Marxist Interventions

Gender, age and class
in the hospitality industry, Victoria, 1900-1914

By LOUISE WALKER [email protected]

(This essay is based on an honours’ thesis entitled: "Beers, Bed and Board: Industrial Behaviour Around the Victorian Hotel and Liquor Industry Wages Boards, 1900-1914", Department of History, Monash University, 1995.)

The development of the Victorian wages boards cannot be adequately understood without an analysis of employer and union approaches to arbitration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. P.G. Macarthy and Patricia Davey have argued that the Melbourne capitalist class were generally opposed to the introduction of state regulated wage fixation, until intervention through the more powerful federal system became a distinct threat. Davey and Macarthy have demonstrated how employers acted as a united group in the production process. Still, there were a variety of ways in which they pursued profit within the context of wages boards which also highlight important divisions between them, and differences in outcomes for their workers. For Victorian labour leaders compulsory conciliation and arbitration was the preferred option, and the wages board system which was established in Victoria in 1896 was a poor alternative.

After years of being the less powerful partner in the wage-bargaining process, Macarthy and Davey argue, Victorian employers were loathe to give up the improved position which followed the changed economic circumstances of the early 1890s. They also opposed a universal minimum wage on the grounds that it would exacerbate unemployment and encourage price inflation. They maintained that responsible wage fixation must rest upon ‘the capacity of each industry to pay.’ This argument held considerable sway in the labour movement, as

unionists attitudes were strongly conditioned by the ‘truisms’ of economic theory of the time. So long as the wage cost unemployment correlation was accepted uncritically, unionists, bound by their own convictions, could not sponsor an absolute universal minimum wage.

In accordance with this ‘iron law’ of wages, prices and employment levels, the 1896 Factories and Shops Act which governed the Victorian wages boards stipulated that wages be set separately for each ‘trade.’ Macarthy demonstrates that labour and union leaders’ beliefs in the concept of ‘mutuality of interests’ between employers and workers served Victorian employers well.

Most labour historians locate the movement of Australian unions towards arbitration amongst the remains of the bitter class battles of the early 1890s. Brian Fitzpatrick suggests that arbitration was a result of a class war which the mass unions lost. Fitzpatrick’s view stresses the shackling of workers’ organisations in the wake of their crushing defeat. Robin Gollan adopts a similar view, although he contends that labour leaders and sections of the working class were co-opted, at least for some time. John Rickard also notes the ambivalence which labour leaders displayed toward state intervention in the traditionally more direct process of wage negotiation.

Both Patricia Davey and Stuart Macintyre point also to the mobilisation of middle class opinion in the anti-sweating campaign. In 1893 Melbourne newspaper the Age revitalised concern about the poor wages and working conditions endured particularly by women and juveniles employed in the textile and clothing industries. Deputations to conservative Premier Patterson by the Wesleyan Central Mission led to a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry regarding ‘the extent and effects of the sweating evil in Melbourne factories.’ Persistent agitation by the Anti-Sweating League, Trades Hall Council, the Australian Natives Association, and to a lesser extent religious bodies and feminist groups, maintained pressure on the Patterson and Peacock governments to intervene on behalf of women and children working in industries affected by poor wages and conditions. Most of the groups and individuals who engaged in public discussion about humanitarian reform of the Victorian economy subscribed to a common set of ideas which Macintyre has described as ‘colonial liberalism.’ No longer ‘oppositional as in Britain, but a ‘constructive endeavour,’ colonial liberalism endorsed active state intervention in the interests of social harmony and material development.

As an ardent advocate of this new, creative liberalism, David Syme’s Age promoted the virtues of the proposed wages boards system. The original purpose of the legislation which created the first six wages boards in 1896 was to help ‘those who cannot help themselves - the young children and the women,’ including outworkers. Victorian minister Alexander Peacock felt that working class men stood ‘on an entirely different basis to women,’ and designed the 1896 Factories and Shops Amendment Bill accordingly.

Implicit in the Act was the belief that the relationship between most workers and employers should not be interfered with. But after the introduction of wages boards the Age, Trades Hall and the Anti-sweating League increasingly sought to regulate wages for low-paid workers of both sexes. For these ‘new liberals’

it was no longer enough merely to proscribe unacceptable employment practices and leave the worker to bargain with the legitimate employer, the law should bring all workers into its ambit and lay down a general minimum. ... The prohibition of exceptional abuses as an adjunct to moral suasion had been superseded by a direct and general legislation.

According to Jenny Lee, the processes of the early wages boards ‘shed a considerable amount of light ... on the internal structure and politics of the working class.’ Lee claims that male unionists’ attempts to alter the division of labour in factories caused an ‘employer backlash’ against the Victorian wages boards between 1896 and 1903. Male unionists found support for their project more from small craft shop proprietors than from large, capital-intensive manufacturers, and ‘potential allies’ among many of the board chairmen. Lee contends that this ‘alliance’ was

support for working men in the name of support for the working class. Here we have a situation that broadly accords with Heidi Hartmann’s argument for the centrality of the family wage in the reconciliation of capitalism and patriarchy. The family wage, backed by ‘protective’ legislation, and in this case a thoroughgoing intervention in the division of labour represented a bargain struck between male workers and certain capitalists (though not, it must be noted, the capitalist class as a whole).

Lee’s argument rests on a social model that sees working class men’s and women’s interests in the workplace as fundamentally antagonistic. Although I disagree with that suggestion, my project only allows me to demonstrate the inadequacy of her argument in relation to the hotel and liquor industry between 1900 and 1914. But even if we accept Lee’s suggestion that working class men’s and women’s interests are antagonistic, the idea that between 1896 and 1903 Victorian wages boards delivered the power required for male trade unionists to influence the organisation of production in their own interests, as against the interests of women workers, remains to be demonstrated. Patricia Davey has found that it was not until after 1910 that apprenticeship restrictions applied by the wages boards were able to control the supply of cheap juvenile labour. Furthermore, wages boards covered only 39 percent of Victorian manufacturing workers in 1903 - the cut-off date for Lee’s investigation - and wages boards did not extend beyond manufacturing until 1910. Any ‘reconciliation’ between capitalism and a ‘patriarchy’ which might have formed a basis of wages board determinations in 1903 could therefore only apply to a small portion of the Victorian economy. Even in 1911 only 13.5 percent of paid Victorian workers came under the jurisdiction of a board.

In the 1970s, sociologists Michael Reich, David Gordon and Richard Edwards developed an influential structuralist-marxist theory of the emergence of ‘fractures’ in the American working class. They emphasise the organisation of productive forces in American capitalism in creating segmented labour markets: in their opinion ‘it is incorrect to view the sources of segmented markets as exogenous’ to the organisation of productive forces. A strength of this theory lies in the suggestion that divisions between workers are socially produced, and furthermore, that they ‘arise not from market forces themselves’ - a response to the liberal idea that the most suited individual worker gets the job - ‘but rather from the underlying uses of labour power.’ Richard Edwards also emphasises the role that trade unions have played from time to time in encouraging the segmentation of particular labour markets. Increasingly aware of the tension between structure and agency in social theory, Edwards takes care to point out that

[t]he evolution of economic life has tended to segment the working class, but the experience, ‘social practices,’ and political behavior of each fraction cannot be understood as simply an expression of these economic realities. Indeed, as recent historical scholarship has emphasized ... the working class creates for itself a complex and multifaceted reality in which culture, family patterns, ethnicity, and tradition all play central parts.

I make no claim here that an analysis of the organisation of productive forces in the early twentieth century Victorian hotel and liquor industry can alone account for divisions between its workers. On the contrary, I argue that such an analysis can only ever provide a partial explanation for working class formation. But the uses of labour power in the industry did play a significant role in producing divisions amongst hotel and liquor workers. These uses had a basis in the capitalist demand for profitability, and varied according to the intensity of capital-investment and competition in each sector.

Segmentation in the hotel and liquor industry workforce according to the varying economic characteristics of the different sectors cannot explain the differences in wage rates between groups of workers within each segment. Broad explanations for divisions by gender, ‘race’ and age in the Victorian hotel and liquor industry are beyond the scope of this study. But any resolution to this question must acknowledge that, as employers and unionists came to an agreement about the price at which labour power would be sold, they always interpreted the value of labour within a set of shared ideas about sex, ‘race’ and age. Most often it was agreed that the labour of women, juveniles and non-whites was of a lesser value than the work of white men. Ensuring a pool of cheap female and juvenile labour was a central characteristic of employer activity on the hotel and liquor wages boards, and this was, of course, crucial to profit maximisation.

Within the confines of maintaining industry profitability, the perceived needs of the male breadwinner and/or the allegedly greater value of men’s labour to the employer, were always primary determinants of wage relativities within a segment, irrespective of the actual productivity of other workers. On the whole, male trade unionists failed to challenge employer’s ability to pay women and children much lower wages than men. Just as trade unions largely remained captives of bourgeois economics, they were also, broadly, trapped within dominant ideas about sex, ‘race’ and age. In this period, the equal pay campaign conducted mainly by a section of Trades Hall’s female officials began to challenge women’s (though not juveniles’) lowly position in this hierarchy. They presented Victorian trade unionists with some alternative ideas for ‘raising the standard of life.’

