Retail Furnishing and Allied Trades Wages Council

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Wages Councils were independent tripartite bodies established by statute which had the function of establishing minimum wages and other conditions for employees in certain sectors of the economy. They were made up of representatives of both sides of industry, together with independent members whose function was to conciliate between the two sides and, where agreement could not be reached, to vote in favour of one side or the other. The Orders of Wages Councils had the force of law. The Wages Councils were thus the basis for the selective minimum wage regulation which operated in Britain. They had their origin in the Trade Boards Act 1909, which provided for the fixing of minimum wages where "the rate of wages prevailing in any branch of the trade was exceptionally low, compared with that in other employments". Subsequent legislation allowed the Boards to fix overtime rates and, importantly, holiday entitlement and then other terms and conditions of employment. This legislation was consolidated in the Wages Councils Act 1979. By the late 1980s there were 26 Wages Councils operating in Britain (a similar system operated in Northern Ireland), covering over 2 million employees, the vast majority of whom are employed in retailing, miscellaneous services (especially hairdressing) and clothing. The minimum rates set by the Wages Councils were low compared with the rates of pay in other sectors and research found that there is a serious problem of underpayment. The provisions were policed by the Wages Inspectorate but sanctions were little used in practice. The Conservative government regarded Wages Councils as unnecessary and an interference with employers' freedom to set wages, and favoured their abolition for many years. The scope of the Wages Councils was reduced by the Wages Act 1986 , which removed workers under 21 from regulation and restricted the Councils to setting a single minimum hourly rate, a single overtime rate and a limit for accommodation charges. In order to introduce the changes made by the Wages Act 1986 the government notified the ILO of its intention to withdraw from Convention No 26, which requires the creation and maintenance of wage fixing machinery. The Wages Councils were finally abolished by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993 , leaving the Agricultural Wages Board as the only remaining body providing a statutory minimum wage.

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