HIGH COURT CASE STUDY: THE RULE OF LAW
Miners pay rise is unauthorised
R v Hibble; Ex parte Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd (1920)
Facts of the case
Disputes about pay and conditions in the coal industry were common before 1920. Mine owners, struggling after World War I, were cutting the wages of workers. Strikes and lockouts followed. The Government led by Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes decided to put forward legislation to resolve the problems.
The Parliament passed the Industrial Peace Act 1920. A Tribunal for the coke industry was set up (coke is fuel made from coal). Charles Hibble was Chairman of the Tribunal, with an equal number of employer and employee representatives. The intention was that both the workers and the bosses could get an equal say over the rates of pay and conditions.
The Tribunal published an Award which provided:
(1) All adult day wage workers receive an increase of 3 shillings per day; (2) contract workers receive an increase of 17.5 per cent; (3) boys and youths receive an increase of 20 per cent.
A meeting of the Tribunal was held to discuss the Award. Five of the nine members attended and only four supported it.
Big mining company BHP brought a case in the High Court seeking to prohibit the Award from coming into force.
Issues considered by the court
The Court had to consider whether the Award was validly made with the authority of the Coke Industry Special Tribunal. They had to consider that a majority of the Tribunal had not voted for it.
The Court decided that the Award was invalid because it had not been lawfully made. This meant that the miners did not receive a pay rise.
The Court found that it was impossible to see that the Award was the Award of anyone except Hibble. It was not an Award of the Special Tribunal.
The case is an important illustration of the rule of law.
Background to the case
Mr Charles Hibble, as Chairman of the Coke Industry Special Tribunal, tried to resolve a huge dispute between mining company BHP and their workers. The case uncovered that Hibble had referred to the Tribunal Award as ‘the award which I have made’ in the meeting transcript.
Many considered the conditions and pay rates in the mines as in need of improvement. Mining was a dangerous occupation. One tactic used by employers in disputes was to lock workers out from their job, without pay.
Charles Hibble remained chairman of the Coke Industry Special Tribunal after the case in the High Court. He continued to resolve disputes. In 1924 he ordered striking workers back on the job.
Later in the 1920s, arbitration boards were set up by both the State and Federal Governments. This was a further attempt to resolve pay disputes and strikes.
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