As I show in the following pages, between 1900 and 1905 most employers in the Victorian hotel and liquor industry, like Victorian employers more generally, were hostile to the establishment of wages boards. But employers in the hotel and liquor industry were fractured in significant ways, and these divisions were reflected in the differing positions they took up over the basis upon which wages, conditions and levels of cheap labour might be determined. It is important to emphasise the divisions here because differences are usually ignored in histories of employer arbitration practices. Large concerns like Carlton Brewery used the Brewers’ Board to force their smaller competitors to pay the same wages their own workers already received. On the other hand, employers in the relatively under-capitalised and labour-intensive sectors of aerated water and cordial production and hotels and restaurants, employed a variety of methods to hold wages down. The existence of divisions amongst employers over how best to deal with arbitration corresponds with Trevor Matthews’ argument that ‘[f]ragmentation and the lack of organisational unity have always been the hallmarks of business and employer representation in Australia.’ Economists and scholars of industrial relations have for the last 20 years been arguing about why employers have less need for organised collective action than workers. But as Matthews points out,

arguments based on the class logic of collective action or the necessarily centrifugal effects of business competitiveness are in themselves unable to explain national variations in effective business mobilisation. Other factors need to be brought into the analysis, in particular the institutional and historical context in which business operates.

I have taken up Matthews’ call for history in this study. I argue that understanding the early years of the wages board system in the liquor and hotel industry involves recognising both that different groups of employers had varying uses for labour power, as labour market segmentation theorists emphasise, and that a sometimes combative urban trade union movement participated in defining the basis on which that labour power was bought and sold, albeit that they did so on a less than equal footing with employers. Where employers generally demanded that ‘fair’ wages must be determined according to the ‘ability of the industry to pay,’ trade unionists increasingly demanded that the ‘needs of the worker’ - the adult male worker - be taken into account. In doing so, unions in the liquor and hotel industry both contributed to and availed themselves of the broad movement for workplace reform which had been underway in Australia since the 1880s.

Between 1900 and 1914, unions in the manufacturing sector of the hotel and liquor industry met with greater success in raising wages than in the service sector. In chapter one I argue that brewery workers’ relatively high wages and ‘skilled’ status were possible because of the profitability of that sector, boosted by productivity increases during the period. In this sector boys, rather than women and girls, were the source of cheap labour, and brewers were prepared to limit their employment to the extent that it suited the large city firms. In chapter two I show that the mostly male workers engaged in the production of aerated water and cordial fought against low wages and cheap juvenile labour with less success. Because aerated water manufacturing in Victoria was highly competitive, and profitability was much lower than in brewing, employers were able to convince the Victorian government that they were ‘unable to pay’ the rates enjoyed by brewery workers. But in 1913 (adult male) aerated water carters were more successful than factory hands in securing ‘skilled’ status increased wages and occupational closure against boys, most likely because they were able to pursue a vigorous and sustained industrial campaign with the support of other members of the Liquor Trades Union and the Carters’ and Drivers’ Union, and because of their pivotal position within aerated water manufacturing. Chapter three is devoted to analysing industrial relations in hotels, restaurants and boarding houses, which, like the aerated water ‘trade,’ was an under-capitalised sector of the industry. Women worked in these establishments in large numbers, and they met a united effort by employers to keep wage increases to an absolute minimum. Women’s and girls’ wages remained the lowest of any workers in the industry, and it is difficult to ascertain if the establishment of a wages board improved their position at all.

In each ‘trade,’ then, some economic characteristics were different, and these differences help to explain the variations in industrial behaviour around the boards. They also help to explain the differences in wage outcomes for the various brewery, aerated water and service workers in the hotel and liquor industry. To a certain extent, claims to ‘skill’ status also varied according to the economic factors outlined. Brewers accepted the ‘skill’ title for their workers. On the whole, however, aerated water and cordial manufacturers did not, except in the case of carters who fought hard to achieve it and gained the increased remuneration attendant to the title. Hotelkeepers and restaurateurs rarely considered their workers to be skilled. Of course, accompanying the occupations in each sector was a wage hierarchy, with a small number of comparatively highly-paid journeymen (and occasionally women) at the top. My arguments regarding ‘skill’ refer to the majority of workers in those hierarchies.

Once in an occupation, gender was obviously still important to achieving the ‘skill’ title, not least of all because union support for the claim was more readily available to male trade unionists. Once again, however, gender alone cannot account for success in achieving ‘skill’ status, as large numbers of adult men, as well as women, worked in occupations which were always seen by their employers as ‘unskilled.’ Scholars such as John Shields are correct to point out that politics between men and women workers does not solely determine success in claiming the title of ‘skill.’ In the Victorian hotel and liquor industry in the early twentieth century, as in the building industry in New South Wales in the 1880s, occupational closure was ‘directed far more against male workers, particularly young males, than against females.’ My analysis indicates the inadequacy of Jenny Lee’s claim that the Victorian wages board system represented a ‘reconciliation between capitalism and patriarchy,’ structurally defined. The history of the Victorian hotel and liquor industry demonstrates the need for a reappraisal of the operation of the wages board system in Victoria.

Without ‘hostility’ or ‘acrimony’: the Brewers’ Wages Board, 1900-1912.

The first application for a wages board to cover brewery workers came from the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Employés Association in September 1900. It took eleven months before the board was approved by the Victorian Legislative Assembly, and a further seven months before the first determination of the Brewers’ Board (Brewers’ Board) came into operation. During this time the application was hotly contested by many employers, and the union finally agreed to the recommendation of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Shops, Harrison Ord, that applications for separate wages boards be lodged to cover workers involved in the production of beer and bottled ale, and those employed in making malt liquor.

While the peak employer body, the VEF, opposed government interference in the wage fixing process, brewery proprietors were far from united over the question. Divisions between country and city brewers, and between the large enterprises and their smaller competitors, effected the way different brewers approached the board. Before considering the actions of employers and unions on the board, it is necessary to appreciate some aspects of the industry which were significant in shaping industrial behaviour. Throughout the period under review, brewing involved more capital than the manufacture of either malt liquor or of aerated water and cordial. The latter required the most labour for the amount of capital invested in production. Due to a lack of statistics, it is impossible to gauge which workers of our three sectors were the most productive. Nevertheless, it is clear that Victorian brewery workers were increasingly productive between 1903 and 1913, apart from a drop between 1905 and 1907. In fact, between 1903 and 1913 the overall productivity of Victorian brewery workers increased by 42.8 percent.

These figures are highly aggregated, so considerable difference in size between Victorian brewers is hidden. The largest was Carlton Brewery Ltd, which in 1906/07 dominated the ‘big six’ that amalgamated to form Carlton and United Breweries Pty Ltd. The company had amalgamated at least 12 breweries from its inception in 1858. Of the six enterprises which formed this public company in 1906, Carlton received £320,000 of the total £800,000 in shares which were allocated to each brewery in proportion to the size of their sales. The two smallest operations, Shamrock Brewing and Malting Co., and the Foster Brewing Co. Pty Ltd each received £58,000 in shares. If these were the ‘big six’ Victorian brewers, we can assume that the other 36 brewers operating in 1907 were smaller than Shamrock and Foster. The process by which Victorian brewing was increasingly being monopolised had been underway for some time. In 1871 there were 126 colonial breweries, 80 percent of which operated out of the goldfields. By 1898 there were 51 colonial brewers - 60 percent had either gone out of business, or had been taken over by more successful competitors. In 1912 there were just 29 brewers in Victoria.

That Carlton dominated Victorian brewing is apparent from a perusal of the employers’ journal, The Australian Brewers’ Journal. References to and articles about the brewery were very common. The journal, printed in Victoria, was a rallying point for the larger Australian brewing interests, and the co-operation which it urged was doubtless in their interests. In an article entitled ‘Union is Strength’ in the June 1901 edition, the editor lamented that in the late nineteenth century Victorian brewing

was sadly disorganised. The country was in dread of the town, and brewers in town were making constant raids on each other. Like patriots of an invaded country, however, town and country have come together shoulder to shoulder to stand up for their rights, liberties, and interests of the trade at large.

He was applauding the creation of a new organisation designed to combat what the brewers viewed as illegitimate interference in ‘the trade’ by both state and federal governments. Apart from the threat of expanding industrial legislation, laws which might alter trading relations between themselves and the hotels that sold their beer and other drinks was also a possibility (discussed below). The federal government was also beginning to regulate the health standards of food and beverages, and the health and safety of all factories and commercial buildings was coming under increasing scrutiny. Victorian brewers and publicans also viewed the temperance movement’s call for ‘local option polls’ as a great danger, as they threatened to reduce the number of hotels in Melbourne considerably.

