The Amalgamated Society of Engineers v. The Adelaide Steam-ship Company Limited and Others

Updated time

Last updated

10 January 2017

(1921) 15 CAR 297, Higgins J, President, 4 May 1921


In this decision, Justice Higgins of the Arbitration Court emphasised the importance of training of youths through apprenticeships, and set out what award apprenticeship provisions should provide.

The President in this case considered claims in relation to apprentice conditions and wages:

The union wants that all youths in the trade should be apprenticed, because it finds a strong tendency to put untrained men or men imperfectly trained to engineers’ jobs at lower rates. One of the reasons that employers want apprentices — as well as unapprenticed boy labour — is that boy labour is cheaper; but another reason is that employers are genuinely embarrassed by the difficulty in getting sufficient skilled craftsmen. [p.325]

The ratio of competent skilled tradesmen to apprentices concerned the claimant:

If there are too many apprentices in proportion to journeymen, the apprentice cannot be properly trained; as between competing employers, the man with many apprentices has often an advantage over the men who has few; and the fully trained tradesmen, with family responsibility, tends to be displaced by lads who are employed because they are cheaper. From the point of view of the Court — which is that of the community — all such aspects have to be considered; as well as the need for an ample succession of competent tradesmen. There must be some limitation. It is clear that where there is no limitation the power to use apprentices — as well as boy labour (unapprenticed) — is abused. [pp.325–6]

The President considered the position of employers:

The conditions as to apprentices should not be made so stiff as to make it unprofitable for employers to take apprentices; the principle inducement to take them seems to be that they are cheaper, and can be put on the simpler work. Some employers prefer not to take apprentices; others treat the taking of apprentices as a public duty (as well as a profit), and thus provide competent tradesmen for others as well as for themselves. I propose to prescribe wages for apprentices as such will enable poor parents to give their boys a place in these crafts, without tempting them to put the lads when they leave school into some 'dead-end' labouring occupation. [p.326]

The President concluded that the ratio of trained tradesmen to apprentices should be prescribed:

one to three, as a liberal allowance for perpetual succession in the trade, but I provide that the proportion may be altered as to any particular employer with the written consent of the union or of the appropriate Board of Reference. This is a novel experiment; but it has the approval of several employers, in the event of any limit being prescribed. I feel strongly that any variation from the proportion of one to three should be sanctioned by men concentrating their attention on the business and needs and character of particular employers. Much depends on the particular employer’s plant, appliances and organization. The subjects for the apprenticeship will be stated in the award ... [p.327]

The President prescribed employment conditions in relation to training:

I prescribe, substantially as requested, the claim that the apprentices shall get four hours off per week in the employer's time to attend the technical schools, and that the employer shall pay the fees for the school; but these privileges are safeguarded against lazy apprentices. [p.327]

Additionally, the President granted apprentices overtime wage rates:

I grant the claim for journeymen’s overtime rates for apprentices who work overtime; indeed if the claim were for prohibition of overtime for boys, I should be inclined to grant it ... [p.327]