The Harvester Judgement 1907

In the Federal Court of Conciliation & Arbitration, Judge Henry Bournes Higgins in 1907 handed down the most famous judgement in Australia's Industrial History. It became know as the "Harvester Judgement" and set the "Fair & Reasonable Wage" for Australian workers.

 

H.V. McKay had argued in court for an exception from an excise tariff on agricultural manufacturers who were benefiting from imported products must pay their workers a fair & reasonable wage but the wage level was never defined anywhere.

Judge Higgins determined the standard for a fair & reasonable wage by determining the cost of living that was required to live in "a condition of frugal comfort" including proper food and water, shelter and rest, clothing and fuel. He determined the figure of 1 pound - 12 shillings - 5 pence by averaging the list of nine housekeeping women's weekly expenditure.

The day after this decision H.V. McKay closed his factory and discharged his 500 employees.

 

A challenge went to the Australia High Court and in June 1908 a majority of the five judges ruled the "Harvester Act" was invalided. H.V. McKay had won the challenge but the "Harvester Judgement" in the long term set how Australia would determine what was a fair and reasonable wage level.