It appears that during the first decade of the twentieth century Victorian hotelkeepers came increasingly under the financial influence of Melbourne’s brewers. The strongest evidence of this trend came in 1905 with the tabling of the Report of the Select Committee on Tied Houses. There were a number of different methods by which a hotel could be ‘tied’ to a brewer, but all such arrangements had a common element: in return for cash advances from the brewery either to establish or keep a hotel in operation, the publican would exclusively sell the creditor’s beer products. While a large percentage of the business of some breweries came from ‘tied’ houses, other brewers had little capital invested in hotels. For example, of the 500 or 600 Melbourne hotels which Carlton Brewery Ltd supplied in 1905, some 228 were ‘tied.’ McCracken’s Brewery supplied 300 hotels with beer, of which approximately 100 were ‘tied.’ A smaller number of hotels were also ‘tied’ to aerated water and cordial manufacturers. But Montague Cohen, solicitor of the Melbourne Brewers’ Association, and a director of Foster’s, testified that the firm had benefited from the bad financial experiences of brewers with large investments in hotels, and consequently had only one ‘tied’ house on the books. According to T.L. Parker, the Manager of Carlton, brewers experienced ‘heavy losses on the tied trade.’ He estimated that in 1905 the brewery had been forced to write off about £250,000 in capital just from investing in overpriced ‘tied’ houses. So the ‘tied’ house system was a double-edged sword for the breweries. On the one hand, it provided a sure market for their products, but accompanying this was a significant financial risk, especially in periods of economic decline. Still, brewers who had ‘tied’ houses gained considerable leverage over a large number of Melbourne’s hotels.

In October 1901, the 34 Melbourne brewers and ale bottlers employed 553 men and boys. Only 13 of these employers were in favour of the establishment of a wages board. However, public supporters of the application included Carlton, who employed 488 hands, or almost 90 per cent of Melbourne’s brewery workers. On 9 October 1901, the Age published the following letter from T.L. Parker, the manager of Carlton Brewery:

It is rumored that the brewery employes of Victoria contemplate taking steps to have their position defined and their remuneration regulated by the Factories Act. It is also rumored that certain brewery proprietors are opposed to the men availing themselves of the provisions of the act. To prevent any misunderstanding as to the position of this company, will you permit me to state that we heartily sympathise with every legitimate effort by the working man to obtain adequate wages for the services rendered by him; and that should brewery employes desire to secure benefits which they may be found fairly entitled, this company will cordially assist them to do so?

Of course, the attitude displayed toward brewery workers in this letter cannot be accepted as mere generous sentiment. Undoubtedly Carlton’s board recognised that a public pro-wages board stance would make breweries opposed to the board vulnerable to charges of ‘sweating.’ The brewer also stood to enjoy an improved competitive position if their ‘sweating’ competitors were forced to pay adult male labourers the minimum wage Carlton already observed. It seems likely that Carlton Brewery also stood to gain from the introduction of uniform wages in Victoria. In the letter requesting the board, the union presented wages probably paid by Carlton as the ‘fair’ benchmark to which the rest of the industry should be forced to adhere:

in some firms where the ratio of wages of 30/- 40/- & 45/- per week prevail for certain classes of work, in other firms the same class of work is [sic] being executed for 20/- 30/- & 32/6 per week. This we believe to be manifestly unfair to the Employer that will not descend to the depth of his fellow sweating competitor ...

Accompanying the union’s application was a letter from the Secretary of the Board of Directors at Castlemaine Brewery, which had been sought by the Acting Secretary of the employees’ union. Demonstrating that a fairly close relationship was still enjoyed between unions and employers in the brewing industry in 1900, the directors of Castlemaine Brewery offered ‘hearty support and cooperation’ to ‘every movement which has for its object the promotion of harmony and good will between the company and its employées.’ But the close relationship between Castlemaine and the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Employés Association was delicately balanced. At a half-yearly meeting of the company’s shareholders on 29 January 1902, the Chairman of the Board of Directors and member of the Legislative Council, Mr N. Fitzgerald, threatened to sack young boys and old employees if brewing and maltsting were brought under the Factories and Shops Act. After all, Fitzgerald reasoned, ‘the directors, as trustees for the shareholders, were obliged to see that they got the best value for their money.’ The Victorian Premier, Sir Alexander Peacock, publicly criticised Fitzgerald for his ‘astonishing statements,’ but simultaneously reassured employers that provision had been made in the act for aged and slow workers to continue to be employed at rates ‘below the minimum.’ By continually reinforcing the supposed correlation between wage costs and unemployment, the public debate over the wages boards provided Victorian employers and public commentators with further opportunities to define and redefine the vague distinction between ‘sweated’ and ‘fair’ wages.

Some two months prior to the gazetting of the first determination, the monthly Australian Brewers’ Journal tried to distance brewers from the ‘sweated employer’ label:

The view the brewers take of the Wages Board question is quite understandable, if somewhat selfish. They consider with some warranty, that the working-man is undoubtedly their best friend, and so long as he has plenty of money in his pocket his friendship is a valuable asset, which no doubt it is. It stands to reason that if the workmen are paid good wages they will have more to spend on their national beverage, and hence the brewing trade must benefit.

‘The men,’ it seems, were being paid in rhetoric, however, for the journal had trouble reconciling the desire to present brewers in a favourable light with the need to remain true to brewers’ financial interests. The writer objected to the ‘general advance of wages’ which would ‘seriously add to the cost of production’ - the board had already agreed to a minimum rate of 44s for adult labourers working 48 hours per week. Furthermore, the journal objected to the noticeably low ratio of one boy apprentice or labourer to every 25 men. Despite these objections, though, agreement was always reached between employer and union representatives, and for the life of the Brewers Board the ratio remained unaltered.

When the first determination of the wages board was gazetted in March 1902, the Brewers’ Journal declared that due to apparent increases in the wages paid across the industry, ‘none of the breweries look with favour upon the Factories Act.’ Many country areas were exempted from the determinations of wages boards, and the Brewers’ Board was no exception. But brewers in some regional centres, like Geelong and Bendigo, also came under its jurisdiction. The journal encouraged country brewers to ‘work very hard against [the Factory Act’s] re-enactment next session.’ The determination probably increased the wages bills of many of the small city brewers as well, but they were not encouraged to join such a campaign. According to the Brewers’ Journal these firms were able to cope with any increases: ‘the brewers have not found much difficulty in conforming to the new conditions, and everything is working smoothly.’

When the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Employés Association approached Victorian brewers to authorise the ‘union label’ scheme in February 1903, one condition of proposed union endorsement of beer products was ‘the recognition of the present rates as the union minimum.’ Through this scheme the union was attempting to enforce Brewers’ Board wage rates in parts of country Victoria that were exempted from the determinations. The Brewers’ Journal expressed fierce opposition to the ‘union label’ scheme, exposing contours of the relationship between the brewers and the union not apparent in their other negotiations. In responding to the request, the journal abandoned the language of mutuality, and reminded the brewers that they had specific interests which were contrary to the interests of their workers:

It may be policy of one or two breweries to in every way meet with the requests of the Trades Hall party for the sake of popularity amongst the working men ... but notwithstanding this, would it be wise for a brewery to deliver itself tightly bound into the hands of the employes? ... a brewery ... represents capital, which is, and always will be, on a totally different footing to labour.

Details of the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Employés Association in the first decade of the twentieth century are hazy. Alleyn Best, author of the official history of the Federated Liquor Trades Union in Victoria, provides no estimate of the union’s membership levels. The union minute books also give no clear indication of the size of the organisation. There is evidence, however, that membership fluctuated considerably. Collectors were organised to take union payments at each brewery as there were no automatic deductions from wages for union membership. It seems that it was only at the largest breweries that employees volunteered to collect dues. The position of the collector, then, was crucial to the survival of the union, and slackness created consternation amongst committed members. In order to combat dwindling membership, a meeting of the union in 1904 established the practice whereby collectors handed membership lists to the Secretary, together with the month’s dues, just before each monthly meeting began. If a collector was found not to be performing his duties to the satisfaction of the union a new collector was sought. In September, just 126 votes were recorded in the election of the union’s Secretary, although 250 ballot papers had been printed, and some 1126 workers were employed in brewing and maltsting in Victoria at the time. In October that year, the monthly branch meeting discussed ‘the best means of putting the union on a more solid basis and all present agreed to try to induce all their fellow workers to become members again.’ The union launched a recruitment drive, and in November 1904 announced that the collectors’ ‘reports were all of a favourable nature and showed a good increase in membership.’

Table 1 below demonstrates that very few women or girls were employed in brewing in Victoria in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The figures suggest it is unreasonable to argue that male trade unionists used the Brewers’ Board to exclude women and girls from brewing. Clearly, few females were employed in this sector ten years before the first determination, and the same factors which led to their virtual exclusion in the 1890s may still have been in operation in the 1900s. It also seems likely that Victorian brewery workers were exclusively of Anglo-Saxon or european descent. In 1911, just 8 males of ‘non-european race’ were employed in the manufacture of all food, drinks, narcotics and stimulants in Victoria.


No. of Brewery Workers, Victoria






















Source: Victorian Year Books, 1892-1912.


At some point between October 1902 and November 1903 the Brewers and Maltsters amalgamated with the Aerated Waters and Cordial Makers Society to form the Brewers, Maltsters and Aerated Water Makers. The amalgamation was part of a strategy designed to ‘extend the union so as to embrace all employees in the manufacture and wholesale distribution of liquors and also ice makers,’ and in February 1904 the union changed its name to The Amalgamated Liquor Trade Employees Association. In late 1904 the union reported few aerated water workers amongst their ranks, and between 1906 and 1907 reports were given of the ‘great difficulty in organising the aerated water and cordial trade.’ It is interesting to note that aerated water manufacturers were at this time under the illusion that ‘practically all of the men are unionists.’ Still, the union steadily grew during the 1900s, as evidenced by the Treasurer’s reports. In December 1902 he reported a total of £38/9/3 on the books, but by the close of 1912 the union was receiving around £60 per month in dues alone.

