Welcome to the website of the Sir Richard Kirby Archives, an historic repository dedicated to preserving the history of the Fair Work Commission and its predecessor bodies.
Based at the Fair Work Commission's Melbourne headquarters, 11 Exhibition Street, the archives contains a range of material including documents, photographs and oral history interviews. It is overseen by the National Archivist, the Hon. Reg Hamilton, Deputy President, who also runs an exhibition program.
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Australia's national workplace relations tribunal was first established as the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration with the passage of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904.
Since that time the institution has evolved in line with substantial legislative, social and economic changes. The most recent development is the passage of the Fair Work Act 2009 and the establishment of Fair Work Australia, renamed the Fair Work Commission by the Fair Work Amendment Act 2012.
Waltzing Matilda & the Sunshine Harvester Factory
Waltzing Matilda and the Sunshine Harvester Factory is a history resource for the general reader and for secondary and tertiary students, published by Fair Work Australia (now the Fair Work Commission) in 2011. It discusses the early history of the Arbitration Court, the Australian minimum wage, working hours and paid leave, including:
- the reasons why the Australian Parliament established the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in 1904
- the establishment by the Court of a minimum wage, beginning with the Harvester decision of 1907 that 7 shillings a day for an unskilled labourer was 'fair and reasonable wages'
- the later change in the 1960s and 1970s to equal award pay for women and Aboriginal stockmen, and the development of special lower minimum wages for adolescents and apprentices, and
- the gradual development of sick leave, annual leave, maternity and paternity leave in the 1930s–1990s.
The book is supported by a dedicated website providing access to a range of educational materials and resources for teachers and students, including a special section for teachers to enable the book to be taught.
The documentary film Waltzing Matilda and the Sunshine Harvester Factory was launched in August 2012 by the Honourable Bill Shorten, MP, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.
The film deals with the material covered in the book of the same name. The documentary is available for free download from our educational resource website. DVD versions of the documentary can be purchased from Commission offices.
The Fair Work Commission Library is a dedicated workplace relations and law library based in Melbourne.
Its collection dates back to the early 1900s and includes:
- Commonwealth Arbitration Reports
- law reports and industrial gazettes from all Australian jurisdictions, and
- old English law reports.
The library has copying facilities and also houses the Sir Richard Kirby Archives and its associated educational displays.
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Comparison of 100 Years of the US, UK and Australian minimum wage systems
A working paper entitled One Hundred Years of Dynamic Minimum Wage Regulation: Lessons from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, by the Honourable Reg Hamilton, and Matt Nichol, examines 100 years of operation of the Australian, the United Kingdom and the United States minimum wage systems, and provides a comparison.
Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, established minimum wage systems in response to sweated labour in the late 1890s and early 1900s. These systems had common origins in the Victorian Shops and Factories Act 1896 (Vic) in the then British colony of Victoria.
All three jurisdictions passed similar laws to allow trade or wages boards to set industry or sectoral wages. This article examines how the minimum wage systems in all three countries evolved in response to social, political, economic and legal factors and provides a comparison of the historical minimum wage rates in graph 1 in the appendix.
The ACTU and AiGroup have provided a commentary on the history from the point of view of trade unions, and industry:
Further commentaries are available below:
- A Comment – Keith Hancock AO (PDF), former Senior Deputy President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission
- Commentary – Arthur Pearlstein (PDF), Director of Arbitration for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, USA
 Keith Hancock, Australian Wage Policy, Infancy and Adolescence (2013) 5; E.H. Phelps Brown, The Growth of British Industrial Relations: A Study from the Standpoint of 1906-14 (1959) 206-207; United States Minimum Wage Study Commission, Report of the US Minimum Wage Study Commission, volume 1 (1981) 2; David Neumark and William L. Wascher, Minimum Wages (2008) 12.