The first minimum wage: The Victorian minimum wage

Updated time

Last updated

05 September 2016

During the 1890s anti-sweating leagues were established by protestant reformers to campaign against poor working conditions. Parliamentary inquiries led to legislation to remedy these problems. 

The Victorian Wages Boards established under the Victorian Factories and Shops Act 1896 set the first minimum wage rates in Australia, except for section 16 of the Act. Section 16 of the Act provided:

"No person whosoever unless in receipt of a weekly wage of at least two shillings and six pence shall be employed in any factory or work-room".

Government inspectors had some difficulties initially in enforcing the laws. The Chief Inspector of Factories complained in 1897 that:

“A great difficulty that arises in connexion with nearly all prosecutions is that employees are required as witnesses, and the usual result is that they are dismissed.”

The following minimum wage rates were applied to these Victorian industries:

  • The Bread-Making Board set their minimum wage at 1 shilling an hour.
  • The Men’s Clothing Board fixed 7 shilling 6 pence per day for adult males and 3 shillings and 4 pence for adult females.
  • The Boot and Shoe Board set the same, but later reduced to 6 shillings 8 pence for male clickers and 6 shillings for all others.
  • The Furniture Board fixed a minimum wage of 7 shilling 6 pence.

1900: The Victorian Printers Operatives Union group with banner