It is impossible to reconstruct the proceedings of the early Victorian wages boards, as minutes of negotiations were not kept. Consequently, the historian can usually only piece together the positions taken up by the parties from disagreements reported in the newspapers. In this regard, it seems the Brewers’ Journal was accurate in stating that the board enjoyed ‘nothing like the hostility among its members, and not a suspicion of the acrimony so conspicuous in the proceedings of the Boards of some other trades.’ Certainly, between 1900 and 1914 there were no bitter disputes like those that arose in the aerated water and hotel sectors of the industry. Nevertheless, the brewers and their employees disagreed on a number of questions, including the rates that boys should be paid, the number of apprentices and improvers that could be employed, and the number of job classifications that might be stipulated in a determination. The Brewers’ Board provided the terrain on which the parties fought for the acceptance of competing conceptions of what constituted a ‘fair and reasonable’ intrusion into the conditions under which labour power would be sold to Victorian brewers. The employers’ conception was based on the value of that labour power to the larger enterprises; the union’s was based on a conflicting mixture of both industry profitability and what it perceived as the needs of a man with a family. During this period the liquor union was generally more successful in raising wages than in less capital-intensive sectors of the industry. It is significant that the brewers usually managed to satisfy the demands of the worker representatives. But compromise clearly came from both sides, and the union’s minute books demonstrate that a largely amicable, problem-solving relationship existed between the organisation and the largest brewers throughout the period.

The employment of juveniles was the greatest source of disagreement between the union and the brewers. In March 1902, during the negotiations for the first determination of the board, the Brewers’ Journal expressed dissatisfaction that boys were to be employed at a rate not exceeding one for every 25 men aged 21 and over. The journal stated that ‘[b]reweries as a rule do not care to have many boys about the place outside the bottling department.’ Just one month prior, however, the journal had charged that the ratio demonstrated ‘the Victorian working-man’s utter disregard for the coming generation.’ There would be only one outcome from such action: ‘skilled workers’ would eventually have to be brought in from outside of Victoria. This was a threat designed to provoke the strongest of responses from a labour movement steeped in parochialism and racism. It suited the Victorian brewers to encourage parochial divisions amongst brewery workers.

The working-man is preparing a rod for his own back, perhaps - certainly for the backs of his children. The only consequence ... will be that if the industries which have been established in the country are to be maintained, even at their present dimensions, workmen will be drawn from elsewhere, and if our industries expand, the Victorian-born will be elbowed out of skilled employment. The prospect is not assuring.

The union’s policy of reducing the adult/juvenile ratio no doubt derived from concern that, instead of employing adults, many brewers would be free to hire juveniles in large numbers, as they were to be paid between 25 percent and 55 percent of the adult male labourer’s wage. The brewers charged that the policy ‘bears very harshly upon young lads,’ and that the wages boards were ‘a tax on manhood.’ They were also dissatisfied with the associated practice of setting rates according to the age of the worker and not according to the value of the worker’s labour to his employer from accrued ‘experience.’ Much to the chagrin of the brewers, the union successfully insisted that the wages of workers under 21 be fixed according to age, irrespective of previous employment in a brewery. The brewers also openly stated that they wanted the freedom to hire general labourers over the age of 21 at ‘what they are worth’ - less than the minimum 44s per week - rather than according to the union’s perception of ‘the needs of adult men.’

The employers argued that the demands of the union worked to the detriment of juvenile brewery workers. In fact, the union had originally proposed that the minimum weekly wage for a 13 year old employee be fixed at £1, but the brewers described this as ‘ridiculously absurd,’ and reduced it by half to 10s, which was the same rate fixed for 13 year olds working in aerated water factories in 1902, and 5s less than the rate maltsters paid to boys of the same age. The union also accepted reductions in the wages proposed for those working in bottling departments (usually boys), their separation from the general rates a specific request of the brewers. Below is a chart of the weekly wages initially proposed by the union, and the rate agreed to by the parties. Clearly, the brewers maintained access to workers at well below the 44s adult general labourer rate in the labour-intensive bottling departments:


Union’s Proposal

Agreed Rate

Tinfoiling, labelling








12s 6d












32s 6d





1s 6d

1s 6d per gross

Source: ABJ, 20 March 1902.


The brewers also objected to the large number of job classifications which the union imposed upon the wages board from the first round of negotiations. ‘There is one danger which should be avoided in the brewing trade with the determination of the Wages Board,’ the Brewers’ Journal declared, ‘and that is too much classification of the employes.’ The journal listed twelve different job titles, mostly applying to bottling departments, and commented that ‘[s]urely these are enough.’ Brewers were concerned that the union’s large number of classifications would encourage inflexibility amongst brewery employees, especially juveniles. It seems that small breweries, rather than the large city firms, were particularly reliant upon the multi-tasking of their workers. The manager of Cohn Bros. Brewery, Magnus Cohn, testified at the 1902 Royal Commission into Factories and Shops Act of 1896 that ‘the breweries in Melbourne are all very big ones, employing a great many hands, and they are able on that account to specify the work - to classify the work, to bring it under certain heads, and keep the men doing particular work only, and also the boys in the bottling department, and so on; whereas in a country brewery, where the number of hands is much smaller, it is impossible to classify the work the same as in big breweries; the men have to do any work that they are told to by their employers.’ While the Brewers’ Journal spoke of the interests of the small country brewers it is clear that when it came to the Brewers’ Wages Board, the employer representatives were concerned primarily with catering for large firms like Carlton.

It seems that with the establishment of the Brewers’ Board most jobs in the Victorian brewing industry increasingly fit the pattern which Reich, Gordon and Edwards have attributed to the early twentieth century ‘subordinate primary’ segment of the American labour market. In their schema, ‘subordinate primary’ jobs are distinguished by a series of features. The largest group of jobs to fit the title came from unionised, mass-production industries. Unions often helped to distinguish these jobs from ‘secondary’ mass-production jobs, by achieving better pay and greater stability of employment. Seniority clauses, also often imposed by unions, ensured returns for age or experience, another condition of the sale of labour power not present in the ‘secondary’ market. ‘Subordinate primary’ jobs were distinguished from ‘independent primary’ jobs in that the tasks performed by the former were routine, repetitive and paced by machines. The skills were usually acquired quickly, in a matter of days or weeks.

Reich, Gordon and Edwards link the labour market segmentation process with the emergence of ‘those oligopolistic corporations that still dominate the economy today.’ As we have already noted, Victorian brewing was increasingly monopolised in the late nineteenth century, and the dominance of the Carlton and United Breweries Ltd was secured just after the turn of the century, if not before. It was also at this time that the Brewers Club was established to fix the price of beer and thus minimise undercutting. With the system of ‘tied houses’ and the price-cartel in operation, individual brewers were ensured a market for their products: as the manager of Carlton Brewery put it, the ‘evils of competition’ were minimised. The controls placed on market conditions worked well for Carlton. Thus, the characteristics of the Victorian brewing industry at the turn of the century fit with labour market segmentation theory:

The captains of the new monopoly capitalist era, now released from short-run competitive pressures and in search of long-run stability, turned to the capture of strategic control over product and factor markets.

Although wages in breweries increased substantially between 1902 and 1913, these increases appear to have been underwritten by large productivity gains during the period. Earlier in the chapter we noted that each brewery worker produced 42.8 percent more beer in 1913 than in 1903. However, apart from rackers’ and corkers’ wages, the wages of brewery workers increased by less than the general productivity increase, and in many cases by significantly less. The wage increases given in Table 3 below are only a rough guide, as the overall wages bills for brewing companies were not gathered in the early twentieth century. Still, the figures show how important it is not to assume that simple industry closure worked to the general benefit of male workers.


Wage Increase from 1903-1913

Rackers and Corkers






Topmen, Cellarmen, Storemen and Labourers


Source: Victorian Year Books, 1903 and 1913-14.


‘A Very Angry Scene: The Aerated Water and Cordial Wages Boards, 1900-1914

The largest employer in the aerated water and cordial manufacturing industry, G.H. Bennett M.L.A., actually initiated and led the campaign which secured a wages board in the ‘trade.’ In December 1900 he presented a petition to the Chief Secretary, John Murray, signed by 224 of the 295 employees engaged in the manufacture of aerated water and cordial. Bennett openly admitted at the meeting that he was petitioning the government to improve his own competitive position, wages in the sector were also notoriously low. The usual suggestion that ‘sweating’ was a feature of ‘the trade’ was supported by the testimony of Mr Hurrell, ‘an old employee in the trade.’ Bennett followed up Hurrell’s remarks by explaining that

he was hampered by two or three firms, who were paying their men a pittance during the winter. Many of these men were only getting 25/- a week in the winter, while he had to pay his men £2/2/- a week.

