The significance of the Harvester Judgement of 1907 in Australia

Harvester Judgement of 1907 took place on 8th November after a hearing of one month. The judgement was done by the justice Henry Bournes Higgins. At that period agriculture was one of leading industrial activity where it got farming equipments and machinery from the well known companies such as the Harvester Company owned by Hugh Victor Mckay. For quite a long time before the Harvester Judgement, the workers used to work in poor working conditions and not to mention that at the end of the day they received low wages. There had been an establishment of a court known as Conciliation and Arbitration Court which was aimed at addressing any dispute between workers and their employers in 1904. The Harvester Judgement however is addressed as a point of reference which led to the increments of the wages to the workers and at least the reasonable payment level established by the industrial courts (Hagenann,  2008).

To begin with the owner of the Harvester Company Mckay had applied to the Conciliation and Arbitration court so that he might be exempted from payment of the machinery duty. The court had been established to address disputes but it had powers to exempt the machinery duty if the owner paid his workers fair wages. His claim was in reference on the Act which allowed a free duty of the locally manufactured machines on condition that the owner of these machines paid his workers fair wages. His workers opposed the application through the union Agricultural Implement Workers in which they were members. The union argued that Mckay’s worker didn’t receive fair wages which lead into court case to his application. The term harvester judgement was therefore derived from the ruling judgement of this case by the Huggins and the company involved- Harvester Company (Gordon, 2002).

There was no formal law which was meant to define what was termed as a reasonable wage at the same time fair ones. This therefore led to an attempt by the justice Huggins of what could be referred as reasonable wage which is fair to a worker. By this he made considerations on the wages that Mckay used to pay to his workers. The Mckay’s workers received a wage of 36 shillings at the end of the week, and so Huggins tried to weigh its effectiveness in terms of meeting the workers’ basic needs. Apart from the main three known basic need: food, clothing and shelter he also put into considerations of the life insurance coverage and the transport cost. He did this through interviewing the workers and made a conclusion that a wage that was to be viewed as a reasonable at the same time fair was supposed to be at least 42 shillings a week, (Hagenann ,  2008).

There was however the signing of the contract before any employment of which the employees were supposed to agree in to terms and conditions which were provided. This was always inclusive of the payment agreement of which the Mckay’s workers just as other workers had signed. The contract agreement however was not meant to under look the reasonable conditions on payment to the workers by the fact that they were jobless but as a means of accountability of the employers. According to Huggins the employers like Mckay were not supposed to underpay their workers although he claimed not to be doing so. He therefore made a ruling judgement based on the fact that Mckay should not be exempted from paying the machinery duty. Mckay was then ordered to pay 20000 pounds as a duty for his machinery from, (Gordon, 2002).

It was also made clear that if then he would be exempted from paying this duty he would then have to raise the wages to his workers by 27% increase. He was also supposed to pay extra wage to his workers for any overtime duty on top of this increase in which it was not supposed to be on the normal rate. Mckay had a negative attitude towards the union of which he didn’t want to employ the members of the union. Now this also led the union to reveal to the court that Mckay used only to pay any overtime on ordinary rates. In his defense he stated that the workers had received a great bonus just at the end of the previous year. This was however not fair as workers who did greatest amount of work didn’t receive much of them as most of it was directed to the workers at the top positions in his company (Gordon, 2002).

Huggins ruling was not just based on the evidences presented by the union but his decision was based by the fact that he himself viewed employment as a social act. Huggins. Mckay however didn’t agree to the ruling of the Huggins and according to him the 36 shillings that he was paying his workers was reasonable enough. According to him it was too much to the company if he had to increase this wage as most of his workers were unskilled while the work that they were doing, was easier as it was unique from other forms. This was however not true as the witnesses who were presented by the union stated that the kind of work that they did was similar when compared to elsewhere and on top of this, they received lower wages than other non Mckay workers (Hagenann,  2008).

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