Methods of wage adjustment

Updated time

Last updated

12 May 2017

The national workplace tribunal established and developed the Australian minimum wage system. Over the years, this tribunal was called:

  • the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration 1907–1956
  • the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission 1957–1973
  • the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission 1973–1988
  • the Australian Industrial Relations Commission 1988–2009
  • Fair Work Australia 2009–2012
  • the Fair Work Commission 2012 onwards.

The establishment and maintenance of the Australian minimum wage system by independent industrial tribunals is an important part of Australia’s economic and social history, and something that differentiates Australia as a country from both the US and UK[1]. Those countries established a minimum wage later, and it appears to have been of a lesser comparative importance.  The Australian minimum wage is a multi-level minimum wage based on skill and responsibility, which is unique to Australia.

The establishment of the minimum wage system was a key decision of the early Australian Commonwealth after Federation in 1901. Court decisions to reduce the minimum wage were part of Australia’s response to the Great Depression, while Court ordered increases played a role during the recovery from the Depression, and the post war recovery. The Commission’s decisions on the minimum wage sought to address the economic difficulties of the 1970s, and to promote reform of awards and workplaces in the 1980s and 1990s.

For over a hundred years the minimum wage provided employers and employees with a floor for wage rates, for employer labour costs and employee living standards, having regard to changing social and economic circumstances.


[1] W. K. Hancock, Australia, London: Ernest Benn, 1930; Geoffrey Blainey, A shorter history of Australia, William Heinemann Australia, Port Melbourne, Vic., 1994; See also Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1999; Edward Shann An Economic History of Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1930; Otto Foenander, Better employment relations and other essays in labour, Law Book Company, Sydney, 1954; or Joe Isaac and Stuart Macintyre, eds. The New Province for Law and Order, Cambridge University Press, 2004; and the Hon. Reg Hamilton, Waltzing Matilda and the Sunshine Harvester Factory, Fair Work Australia, 2010.


The author, the Hon. Reg Hamilton, Deputy President, Fair Work Commission, wishes to thank Joe Isaac and Keith Hancock for comments on an earlier version of the outline. © Reg Hamilton 2014