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Abstract

The Trade Boards Act 1909 was a landmark in the development of minimum wage regulation in Britain and around the world. Although their powers were limited, the trade boards had immediate and tangible effects in terms of raising living standards, and over time they became a core part of the system of state support for collective wage determination. While influential overseas, the wages councils (as the trade boards became after 1945) were eventually seen as providing only a partial solution to the problem of low pay. In the 1980s, their powers were reduced under the influence of deregulatory labour market policies, prior to their abolition in 1993. The British national minimum wage (‘NMW’), which was introduced in 1998, despite appearances, is not a universal national minimum of the kind which the Webbs and other Fabian writers argued for a century ago. Notwithstanding a growing consensus that the supposed negative economic effects of the minimum wage have not been borne out by the experience of the NMW, public policy has yet to take fully on board its potential benefits, including the reduction of social costs and the promotion of social partnership.