A prominent employer and parliamentarian, George Bennett could not afford to be seen as an ‘unfair’ employer. He claimed that as President of the Aerated Waters Manufacturers’ Association he had turned initially overwhelming employer opposition to wages regulation into support for the measure. Whether or not Bennett had actually achieved this is unclear, since a letter to Harrison Ord from the Secretary of the Aerated Water Manufacturers, William Budd, in July 1901 urged that the trade not be brought under the Act. Nevertheless, with the support of most trade unionists, Bennett continued to lead the campaign and the Aerated Water and Cordial Wages Board was established in October that year. In finally agreeing to the measure, aerated water manufacturers undoubtedly recognised the benefit of clearing themselves of the ‘sweating’ tarnish.

But the worker representatives were most dissatisfied with the Aerated Water Board’s first determination, gazetted in August 1902. The employers had managed to reduce the basic wage of adult male general labourers, with the support of the board chairman, ex-Superintendent John Brown. The general labourer’s wage dropped from £1/16/2 weekly to £1/7/6 for 50 hours of work in summer, and 48 hours in the winter. Furthermore, employers managed to secure the rate of a single apprentice or improver to every 15 adults engaged in the trade. Members of the union approached Chief Secretary Murray, indicating that widespread industrial action would follow if the new rates became law. Murray and Harrison Ord advised the employees that the determination should be given a trial. But after considerable bitter disagreement, the Chief Secretary took what the conservative Argus called an ‘extraordinary course’ of action, and returned the determination to the board without consulting the employers. However, this step proved to be of no use to the workers. The manufacturers and the board chairman defied the Chief Secretary, and maintained their opposition to any increase in the minimum rate by passing a resolution stating that ‘the board adheres to the previous determination, as no fresh evidence on boy labour or general hands has been brought forward by the employes’ representatives.’

The Argus reported that ‘a very angry scene between the chairman and the members representing the employes’ followed the meeting. Trusting George Bennett’s leadership in establishing the board had proved costly for these workers, and the union was unable to carry out their threats of industrial action. It was not until December 1910 that the adult male wage for a general labourer employed in the manufacture of aerated water and cordial even returned to pre-wages board figures. Between 1900 and 1910, wages for general labouring in brewing and maltsting increased by 8s, from 40s to 48s weekly. In the same period, adult male labourers’ wages in aerated water rose a mere 2/6 weekly, from 37/6 to 39s.

As we noted in chapter one, the Brewers’ and Malsters’ Employés Association merged with the Aerated Water and Cordial Makers some time between October 1902 and November 1903. Compared to brewing, the new union was responding to quite a different set of industrial circumstances in the aerated water and cordial ‘trade.’ Aerated water and cordial manufacturers maintained a low-wage policy throughout the 1900s. The Brewers’ Journal boasted in 1905 that the employers’ union ‘is as good an example of a trade protection combination as one need look for, and the work it is effecting [on the wages board] is surely sufficient warrant of the inestimable value of such combination.’ Given the disarray of worker organisation noted in chapter one, it is not surprising that aerated water and cordial manufacturers were not concerned about the ‘union label’ scheme: the journal claimed that ‘relations between employer and employee could not be improved.’ It simultaneously reported the ‘cheery news’ that workers at Rowland’s Aerated Waters factory were kept so busy that they did not take meal breaks. It also noted that aerated water employers could pay boys (and presumably girls) under 21 whatever they chose. Yet the journal claimed that conditions were ‘in distinct contrast to those of years ago, when wages and working hours were left to the sweet will of the employer.’

In 1912, however, aerated water carters met with more success in raising wages. Soon after the establishment of the general Carters and Drivers’ Board (Carters Board) in March 1910, aerated water and cordial manufacturers demanded that they be specifically represented on it. According to the manufacturers the weather dictated the amount of cartage they required, and long hours for carters in the summer were a necessary part of their ‘trade.’ In summer, they were

called upon ... to work at top speed, to exert themselves to the very utmost to keep pace with the requirements of shopkeepers and licensed victuallers. They have to submit to long hours and very exacting, not to say arduous, labour in very hot weather. In contrast they do next to nothing during the winter weather ... .

For this hard work, the carter was poorly remunerated. A carter in Echuca declared to the Chief Inspector’s Office that in 1911-12 he received just 35s for 51 hours of work in the winter, and 40s for the same number of hours in the summer. A foreman and bottler at the same factory received 60s weekly for the same hours. The minister refused to allocate the aerated water manufacturers a position on the Carters Board. When the board refused requests for extended working hours in the summer for aerated water carters, the manufacturers mounted a strenuous campaign to have the powers of both the Aerated Water and the Carters Boards redefined, so that aerated water carters’ wages and conditions would be determined by the former. The Minister for Labour, John Murray, allowed the manufacturers’ request, and the necessary legislative changes were completed in under 2 weeks.

According to the aerated water makers, the union had defeated an earlier attempt by employers to have aerated water carters removed from the Carters Board by threatening to strike. In late 1912 industrial action was once again on the cards. In September the union organised a petition, signed by more than 80 carters, opposing the changes to the jurisdiction of the Aerated Water and the Carters’ Boards. When the Aerated Water Board met on 24 October, the board chairman used strong-arm tactics in an attempt to enforce the new ruling, but the union representatives refused to discuss carters’ wages. They claimed that as ‘inside workers’ they knew nothing about carting. They declined the chairman’s request for their resignations, ‘stating that they had been appointed members of the Board for three years.’ Still, the chairman attempted to force the issue with the employee representatives by planning a meeting to ‘hear two expert witnesses [aerated water carters] to be selected by the employees.’

Trades Hall formed an industrial disputes committee which included delegates from the Liquor Trades Union and the Carters and Drivers’ Union. The Carters and Drivers’ Union also arranged for a mass meeting of their membership, but Trades Hall called it off for fear of a stoppage. The disputes committee sent a deputation to the Minister for Labour, including officials from both unions and George Prendergast, previously the Secretary of the Brewers’ and Malsters’ Employés Association, now a parliamentarian. It is important to note the way in which the employer and union deputations presented their respective cases to the minister in August and October of 1912. The language used in these meetings once again highlights that in the wages board context of the early twentieth century employers and unions were battling with one another to have their divergent definitions accepted as a ‘fair’ basis for determining wages.

When the minister met with employers in August, aerated water manufacturer F. O’Neill claimed that ‘he stood for good wages to his employes, and in his opinion the Wages Board System was to be commended as the outcome had been fair competition.’ According to O’Neill and the other manufacturers, wages and conditions for aerated water carting should be set according to the profitability of the aerated water trade, which was, in any case, the logic of separate trade wages boards in Victoria. Special knowledge of the trade was also required to determine assistants’ wages, and the ratio of assistants to drivers. The Carters Board had set assistants’ wages at £2 10s, a rate which ‘the trade [was] unable to pay,’ and only one improver was allowed to every 3 adult carters. The manufacturers claimed that 2 or 3 boys were needed for each wagon, to hold the horses and assist in unloading the van.

Mr R. Cheney, General Secretary of the Carters and Drivers’ Union, and union representative to the Carters Board had a slightly different understanding of the basis for ‘fairness’ in wage-fixing.

The Wages Board system was created for the protection of the employe and with a view of preventing Industrial strife by correcting anomalies and combating [sic] sweating. In a matter of this character the Board should be entirely representative of both sides otherwise it was not a fair tribunal. The representations emanating [from the manufacturers] were that anomalies existed in connexion with the Determination of the Carters Board which body should have been given the opportunity of rectifying the grievance instead of the power being handed to the Aerated Waters people whose Board by virtue of its constitution was incapable of dealing with the matter satisfactorily.

According to Cheney, wages boards should be used to eliminate low wages and harsh working conditions rather than to foster competition. A ‘fair’ wages board required direct representation from both workers and employers to achieve this outcome. The union demanded that carters, rather than ‘inside’ factory hands, be involved in setting carters’ wages. The constitution of neither the Aerated Water Board nor the Carters Board could satisfy the representation requirements of both the manufacturers and the employees.

The aerated water carters were learning the value of an expanded union. As we have seen, the minister agreed with the manufacturers that profitability should be paramount in determining wages. But the government recognised that it was necessary to establish a board that provided joint, direct representation to avoid ‘Industrial strife.’ On 24 November the union instructed its various sections that if a strike occurred ‘no member of the union shall handle any beer or aerated waters made or distributed by non union labor.’ The Secretary of the Liquor Trades Union, Dick Gill, advised the Age that ‘if any trouble should arise ... the barmen would be brought into the conflict.’ It appears that this would have been the first case of secondary industrial action in the history of the Victorian Liquor Trades Union. But the support of the barmen was never required. The various parties reached agreement on representation by establishing the Aerated Water Carters Board in early December.

Juvenile work was also a site where the union and employers competed to define ‘fair’ hours and wages for carters. When the union deputation met with the minister, George Prendergast stated that the number of improvers available to employers should be limited: ‘it was only natural that there should be an aversion to the ranks of the aerated water carters being unduly swelled by boy labour.’ When the minister objected that boy labour was not worth 50s per week, the union representatives switched to arguing that the work of assistant drivers was too heavy for boys, and that in any case, ‘a driver handling bottles, beer &c could not be distinguished from an aerated waters carter.’ Again, the union stressed that it was the difficulty of the work and the financial needs of their members, rather than the profitability of the trade, that should be the primary determinant in fixing wage rates. The same question led to disagreement over the hours that drivers should be expected to work. Aerated water manufacturers expected longer hours from their drivers all year round than the Carters Board was prepared to set. Mr Cheney noted that increased hours ‘meant a reduction of wages.’ Again, the minister favoured the manufacturers’ argument that hours be set according to the profitability of the trade and rather than the union’s perception of ‘the needs of the men.’ He concluded that ‘fairness’ in wages board determinations rested on the apparent ‘ability of the industry to pay,’ although the manufacturers furnished no evidence that they were unable to pay increased rates.

