Chapter 1: What is a minimum wage

1.4 The main ILO conventions

Minimum wages have been a subject at the ILO since its creation in 1919.
  • Based on the view that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”, the 1919 ILO Constitution called in its Preamble for an urgent improvement of conditions of labour, including “the provision of an adequate living wage”.
  • In 1944, the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia referred to the importance of “a minimum living wage to all employed and in need of such protection”. This was reiterated in the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization.

Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention, 1928 (No. 26)

In 1928, the ILO adopted the Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention, 1928 (No. 26). In line with the prevailing philosophy of the time, this Convention encouraged member States to implement minimum wages “for workers employed in certain of the trades or parts of trades (and in particular in home working trades) in which no arrangements exist for the effective regulation of wages by collective agreement or otherwise and wages are exceptionally low”. Agriculture was excluded.

With more than 100 ratifications, Convention No. 26 remains to this day one of the most widely ratified ILO Conventions. It is complemented by Recommendation No. 30, which calls for the participation of women in wage-fixing bodies and for strong enforcement measures to protect law-abiding employers from unfair competition.

Agricultural workers and seafarers

In the second half of the twentieth century, the ILO participated in the extension of minimum wage protection to previously excluded categories of workers.

In 1951, the ILO adopted the Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery (Agriculture) Convention, 1951 (No. 99). By the end of 2015, Convention No. 99 had 54 ratifications. It is complemented by Recommendation No. 89.

In 1946, a minimum wage was negotiated for the first time for seafarers at the ILO – a tradition that continues to this day. The Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, provides that seafarers’ wages should be no less than the amount periodically set by the joint Maritime Commission, which meets at the ILO.

Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131)

In 1970, ILO adopted the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1971 (No. 131), which is considered to offer broader protection than that envisaged by ILO Convention No. 261

Convention No. 131 encourages member States which ratify to establish a system of minimum wages2 which:
  • offers a broad scope of application and where exclusions made are kept to a minimum;
  • establishes a machinery to fix and adjust minimum wages from time to time;
  • is based on the principle of full consultation with social partners;
  • involves social partners, on an equal footing, as well as independent experts in the design and operation of the system;
  • sets minimum wage levels that take into account the needs of workers and their families, as well as economic factors;
  • includes appropriate measures to ensure the effective application of minimum wages.
The objective of a generally applicable lower limit under which wages are not permitted to fall reflects the view that all workers – as a matter of right – should receive protection against “unduly low wages”. However, Convention No. 131 does not prescribe a single national minimum wage. The Minimum Wage Fixing Recommendation, 1970 (No. 135), which accompanies the Convention, makes clear that broad coverage can be achieved “either by fixing a single minimum wage of general application or by fixing a series of minimum wages applying to particular groups of workers”. By not seeking to impose a single model on all ILO member States, Convention No. 131 allows for the existence of different national circumstances and different levels of economic and social development.3

By the end of 2015, Convention No. 131 had been ratified by 52 member States, including by 11 countries since 2000.

1 ILO General Survey 2014 on minimum wage systems, para. 406
2 ILO Conclusions of the Committee for the Recurrent Discussion on Social Protection (Labour Protection), International Labour Conference, 104th Session, Geneva 2015.
3 See ILO: Report of the Committee on the Application of Standards, International Labour Conference, 103rd Session, Provisional record 13 part one, Geneva 2015.