At the beginning of the process of industrial development it became clear that it was necessary for the state to become involved in the process of moderating the excesses of the forces of supply and demand to avert the potential detriments to employees and the community in general. The history of this intervention is often thought of as beginning in 1802 in England with the commencement of the legislation putting a cap on working hours and legislating for minimum safety standards in the workplace. Children, juveniles and women were the primary beneficiaries of these reforms given that they were the ones most likely to find themselves unable to protect themselves from exploitation in the market system. Originally in England, the law of Master and Servant was the legal background for the creation of the common law that regulated employment. The servant had a duty of complete obediance to the master and the master had complete legal and moral control over the servant. The servant could be punished with corporal punishment if they failed to adhere to the directions of their master. As time moved on, this model obviously became outdated.

There is now a long established pattern of the state intervening in the labour market to avert some of the excesses of the market system, particularly by establishing standards for the minimum treatment of workers. The major areas which were given legislated minimum protections were compulsory conciliation and arbitration, maximum working hours and minimum safety standards. In modern times, there have also been a number of provisions which have emerged dealing with the potential for discrimination on the basis of race, gender or other attributes, compensation for work related injuries, freedom from unfair or unlawful dismissal and entitlements to redundancy pay and superannuation.

The labour market in many countries has also been moderated through the system of awards which is now pervasive as a means of providing a safety net for workers in a large variety on industries. Almost every industry now has some sort of relevant award which can be used to apply standards and to ensure certain basic minimum protections. This system can be traced back to the concept of the ‘living wage’ which was first articulated in the Harvester judgment of 1907 in Australia. There are also a number of other cases around the world in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada which enshrined these types of protections.