I feel that your Board is not the best one to deal with the aerated water trade which is subject to special conditions. Regarding the petition which has been put in, I do not pay much heed to that. I decline to gazette any Determination of the Aerated Water Trade Board which is unfair to the drivers. Boys engaged on juvenile work are not entitled to be paid adult rates.

Of course in making this argument, Murray accepted employers’ claims that increased wages naturally led to higher unemployment. He also upheld the employer’s right to pay juveniles substantially less than adults.

Despite Murray’s decision, however, the first determination of the new Aerated Water Carters Board either maintained or improved most of the conditions set out by the Carters Board. The aerated water manufacturers had wanted carters to work a minimum of 60 hours per week in the summer and 50 hours per week in the winter. The Carters Board had fixed carters hours at 58 and 46 respectively. The new Aerated Water Carters’ Board reduced the summer working week to 56 hours and increased the winter week to 48 hours. The carter’s assistant now received 48s rather than 50s per week, and since the manufacturers were unwilling to employ boys at these rates, assisting was likely to remain the preserve of men. The ratio of juveniles to adults also largely went the way of the union. The original Carters Board determination stipulated that a maximum of only one apprentice or improver under 21 be employed for every three men. The new Aerated Water Carters’ determination set the rate at one to three for apprentices, and one to six for improvers, and apprentices’ wages were 2s 6d lower than improvers’. Wages were raised by 2s 6d for each category and these increased by 5s increments, although not according to the age of the juvenile, but for each year of ‘experience’ up to three years. That is, in return for allowing juvenile workers to assist in carting, and for a slight reduction in the assistant carter’s wage, the union encouraged manufacturers to take on apprentices at wages significantly lower than assistant carters’ rates. In the process, employers were able to establish ‘experience’ rather than age as the basis for juvenile wage rates. But when the worker reached 21, that link was abolished and a uniform adult rate was set.

The gradations in wages for adult work are also revealing: ‘motor drivers’ received the highest pay at 54s, while drivers of two-horse wagons were paid 52s and single-horse wagon drivers were paid 50s. In this way, the determination maintained an established relationship between the rate of pay and the ‘difficulty’ of the work performed. But it is interesting that truck drivers received the highest wages. It seems that even for adults, the union allowed a link between productivity and wage rates. It may be that in the early twentieth century driving a motorised vehicle was considered more skilled than handling a horse and cart. Undoubtedly it was also a skill which many workers had not yet had the opportunity to acquire. But the truck driver was also more efficient than the wagon driver, as the truck eliminated the need for assistants to hold the horses, and it moved more quickly through the streets.

I have suggested that the wages boards in the aerated water and cordial manufacturing sector did not operate as a reconciliation between ‘capitalism and patriarchy.’ To emphasise this point, the table below shows that, as for brewing, few female workers were employed in the sector before the establishment of the boards. Once again, the factors which excluded them from the industry before the boards were established might have remained in operation once they were in operation.



No. employed in the manufacture of aerated water and cordial, Victoria






















Source: Victoria Year Books, 1891-1913


‘Overworked and Underpaid’: The Hotel and Caterers’ Wages board, 1911-1912.

The 1895 Factories and Shops Act Amendment Bill was originally intended to ameliorate the poor wages and conditions of mostly women and juvenile workers. The first draft of the bill included provisions for a wages board to be set up for waitresses employed in restaurants, coffee-palaces, hotels, eating houses and fish and oyster shops. However, the Legislative Council excluded many female workers, including nurses and waitresses, from the bill. George Godfrey, MLC for South Yarra, successfully argued against the provision for waitresses. He informed the Council in May 1895 that

[i]t would be utterly impossible to carry on a large coffee palace with such a restriction as was proposed ... . The waitresses did not complain, and they were not badly treated, though they must necessarily work more than eight hours a day. He had inquired from the secretary of the coffee palace of which he was chairman of directors, and he was informed that, though the hours worked were little over ten a day, the waitresses got holidays from time to time, and no complaint had been made of their being overworked.

Just seven years later, in 1902, the Royal Commission into Factories and Shops recommended that female workers in hotel and restaurant come under the Act: ‘the number of hours such employés are required to be on duty [are] in many cases excessive, and in some, to the point even of humanity.’ But it was not until 1912 that waitresses’ and barmaids’ wages and working conditions were fixed by a wages board. Although the original Factories Act was intended to ameliorate the low wages and poor conditions of womens’ and girls’ work, the male workers in the manufacturing sector of the hotel and liquor industry had their wages regulated by wages boards ten years before female workers in the service sector. But whereas the larger brewers used the establishment of the Brewers Board to lift wages to the rates they already paid, Melbourne’s hotelkeepers, restaurateurs and caterers, like the aerated water and cordial manufacturers a decade before, tried to use the wages board to hold general wages down. Clearly the boards were serving purposes different from those intended by their liberal promoters.

Agitation for a hotel and restaurant wages board originated with the all-male Hotel and Caterers Employes Association in 1910. Unfortunately, the minute books of both the male and female branches of the Hotel and Caterers Employes Association have been lost, so we must reconstruct the arguments which the unionists made about wages from media reports and the Hotel Wages Board file. The union claimed that from 1898 or 1899, waiters, waitresses, cooks and assistants employed by caterers were meant to have been paid according to a schedule agreed between the male union and Melbourne’s principal caterers. The union complained that ‘a tendency had sprung up among employers to sweat the female employes,’ who were not actually included in the agreement. ‘They [the female ‘jobbers’] are compelled’ wrote the Secretary of the male union, Chas Senior, ‘to take less than half the wages paid to the men, for practically the same work.’ Female workers in the catering trade were poorly organised at the time: the first Waitresses Union was formed in 1907 - much later than the male union. The all-male union suggested that wage regulation was in the interests of ‘fair competition’ amongst caterers. But the union also stressed that the harsh working conditions endured by the female workers would be improved by the establishment of a board.

The union’s case for a wages board was supported by a petition signed by 650 employees, including 126 stillroom maids, pantry maids, housemaids, kitchen maids, barmaids and waitresses. The Chief Inspector’s office estimated that 4131 of the 6058 workers employed in Melbourne’s 1572 hotels, restaurants, coffee houses, eating houses and boarding houses were women and girls. Clearly, then, they were massively under-represented by the male union’s petition. Only two hotelkeepers supported the union’s request for a board, but the Chief Inspector’s office approached the employers who were to be affected by the proposed board, and none opposed the measure. The only indication of employer resistance to wage improvements prior to the creation of a board appeared in ‘The Licensed Victualler’ section of the Brewers’ Journal. The journal claimed that ‘the hotel employee has almost invariably been well treated, for the simple reason that his employer, besides being of the kind-hearted species, could not in his public capacity afford to risk his good name amongst his customers.’ However,

[t]he establishment of the Wages Board will remodel ... the existing relations, remove all personal considerations, and probably fix hard and fast rules. Every possibility has to be taken into account, and consequently a committee ... has been nominated to look after the hotelkeepers’ interests ... The committee is entrusted by the proprietors of restaurants, eating-houses, and coffee palaces with the care and guardianship of their interests also.

Before looking more closely at the approach these employers and unionists took to the board, we should acknowledge an important feature of the conditions of hotel and restaurant employment which distinguishes it from the other work performed in the industry at the time. In 1911, the Chief Inspector’s office prepared quite detailed statistics about the ‘sweated character’ of this work. The figures arrived at by the office reveal not only that women workers dominated the low-paid service sector of the industry, but that the majority of women employed in restaurants, coffee houses, hotels and eating houses were to be found in the most poorly remunerated of these jobs. The clerk responsible for preparing the statistics noted that the ‘wage varies considerably in different places,’ and grouped the workers into two classes of establishment according to average wages:




Number of employees

Average wage

No. under 21 years

Number of employees

Average wage

No. under 21 years

Group 1. 100








Group 2. 100








Source: Hotel, Restaurant and Caterers’ Wages Board File, VPRS 5466, 1.


Any conclusion drawn from these figures must be seen as tentative because no details are provided as to how representative they were of all wages paid. But according to the table, 62 percent of workers employed in Group 2 establishments were women and girls, and these lowest paid women and girls made up 53 percent of all females employed in the service sector. That is, the figures support Chas Senior’s claim that women and girls working for hotels and restaurants were much more likely to be ‘sweated’ than male employees, even before we consider that they received only 55 to 60 percent of the male rate within each group. Moreover, the average wage for the 47 percent of women and girls found in the highest paid group (Group 1) was only 87 percent of the average wage paid to the Group 2 ‘sweated’ male worker. Other statistics gathered by the Chief Inspector’s office showed that 75 percent of women workers received less than 15s per week, while 63 percent of adult men were paid less than 25s. As we noted in the previous chapter, in 1910 general male labourers in the aerated water and cordial trade were paid 39s weekly. Clearly, then, most men working in the service sector of the liquor trade received wages well below the poorest paid male general labourers employed in the manufacturing sector of the industry.

