AbstractDeposited with permission of Australian Historical Studies
With the 1896 Factories and Shops Act, the Victorian legislature took a pioneering step towards wage regulation in manufacturing industry. The new Act established six Wages Boards to cover furniture-making, baking, bootmaking and three branches of the clothing trades. Each Board was to comprise equal numbers of employer and employee representatives under a ???neutral??? chairman with a casting vote, and each was equipped with power to specify mandatory minimum wage levels and the proportions of learners to be employed in its trade. As is well known, the measure was less the brainchild of the labour movement than of the liberal Christian small-bourgeois and professionals of the Anti-Sweating League. The liberal anti-sweaters had a restricted vision of the prevailing economic crisis. They sought particularist, moralistic explanations for the misery engulfing the working class in the 1890s, and fashioned their legislation accordingly. They attributed the near-universal erosion of wage standards to the greed of a small number of unscrupulous employers who had taken advantage of the glut of labour to reduce wages, undercutting the business of the respectable majority and eventually compelling them to follow suit. The solution seemed straightforward: the state should provide a neutral ground on which employers and employees could meet and, through collective bargaining, formulate a common attack on the unscrupulous minority. Only the sweaters would suffer: wages would rise, the domestic market would revive, profits and employment would increase, and all men of good will would prosper.
Lee, J. (1987). A re-division of labour: Victoria's Wages Boards in action. Historical Studies, 22(88), 352-372.