Women's wages

Updated time

Last updated

20 December 2016

In The Rural Workers’ Union and The South Australian United Labourers' Union v. The Employers[1] the Court considered for the first time the question of how the Harvester ‘living’ or ‘family’ wage would be applied to women. It decided that where women were employed in work traditionally done by men and in which they were in competition with male workers, such as fruitpicking, they should be paid the full male minimum wage.  This principle effectively sought to protect what was regarded as the conventional breadwinners, namely males.  However, where women were employed in traditionally female areas or work, such as fruitpacking and millinary, they were to be paid a wage deemed sufficient to cover ‘the normal needs of a single women supporting herself by her own exertions’, for reasons including that they were not under a legal obligation to support a family.  Higgins J fixed this was at 54 per cent of the male basic wage, and after World War II this became 75 per cent of the male basic wage.  This lasted until 1972, when the Commission decided that both men and women should receive the same award wage.


[1] (1912) 6 CAR 61, Higgins J, President, 20 June 1912