The Federated Marine Stewards and Pantrymen's Association v. The Commonwealth Steamship Owners' Association and Others

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Last updated

10 January 2017

(1909 10) 4 CAR 61, Higgins J, President, 10 May 1910


In this case, Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was faced with the question of wages applicable to stewards across the Commonwealth. Of particular relevance was whether tips and gratuities should be included in this amount.

The Court found that stewards:

usually receive, not from their employer, but from the passengers, certain gratuities, tips — or, to use the slang term, 'bounce'. I do not see how I can justly avoid taking these tips into account. The stewards come into contact with the passengers; the cooks and galleymen do not; and it would be unjust to the latter if I shut my eyes to the fact that the stewards enjoy such additions to their means of living. It is true that tip money does not come from the employer, it is not to be credited to the employer; but if the price of food suddenly dropped, and rent, and the cost of clothes, I should have to reduce the minimum wage in favour of the employers, although the fall in prices is not due to them. My problem is to find what is the income accruing to the steward from all sources by virtue of his employment; for according to the principle which I laid down in the Marine Cooks' case, and in other cases, the first condition of industrial peace is that the employees shall have the means of satisfying their normal needs as human beings. How is it possible for me, when I proceed on such a basis, to treat a steward more liberally than a pick and shovel man, if I do not find in the steward a higher degree of skill, or some other exceptional circumstance? How can I, so far as what is called the 'living wage' is concerned, and in justice to other workers, depart from the principles and the standards which I have adopted in more strenuous occupations — occupations that, no doubt, allow men more leisure time, but that require the exertion of far greater physical energy? The function of this Court, as I understand it, is to promote industrial peace, in the interests of the public; but the Court would tend rather to excite discontent than to allay it, if it were to take inconsistent lines in its different awards, if it were to depart without very strong reasons from fixed principles of action, or from the gradations which the employers recognise and which the workers recognize themselves; if it were to award unequally as to workers in similar or analogous conditions. [p.64]

The Court considered the implications of the exceptional circumstances faced by stewards:

although the stewards cannot be treated as men having a skilled trade, it seems to me that they should get something beyond the minimum for the 'unskilled' labourer by reason of their exceptional obligations. They have to keep up a good appearance, wear a uniform, exercise tact with the passengers, and bear the responsibility for their employers’ property ... They claim £8 per month, instead of £5 as at present. The claim for such an extraordinary increase is based on the assumption that the tips would not be taken into account — an assumption which I reject. But I may fairly award a minimum which will give them the living wage of the unskilled labourer, with the addition of 10s. per month for the exceptional obligations referred to — that is to say, I propose to award £5 10s.per month. [p.66]

The President concluded that:

This Court endeavours to secure adequate income for the employees; but it does not matter whether the income comes wholly from the employers, or in part from the employers and in part from the passengers whom the employers carry. The wages and conditions of the stewards will stand now, under this award, somewhat improved; at all events they will be definite, authoritative, orderly, and systematic, as declared by an impartial tribunal; and it may reasonably be expected that for the term of the award there will be no disturbance in the shipping industry so far as the stewards are concerned — a disturbance which would involve the ship-owners in loss and bring untold sufferings to stewards, galleymen, seamen — and their families — and to the public. [pp.74–75]