though the steamship companies contested the claim, it was perhaps, judging by the evidence, more as a matter o form, especially when they admitted that the state of the industry was such that it could well bear this change and some other changes proposed. In any circumstances the increased labour of three watches instead of two would mean added expense, although the Judge of the Arbitration Court believes that it will not be as much as the steamship owners reckon. The provision will come into force at the end of June next year, time being thus allowed for the alteration of accommodation necessary. Additional costs thereby involved do not stand alone. Not only have more men to be provided, but higher wages have to be paid all round from December, A.Bs. receiving 1 a month more, 8 in place of 7, and firemen the same increase, 10 in place of 9. Provision is also made for overtime, and for holidays worked at sea a day off ashore is to be allowed or an extra day's pay. Similarly the firemen, whose wages are to be increased to the equivalent of 8s 2d a day, including in this amount their "keep," even now will receive 1s 4d a day less than shore firemen.

All this is from the men's point of view, and in further argument on their side it might be added that if we are to man our mercantile marine with our own sailors the wages to be paid must approach those of shore callings of similar status, or we shall attract to our steamers few native-born sailors, because the glamour of a life at sea is not so intense now as to offer the compensations of imagination it once did. On the other hand, there is the point of view of the industry itself to be looked at. Seven thousand men are affected, and the changes in their conditions will involve an increment in charges of 39,000, or an average of 485 per annum for each steamer. Can the industry stand that increased charge? The shipowners say yes, It can, which means nothing more nor less than they conceive it in their power to pass it on to the public by means of increased freight charges and increased passenger fares. Another burden will be added to the cost of articles to the general consumer, a burden of which we have had an example in the higher freights from England. That was caused by the higher wages due to the successful seamen's and transport strike in the United Kingdom some months ago, and has resulted in an additional 2s 6d a ton to the landed cost of heavy goods. Now is the day of our prosperity when there is no difficulty in passing on the cost, to such a low ebb has competition fallen. But should trade fall away, as fall away it will, and competition become keen, will the cost then be passed on? No relief can be expected from the Court. Mr. Justice Higgins has expressly declared that the Arbitration Act is not an Act for profit sharing, that the increases he has awarded are not made on the basis of profit sharing, and we may take it that the corollary is in his Honor's mind that there will be no reductions when profits become less. It will be when the days of depression are on us that the power of that Act will be most truly tested. Will it be strong enough in those days to preserve the wages of the workers, and, if so, who will pay, the employer or the public? To-day the public, among whom the workers are the majority, is paying such an excessive price that we cannot believe it will be long before the workers themselves perceive that high wages may be a too dearly bought luxury, and that there must be some other way of escape from the tyranny of high prices.

18b["Federal Arbitration Court", The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday 02 December 1911, page 14]

Federal Arbitration Court.

Eight Hour Day for Sailors.

In the Federal Arbitration Court in Melbourne last week the President, Mr. Justice Higgins, delivered his reserved decision in the action between the Federated Seamen's Union of Australia and the Steamship Owners' Association. The President said, in part:

"The change asked for relates almost solely to the hours of six or eight deck hands, who keep watches, three or four men at a time, and only to the time that they are at sea. I propose, therefore, to award that hours at sea shall be eight for deck hands who are on watch, as well as for deck hands who are daymen; so that they shall no have worse hours than the stokehold men or than labourers on the Australian coast. But I propose to postpone the operation of this provision till July 1, 1912, as on some ships it may be necessary to put up some further accommodation for some additional men, and a liberal allowance of time ought to be made for making the necessary alterations and incidental arrangements."

After referring to the provisions for holidays and overtime, the President dealt with the claim in respect of wages--substantially a claim for 1 more all round. He said:

"At present, the A.B. receives 7 per month, and his 'keep' on board ship. Taking the keep as in former cases at 10s. per week, or nearly 2 5s. per month, the pay is slightly over 6s. per day. This means the meagre pittance of 3d. per hour for an A.B. if the present average of more than twelve hours per day be maintained whereas dock and ships' labourer are paid under the agreement 1s. 1d. per hour at least, with higher rates for special circumstances and double for holiday.

"I will fix the minimum wage, however, on the assumption that a day of eight hours hours is established by the award. The respondents admit the principles laid down in the harvester case, and admit that the 7s. per day or 42s. per week minimum wage fixed in that case for an adult labourer (unskilled) should be paid to seamen. That minimum wage amounts to 109 4s for 52 weeks, or 105 11s. for 365 days, and was fixed for a man who works only six days per week. The seaman gives 52 days in addition and gets only 110 in all for the year, including keep. In other words, he gets for seven days per week only 9s. per annum more than the unskilled labourer, who works six days per week. He has also to provide his own clothes, bedding, utensils, etc. There is no doubt that in the matter of wages, as well as in other things, the seaman has the fag end of things.

"The A.B.'s wages have not been increased since 1887, although the cost of living has increased considerably since that time. It is my clear duty to prescribe the following minimum rates of pay: Boatswain, 9 per month; A.B. employed as lamp trimmer, 9; A.B., 8; ordinary seaman--if 18 years or over, 6; if under 18, 5; donkeyman, 11; greaser, 10; fireman, 10; trimmer, 7. The act is not an act for profit-sharing, but for securing peace in industries, and the best way of securing peace is to secure to a man, as far as possible, wages and conditions of life on a level with the current standards of the community."