The Victorian minimum wage [1896]

Updated time

Last updated

10 January 2017

Summary

[Extracted from: The Australian Minimum Wage 1907-2012, The Hon. Reg Hamilton, 2014, edited version of speech to Australian Labour Law Association 7th Biennial Conference 2014]

Victorian wages boards established under the Victorian Factories and Shops Act 1896 set the first minimum wage rates in Australia [The Victorian Factories and Shops Act 1896, No.1445, operative on 28 July 1896].

These only applied to the Victorian industries of: boots and shoes; articles of men’s and boy’s clothing; shirts; all articles of women’s and girl’s underclothing; bread-making or baking; and, later, furniture.

  • The minimum wage set by the Bread-Making Board was 1s an hour, effective April 1897.
  • The (Men’s) Clothing Board fixed 7s 6d per day for adult males and 3s 4d for adult females in October 1897.
  • The Boot and Shoe Board set 7s 6d per day for adult males and 3s 4d per day for females in November 1897, later reduced to 6s 8d for male clickers and 6s for all others.
  • The Board for Shifts, Collars, Cuffs etc fixed a rate in January 1898.
  • The Women’s and Girls’ Underclothing Board fixed a rate in June 1899.
  • The Furniture Board fixed a minimum wage of 7s 6d on 24 March 1897.
    [M.B. Hammond, 'Wages Boards in Australia', The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 29, No. 1  (Nov.1914), pp. 122-125]

Justice Higgins discussed rates fixed under the wages boards in his Harvester decision (Ex parte H.V. McKay (1907) 2 CAR 1 at pp. 8-9).

The Act set an overall minimum wage for any factory or work-room in the colony of Victoria of 2 shillings and sixpence per week to deal with the problem of young persons employed as learners or apprentices without any wages being paid to them [M.B. Hammond, 'Wages Boards in Australia', The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 29, No. 1  (Nov.1914), pp. 122-125, s.16].

Government inspectors initially claimed mixed success in ensuring that the minimum wages were actually paid [M. Rankin, Arbitration and conciliation in Australasia, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1916].

As other industrial tribunals were established (South Australia 1900, NSW 1901, Western Australia 1902, Commonwealth 1904, Queensland 1908, Tasmania 1910 [D. Nemark and W.L. Wascher, Minimum Wages, 2008 MIT, p.11]), they made awards setting minimum wages at various levels, often 6 shillings a day or 36 shillings a week, or lower.