Employment conditions in other parts of the service sector were even worse. In February 1912, both the male and female branches of the Hotel and Caterers Employes Association joined with employers other than boarding house proprietors to have boarding houses with more than 4 rooms included in the ambit of the Hotel Board. Sara Lewis, Secretary of the Female Branch of the Hotel and Caterers’ Employes Association said that ‘she spoke on behalf of the hundreds of girls employed in the boarding houses and paying guest establishments.’

They worked more than 90 hours a week, and sixteen hours at a stretch. The hours were not restricted in any way, although they were doing exactly the same work as their sisters in the coffee palaces and hotels. In some cases they did not get their half holiday. In many cases the half day started from 4.45pm. ... Sunday was the hardest day the girls had to work. There was no restriction on these places, and she thought it only fair that, in the interests of both sides, the Board should deal with them.

Thomas Smith, Vice-President of the Hotel and Caterers Employes Association, also stated that male and female boarding house employees worked an average of between 80 and 100 hours, and there were instances of workers performing over 100 hours in a week.

In some cases they got 10/-, 13/- and 15/-, and these were big private establishments that were run in South Yarra, Toorak, East Melbourne and elsewhere, where they had staff of from 2 to 10 and 12 in the kitchen, and these men had no time off at all, and in lots of instances they did not get their half-day a week.

In the opinion of both of these officials, the Hotel Board should address such ‘sweating.’ But Michael Strahan, who succeeded Chas Senior as Secretary of the male branch of the union, combined the arguments of both the employers and the other union officials. Boarding houses were practically coffee-palaces, he said, and if boarding houses were not brought under the Hotel Board the competition would be ‘unfair.’ Employees should also be protected, whether they worked in a boarding house or a coffee-palace.

As with the aerated water carters, the Minister for Labour sided with the low-paying employers, and against the larger concerns. He devalued the work of low-paid housemaids and waitresses, thereby intimating that they did not deserve the protection of the Act. Murray stated that it was difficult to imagine that a waitress or housemaid ‘was much good, working for 10/- a week, in view of the scarcity of female labour.’ He agreed that the ‘poor widow’ boarding house proprietor struggled for a living, and should not be affected by regulated wage fixing. Expressing the ‘old liberal’ desire to maintain the sanctity of the domestic sphere, Murray was concerned the Hotel Board’s request meant ‘going into the private house. He did not know whether the time had arrived for that.’ However, the demands for inclusion of large establishments were ‘fair’ as they genuinely competed with tea rooms and coffee-palaces. In June 1912, just after the first determination of the Hotel Board was gazetted, the Minister included boarding houses with more than 30 rooms under the jurisdiction of the board. Dissatisfied with the decision, the unions and the Master Caterers’ Association continued to campaign for boarding houses to be more fully included under the Hotel Board. In September 1912 the Minister reduced the size of boarding houses to be covered by the Hotel Board to those with 20 or more rooms, and there the matter rested.

If the pre-wages board rates were much lower in hotels and restaurants than in the manufacturing sector of the industry, the picture was not improved by the first determination of the Hotel Board. The board was set up in January 1911, but due to a lengthy period of deliberation the first determination was not valid until May 1912. Through the first Hotel Board determination, employer representatives introduced new charges for board and lodging which had not previously been deducted from employees’ wages. The employers believed that charging for meals and lodging appeared more legitimate than simply opposing an increase in wages. The Secretary of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association, J.R. Snowball, told the Age that

the council at a meeting held some time ago decided to charge a minimum of 15/ for board and lodging - 10/ for board and 5/ for lodging - but we want it distinctly understood by the employes and the public that this is a matter which the wages board had nothing to do with. It is entirely a question of arrangement between the employers and their employes. There is no compulsion about it, and if the employes object the employer could say he would get someone else.

The new charges meant that most increases in wages provided for by the first determination were annihilated. For example, 20 waitresses employed by Mr E. Matoorekos’ Swanston Street restaurant had previously earned 17s per week. The new rates meant that nominally they were to receive 27/6, but with 10s deducted each week from their pay for meals, the net gain from the determination for these workers was just 6d per week. In another case, housemaids employed at a boarding house had received 15s weekly prior to the determination. They were to receive 30s under the new rates, but were charged 10s board and 5s lodging before receiving their pay, so they received 15s in the hand.

On the surface this seems a convoluted method for holding down wages. After all, why didn’t the employers simply oppose the wage increases proposed by the worker representatives on the board? Their actions can be explained by considering the conditions of the hotel and liquor industry together with the legislation governing the wages boards. One 1903 amendment to the Factories and Shops Act required that

[i]n reaching a determination as to the minimum wage or price to be paid to any worker each special board was instructed to ascertain the average wage or price ‘paid by reputable employers to employees of average capacity’ and to fix the minimum wage or rate no higher than such an average. If the board believed that the average was too low to serve as a minimum it might refer the matter to the Court of Appeals.

By 1912, then, low-paying employers could no longer simply oppose wage improvements on the boards. Furthermore, we noted in chapter one that just a few years earlier many hotels, restaurants and eating houses in Melbourne were only just managing to stay in business. Competition for the ‘dining-out dollar’ was intensified by the many hotels who provided free counter lunches allegedly subsidised by the city brewers. Furthermore, as Chas Senior noted, many caterers had recently entered the industry paying very low wages. Since a number of Melbourne Brewers’ had invested in ‘tied’ hotels, they too were keen to keep cash-strapped hotelkeepers in business. Higher wages, even if applied to the trade uniformly, were seen by many hotelkeepers, restaurateurs and caterers as a serious threat.

A writer for the Brewers’ Journal expressed ‘sympathy for the restaurants’ who were ‘pushed’ to take action due to ‘higher wages and higher prices.’ As a result of higher prices and wages and intense competition, Melbourne’s hotelkeepers and restaurateurs were ‘looking around in the recuperative way’: they intended to recoup some of the losses recently incurred by making their employees pay for their own wage increases. The new charges seem a clever method by which nominal wages for hotel and restaurant workers might appear to have increased, while employers minimised their actual outlays.

There are other indications of increased organisational activity amongst employers prior to finalising the determination. In May 1912 the Brewers’ Journal reported that the Victorian Hotelkeepers Association had held ‘a well-attended meeting’ of women members to set up ‘a ladies committee to aid the association in protecting the general interests of its members.’ It reported that ‘a strong committee was formed.’ In 1911 there were approximately 2900 women engaged in supplying board and lodging in Victoria. The statistics for this sector of the industry are highly aggregated, so further research is required to separate the hotels from restaurants and boarding houses, and to ascertain the size of these establishments. But it seems likely that a large number of these women operated small boarding houses rather than hotels, and, as we have noted, in 1912 most boarding houses were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Hotel Board.

My research has found no other references to specific organisation amongst Victoria’s women hotelkeepers between 1900 and 1914. Indeed, when the Brewers’ Journal reported their attendance at official hotelkeepers’ functions, it usually referred to their supposed ‘decorative qualities’ rather than their activities as businesswomen. Although no details were given of the topics discussed at the women hotelkeepers’ committee meeting, it would have been a remarkable coincedence if the Victorian Hotelkeepers Association had not called this meeting as part of general attempts to take united action over increasing wages.

The plan to minimise the wage increases through new charges for board and lodging could only be carried out if the employers were resolved to enforce them across the board. Many hotelkeepers, restaurateurs, eating house and boarding house proprietors were well-prepared to execute the new determination in Melbourne and regional areas. The Ballarat branch of the Hotel and Caterers Employes Association reported that seven female employees at a hotel had been sacked as the publican reoorganised his staff according to the new schedule. In other cases, Melbourne barmaids were paid according to the new determination, but were charged full board and lodging, even when partial board was supplied. A Melbourne barmaid wrote to the union complaining that, at her workplace, four barmaids had been dismissed and the rest of the staff at the hotel were expected to work 63 hours per week. The barmaids who remained were ‘compelled to pay 12/ per week for board out of the 37/6 wages, but had to sign for the full amount as if they had received it.’ The twenty waitresses working at Matoorekos’ restaurant mentioned earlier were dismissed when they refused to pay the full 10s charge for meals. The determination also included special rates for those working by the hour. Sara Lewis reported that a Melbourne boarding house ‘landlady’ believed that ‘she could work her staff shorter hours and pay them at the rate of 5½d. per hour,’ in contravention to the Hotel Board decision. The practice of forcing employees to sign for full wages was particularly expensive for waitresses. A letter to the editor of the Argus published in June demonstrated that the new determination impacted harshly on women and girls working in restaurants:

they sign for a higher wage, but from that is deducted 7/ to 10/ per week for board, leaving them with less in many cases than they received before; and in addition to this, because they signed over for 25/ per week, they have to pay full fare in the railway, though not actually earning as much as when they were able to obtain a two-thirds fare. This is very hard on a young girl who is endeavouring to sustain herself on her earnings.

