McKay Wages Book

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Section of wages book showing blacksmith Thomas Kippie's pay rate increasing from 5 shillings 8 pence in 1906 to 6 shillings immediately following the decision in November 1907.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria, object on loan from University of Melbourne Archives

For most of the twentieth century, Australia would lead the world in setting standards of living.

In 1907 the 'Harvester Judgement' set Australia’s first national wages standard.  This is the wages book for the company at the centre of the case, H.V McKay’s Sunshine Harvester Works; one of the biggest companies in Australia manufacturing agricultural machinery.

In a test case to balance the interests of industry against those of its workers, Justice Higgins of the new Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Court interviewed workers and their wives to determine, in light of the cost of living, what were 'fair and reasonable wages' for an employer to pay.

The ruling became commonly known as the Harvester Judgement after the Sunshine Harvester which was manufactured at the factory. 

The wage for unskilled labourers was set at seven shillings a day (up from six), with an extra allowance for overtime. The wages book documents the increase in labourer’s wages (in red) after the judgment was handed down.