Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Schnaars, Stephen Frederick (1907–1980)

by Bobbie Oliver

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Stephen Frederick Schnaars (1907-1980), industrial commissioner, was born on 16 December 1907 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, second of four children of South Australian-born parents James Schnaars, silverminer, and his wife Martha Harriet, née Rickard. The family moved to Western Australia where Fred was educated at Albany State and Albany District High schools. During the 1930s he was secretary of several small trade unions, including the Western Australian branch of the Merchant Service Guild of Australasia and the Coach, Car and Rolling Stock Builders' Union. From 1938 he appeared before the Western Australian Court of Arbitration as an industrial advocate for various unions. In 1947 he became the employees' representative in that court. On 23 April 1949 he was appointed a conciliation commissioner. After (Sir) David Brand's government replaced the Arbitration Court with the Western Australian Industrial Commission, Schnaars was made chief industrial commissioner on 24 January 1964. He was to serve for only four years before resigning in January 1968 on the grounds of ill health.

As an advocate Schnaars had been competent; as an industrial commissioner he gained a reputation for firmness and fairness. He maintained links with union officials, among them Paddy Troy, secretary of the West Australian branch of the militant Federated Ship Painters' and Dockers' Union of Australia, from whom he sometimes sought advice on cases. Schnaars was proud of his willingness to 'go anywhere to inspect a claim'. While he was conciliation commissioner, he responded to Troy's challenge to don a diving-suit and inspect the bottom of Fremantle harbour before making a judgement on an award claim by divers. According to one version of events, he panicked under water and was pulled up 'almost expired from fear and exhaustion'. In 1960 he reinstated eight trade unionists whom the Fremantle Harbour Trust had suspended for refusing to work on a ship that had been refitted at sea. He could also be tough. In a similar case in 1963 he ordered the striking union to return to work. When bus drivers and conductors had applied for a new award in 1961, he departed from court precedent to grant male workers an increased margin, but refused to grant conductresses the male wage, despite acknowledging that they did the same work as conductors.

Schnaars' appointment as chief industrial commissioner was seen by some as an attempt by the ruling Liberal-Country Party to placate a union movement hostile to the government's sweeping changes to the industrial system. As the State's most experienced arbitrator, however, his selection was a pragmatic one. On his retirement, Schnaars was praised by Brand for his 'sense of impartiality and responsibility'. In 1968 he was appointed C.B.E.

Pictured in his mid-forties, Schnaars had a good-natured face, with a wide mouth and large ears. In later life he wore spectacles. He enjoyed bowls and swimming. At the Presbyterian Church, East Fremantle, on 8 October 1938 he had married Isabella Munro Lindsay, a 32-year-old clerk. After her death in 1970, he moved to Heathmont, Melbourne. On 21 February 1972 at the office of the government statist he married Patricia June Hood, née Peck, a widow who had previously changed her surname to Schnaars by deed poll. Survived by his wife, he died on 3 June 1980 at Croydon and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Macintyre, Militant (Syd, 1984)
  • Western Australian Industrial Gazette, 29, 1949, 43, 1963/64, pt 4
  • West Australian, 8 Dec 1967, 1 Jan 1968, 6 June 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

Bobbie Oliver, 'Schnaars, Stephen Frederick (1907–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/schnaars-stephen-frederick-11630/text20773, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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