The male branch of the union also reported that some fourteen members in Melbourne had lost their jobs after the new determination came into effect, ‘but in every case except one positions had been found ... for them.’ Judging from the strength of the reaction from barmaids and waitresses, however, female hotel and restaurant workers suffered more from the determination than men. Of course, it is not surprising that women and girls felt the charges more than male hotel workers. The 1912 determination set female wages at the usual three-fifths of the male rate. Generalising about the effects of the Hotel Board decision, the Age noted that in ‘numerous ... city establishments friction of a more or less pronounced character arose.’ As this comment suggests, many members of the female branch of the Hotel and Caterers’ Association were prepared to fight the charges. On 26 April, Sara Lewis announced that over the previous six months, 425 women and girls had joined the union. Lewis also visited Geelong in early May, where she ‘organised a strong branch.’ The Argus commented that the female branch of the union was ‘fairly well organised’ for this dispute with hotelkeepers and restaurant proprietors.

A Melbourne waitress who was sacked for refusing to purchase meals at work observed that the employers were also well-prepared, and recognised the need for a united response from her colleagues to overcome the new charges for board and lodging. ‘It seems to me,’ she commented, ‘that there is a general understanding amongst the employers to charge 15/ for board and lodging and 10/ for board, but if the employes were all in the union the employers would not be able to do it.’ The Argus reported that some waitresses in Melbourne restaurants and tearooms ‘overcame the difficulty of paying for food by the unpleasant device of fasting’: they hoped that by not eating at work, their employers would not deduct charges for meals from their wages. The staff at another establishment refused to work with a newly appointed non-union waitress, forcing the employer to dismiss her. Others claimed that food supplied to hotel and restaurant staff was not worth 10/ a week, as it was often of poor quality and insufficient quantity. It was also suggested that the lodging supplied to hotel staff was greatly overpriced at 5/ weekly. The Secretary of the male branch, Michael Strahan, alleged that, because of union action over the charges, employers were ‘intimidating’ male hotel and restaurant workers from joining the union, and that he had therefore ‘been obliged to threaten a boycott’ of the establishments, which meant that other unionists would not deliver food supplies to them.

The male and female branches of the Hotel and Caterers Employes Association held separate mass meetings in Melbourne to discuss what collective action might be taken over the new charges for board and lodging. The female branch meeting, held on 13 May, passed a resolution upholding the right of members to choose where they might take their meals. A week earlier, Sara Lewis had pointed out that waitresses were prepared to pay a ‘reasonable rate’ for meals, but wished to ‘please themselves’ where they bought them. The motion also suggested that ‘fair and reasonable’ board and lodging charges for female hotel and restaurant workers would be half the charges stated in the determination. The male union meeting had suggested that men pay their employers 9/6 per week for board and lodging. The difference in the proposed charges for men and women was suggested because the female branch officials objected to their members paying full rates for board and lodging when they only received three-fifths of the adult male wage. The unions offered employers a conference to settle what was now being called ‘The Dining Rooms Dispute.’

The employers were unimpressed by the unions’ position. J.R. Snowball of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association suggested that all parties had agreed that the original charges for board and lodging were ‘a fair thing.’ He pointed out that the Secretary of the male branch of the employees’ union, Michael Strahan, had actually seconded both Hotel Board motions which had set the rates - ‘[s]urely Mr Strahan was not going back on his word?’ Alleyn Best observes that the charges remained in the determination for fifteen months, and that when an amended determination came into force in August 1913, the ‘only real gains made by the union ... were the inclusion of an overtime clause providing time and a half after the 58/56 hours and a new section for casual rates.’ But the unionists did win the right to refuse board and lodging from their employers, at least officially, and the Chief Inspector of Factories’ report for 1913 noted that hotel employees’ wages ‘must now be paid in cash in full.’

This was an important victory for the lowest-paid female hotel and restaurant workers who had, after all, been demanding only that they might choose where they were to eat and sleep, and had not questioned the legitimacy of being charged for board and lodging in the first place. But having to pay the costs was likely to be a burden for unmarried waitresses living away from home, which would no doubt have effected the independence of many of these young women workers. Furthermore, we should not assume that all employers observed the Hotel Board determinations. We will probably never know what hotelkeepers and restaurateurs generally charged their employees for board and lodging after the dispute. Lewis reported that during disruptions, some employers ‘met their waitresses, housemaids, and pantrymaids fairly.’ While many employers observed the employer association’s rates of 5/ and 10/, some broke ranks and charged less for board and lodging, while others paid above-award wages to offset the difference between the rates proposed by the employees’ union and those stipulated in the 1912 determination.


By 1910, trade unionists in the Victorian hotel and liquor industry were increasingly dissatisfied with the wages board system. The Victorian Liquor Trades Union was registered with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court in December 1910. It had been pursuing federation with similar unionists in other states for several years. Alleyn Best attributes the union’s move into the federal arena to a number of factors:

a growing dissatisfaction with the Wages Board system; a desire to achieve a common rate of pay in all states to prevent employers playing off one state against another, for example using the lowest paid state as the standard; a way for the union to gain award coverage for barmen who had recently joined the union, knowing it could not obtain a separate Wages Board for them since the Hotel Wages Board was in the process of being granted to the Hotel, Restaurant and Caterers Union; finally, the general movement at this time towards companies merging to create monopolies ... which made the union aware of the need for wider and stronger ties themselves.

Just one month after the waitresses’ strike, the female Hotel and Caterers Employes Association initiated a move to the federal system for both male and female branches.

Patricia Davey has also found that union dissatisfaction with Victorian wages boards led to increasing industrial unrest, particularly after 1911, and that this led directly to the inclusion of more wages board workers under federal awards. Other scholars emphasise general worker dissatisfaction with arbitration in Australia. Verity Burgmann argues that at roughly the same time that hotel and liquor workers shifted their sights to the federal system, general frustration amongst workers contributed to the growth of the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia.

Wages boards in the Victorian hotel and liquor industry proved to be of mixed value to the workers they covered. On the one hand, they provided some financial security to well-organised workers in the most prosperous sector, brewing, although, as has been noted, productivity increases probably outstripped any wage increases awarded by the board. Aerated water carters also met with some success in boosting their wages, although this achievement might be attributed more to their position in the industry and the ability of carters to sustain a lengthy industrial campaign, than to the functioning of the wages board system itself. Clearly, aerated water factory ‘hands’ received considerably lower wages under the Aerated Water and Cordial Board than brewery workers and aerated water carters. Whereas brewers saw their workforce as skilled, aerated water manufacturers insisted that their factory work was unskilled, and the work of most hotel and restaurant employees was judged by employers to be ‘unskilled’ as well. The most obvious evidence of the latter is the speed with which hotelkeepers and restaurateurs were prepared to dismiss their workers and hire new employees during the 1912 dispute. Generally low wages also indicate that these employees were deemed unskilled. In the latter two cases it seems that intensive competition, narrow profit margins and occupational positioning all figured strongly in wages outcomes. Board chairmen and Ministers for Labour were willing partners in low-paying employers’ attempts to hold wage costs down.

Observing the operation of Victorian hotel and liquor industry wages boards between 1900 and 1914 leads us to a number of related historiographical conclusions. Firstly, the economic characteristics of any particular sector are crucial to industrial behaviour. This means that scholars must remain attentive to the specificities of productive organisation when considering employer and union activities, relations between workers and wages outcomes. Marxist tools of economic analysis are indispensable here. Secondly, working class history, including workplace history, cannot be approached adequately without a gender analysis. Women and girls employed in the hotel and liquor industry received lower wages than their male counterparts, even when performing the same work. Reference to economic characteristics of a particular sector cannot alone account for such discrepancies: most often, trade unionists and employers accepted dominant gendered discourse of work value. The agency of all parties must therefore be acknowledged.

Thirdly, the wages board experience cannot be neatly characterised as a ‘reconciliation’ between capitalism and ‘patriarchy,’ structurally defined. Occupational exclusion was directed far more against boys than against female workers in the hotel and liquor industry, perhaps because barriers other than award clauses already operated to keep female workers from competing for jobs. Finally, employers played a key role in maintaining low wage rates for women and juveniles, and that relative wage rates often had little to do with the actual productivity of the workers usually performing it. One aerated water and cordial manufacturer claimed that even if bottling was set at adult rates, boys would still be employed at the work. A labour history that is attentive to questions of gender and age must recognise that employers, rather than male trade unionists, often controlled entry into an occupation or ‘trade.’


Archival Documents

University of Melbourne Archives, Carlton:

Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia, Victorian Branch - Minute Books, 1, 3 and 4. (Series no. 7 1/1/1,1/1/2,1/1/3,1/1/4.)

Victorian Public Record Office, Laverton:

Aerated Water Wages Board file, VPRS 5466, 1.

Brewers’ Wages Board Files, VPRS 5466, 16.

Hotel, Restaurant and Caterers’ Wages Board File, VPRS 5466, 105.

Official Papers

Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911

Victorian Parliamentary Debates

Victorian Parliamentary Papers:

- Royal Commission appointed to Inquire into Factories and Shops Act, Session 1902-3, vol. II.

- Select Committee on Tied Houses, Session 1905, vol. I.

Victorian Year Books, 1902 to 1915-16

Victoria Government Gazette, 1913

Newspapers and Periodicals

The Age

The Argus

Australian Brewers’ Journal

The Labor Call

Australian Woman’s Sphere

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