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Boyer report 1958 (extract)

The following is an extract from the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Service Recruitment, 1958 (Boyer Report) in relation to the lifting of the marriage bar.


236. Over the past ten years women have supplied about one-quarter of the permannent officers and over two-thirds of the temporary employees in the Fourth Division. Since 1949, when the Service began regular recruitment of girls to the base grade of the Third Division, the proportion of women in that Division has risen from about half of one per cent. to a little over 4 per cent. The proportion of temporary women employees in the Third Division is of the same order. In absolute numbers, there have been over 13,000 women permanently employed in the Fourth Division since 1953, and over,1,000 permanently employed in the Third Division. Total women temporary employees number over 7,000 at present. In addition, about 9,800 women are employed in an "exempt" capacity. '

237. In each year since 1953, recorded retirements of permanent women officers on marriage have run at something over 5 per cent. of those employed in the Third Division, and between 7 and 9 per cent. in the Fourth Division. In 1956-57 the absolute losses to the Service from this cause were 78 women from the Third Division and 1,306 from the Fourth. These figures are conservative as not all women who retire to be married inform their departments of the reason.

238. These resignations are compulsory under section 49 (2) of the Public Service Act which provides that every female officer shall be deemed to have retired from the Service upon her marriage unless the Board certifies that there are special circumstances which make her employment desirable. On the other hand, section 49 (1) prohibits the employment of an already married woman either permanently or temporarily, unless the Board gives a similar certificate.

239. These provisions may be considered from two points of view: that of the advantages or disadvantages to the Service of employing married women, or continuing them in employment, and that of the rights of married women as citizens and as officers of the Service.

240. From the point of view of the Service, removal of the restriction of section 49 (1) would probably have little effect on the numbers available for permanent employment. Owing to the low age limits governing permanent appointments, comparatively few women already married would be eligible for employment. However, an unnecessary curtailment of rights would be redressed. In the case of temporary employment the age limit is normally 51 years, so that if section 49 (1) were removed married
women in general would have the right to apply for such employment, and the Board would be free to employ as many as were needed. Subject to the qualifications mentioned in paragraph 244 below, we think there would be a balance of advantage to the Service, as well as an equitable extension of the employment rights of married women, in removing the present restriction.

241. From the point of view of the rights of women officers, section 49 (2), according to evidence before us, entails certain anomalies. In the first place, retirement upon marriage is obligatory for female permanent officers, but not for temporary employees. Secondly, a permanent officer so retired may in practice be re-employed in a temporary capacity in some categories of position (which have been exempted. from the requirements of section 49 (1)), but not in others. This results, for example, in
the situation that a permanent typist on marriage is re-employed as a temporary typist but a professional officer .is not re-employed to continue her professional work, and so is lost to the Service. Thirdly, supervisory positions above base-grade level are usually allocated only to permanent officers, and therefore cannot be occupied by married women, while temporary employment is generally confined to the base grade. As a result, an experienced officer in a supervisory position may, upon marriage, be re-employed in a subordinate base-grade temporary position, under the control of a less experienced single worrian. In preference to this, many such officers transfer to private employment where similar restrictions do not apply.

242. It is probable that a substantial proportion of women employees would resign on marriage even if this were not compulsory. But when the Service is short of qualified people, even the small proportionate losses entailed by the present section are scarcely justifiable, while there is an unknown additional loss of potential recruits from among married women and from single women who are deterred
by a knowledge of this section from seeking a career in the Service. This is at a time when increasing numbers of women are gaining professional or other qualifications for employment, and when employment is increasingly sought by married women, especially those without children, whose children have grown up, or who need to be breadwinners on their own account.

243. Apart from these considerations, section 49 reads strangely in a country which has adhered to the I.L.O. Convention for equal employment rights for men and women. We have aho been told that a U.N. Economic and Social Counci1 Report, prepared for the Commission on the Status of Women in 1951, indicated that at that time Australia was one of only 5 countries out of 44 supplying information, which had a "marriage bar" in their public service legislation. The United Kingdom Civil Service removed the "marriage bar" (in both the senses of our section 49) in 1946.

244. Section 49 was· inserted in the Act in 1922, replacing a similar section in the 1902 Act. The Committee considers that sub-sections (1) and (2) are now anachronistic and that limitation upon the employment of married women, rather than such employment itself, should be exceptional. However, we recognise that the regular employment of married. women would entail the extension of certain special privileges, such as confinement leave. The latter is already in force in the case of temporary employees. We also concede that special circumstances and possible changes in economic conditions might make it desirable, as a matter of policy, to limit the employment of married women at certain times and under certain circumstances.

We recommend, therefore, that sub-sections (1) and (2) of section 49 be repealed, und replaced by a sub-section providing. that married women shall be eligible for permanent or temporary employment in the Service on such terms and under such conditions as are prescribed.

245. Our attention has been drawn to certain further anomalies arising from inconsistencies, between the Public Service Act and the Superannuation Act, affecting married women, widows and divorcees. It seems likely that these deter at least some women from accepting or continuing employment in the Service.

246. The chief inconsistencies are between s.49 of the Public Smice Act and s.4c of the Commonwealth Superannuation Act. While the former Act permits the Public Service Board to employ married women or continue them in employment in special circumstances, the latter Act has denied superannuation rights to married women entering the Service since it was passed, and abrogated the rights of all female officers upon their marriage, even if the Board decides to continue them in employment. Again, section 33(1) of the Superannuation Act confers pension rights, on the children under 16 of widowed or divorced male officers, but not on those of female officers who are widows or divorcees.

247. The Committee recommends that consideration be given to amending the Superannuation Act to take account of these points, whether or not section 49 is amended.

If the marriage bar is deleted from the Public Service Act as we recommend in paragraph 244, we assume that it would follow automatically that the Superannuation Act would be amended accordingly.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018