Linesmen's Case

Updated time

Last updated

10 January 2017

The Australian Telegraph and Telephone Construction and Maintenance Union v. The Public Service Commissioner and the Postmaster-General

(1916) 10 CAR 602, Higgins J, President, 21 November 1916


In this decision Justice Higgins of the Arbitration Court refused to provide for boys to be employed doing linesmen work at a lower wage than the adult rate. He did this having regard to the type of duties, which were dangerous, and the lack of any training obligation on the employer similar to an apprenticeship.

The President considered a range of proposed variations to an award in this case.

He refused to set an unapprenticed junior rate for young people:

The Commissioner has applied for a variation of the award such as will enable him to employ a new class of ‘assistant linemen’ — boys from 16 to 21, at lower rates of pay. As will be seen in previous judgments, I do not favour the limitation of boy labour if the employer find that boys will answer his purpose as well as men, and especially if he bind himself to train the boys to a definite trade or function. But the position is very different if the employer, when free from control, never employed boys, and when his purpose is shown to be to avoid paying the full wages of a journeyman. [p.613]

The suggestion to create this new class appears to have been made in April 1914, at a time when it was obvious that this Court would raise the rates of pay of linemen. I am not convinced by the evidence as to the experiment made with a few boys, 18 to 21, in Queensland, between 1902 and 1909, as to the expediency of appointing boys. It is said, indeed, that the proposal would afford a new outlet for post office messengers when they have to be transferred to some other function after their term has expired ... that these boys could be trained to the functions of linemen. There is substance in this argument; but lads of 20 or 21 also, who are taken on as linemen at full wages, need training in the higher functions. It is better for the public as well as for the employees that these functions, which often need strength and judgment and responsibility, should be performed by fully-developed men. On the best consideration that I can give to this matter, I think that the case in favour of the employment of boys of 16 and upwards, at lower wages than a lineman, has not been satisfactorily made out; and I refuse the application. [p.614]