The Quest for Fairness in Australian Minimum Wages

Joshua Healy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    The attainment of 'fairness' is widely regarded as a worthy goal of setting minimum wages, but opinions differ sharply over how to achieve it. This article examines how interpretations of fairness shaped the minimum wage decisions of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission between 1997 and 2005. It explores the Commission's approaches to three aspects of fairness in minimum wages: first, eligibility for increases; second, the form of increase; and third, the rate of increase over time. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission consistently gave minimum wage increases that were expressed in dollar values and applied to all federal awards. Its decisions delivered real wage increases for the lowest paid, but led to falls in real and relative wages for the majority of award-reliant workers. Fair Work Australia, the authority now responsible for setting minimum wages in the national system, appears apprehensive about parts of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's legacy and has foreshadowed a different approach, particularly with respect to the form of adjustment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)662-680
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Industrial Relations
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


    • Australia
    • fairness
    • living standards
    • minimum wages
    • safety net


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