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The Impact of the 1896 Factory and Shops Act on the Labor Market of Victoria, Australia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2018

Andrew J. Seltzer
Professor, Department of Economics, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham TW20 0EX, United Kingdom. E-mail:
Jeff Borland
Professor, Department of Economics, University of Melbourne, Victoria 2010, Australia. E-mail:


This article examines the effects of the Victorian Factory and Shops Act, the first minimum wage law in Australia. The Act differed from modern minimum wage laws in that it established Special Boards, which set trade-specific minimum wage schedules. We use trade-level data on average wages and employment by gender and age to examine the effects of minimum wages. Although the minimum wages were binding, we find that the effects on employment were modest, at best. We speculate that this was because the Special Boards, which were comprised of industry insiders, closely matched the labor market for their trades.

© 2018 The Economic History Association. All rights reserved. 

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We wish to thank Steph Brophy for research assistance and André Sammartino for drawing our attention to the data used in this paper. Andrew Seltzer wishes to acknowledge funding from the Economic History Society’s Carnevali Small Research Grants Scheme. We have also benefitted from comments by the editor; two anonymous referees; and participants at seminars at the London School of Economics, Royal Holloway College, and University of Melbourne and at the Australia/New Zealand Economic History Society Conference in Canberra, the Economic History Society Conference in Telford, and the World Economic History Congress in Kyoto.


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