What you should know about Awards

What is an award?

Industrial awards are rulings handed down by the Fair Work Commission (or its federal or state predecessors) that set out minimum pay rates and conditions for all workers in a particular industry or occupation. If you work in an industry covered under an Award, then this outlines your minimum pay and conditions.


Does everyone have one?

An award is a safety net that applies to all workers covered by the national workplace relations system.

So unless you are working under an enterprise agreement (usually a union-won deal covering you and other employees at you workplace), are a senior manager, or are among a lucky few higher income earners, you’ll probably be covered by an award. This Award is generally higher than the National Minimum Wage.

But if you are not covered by an award or enterprise agreement you still have some basic protections, with the National Minimum Wage and National Employment Standards providing legal minimum workplace terms and conditions.


Where did awards come from?

Back in 1907 your union – the Australian Workers’ Union – went to the old Federal Arbitration Court and won the nation’s first industrial award to pay workers “fair and reasonable wages”.

This new Pastoral Industry Award gave shearers and other labourers roughly a 20 per cent pay rise, with shed hands and cooks also received big pay increases.

It also began the march to a 40-hour week, fixing the working week at 48 hours, with weekends off from midday Saturday.

These hard-won benefits flowed on to working men and women around Australia and laid the basis for the minimum wage system that endures to this day.

That was then, what about now?

At one time there were thousands of industry awards across Australia, but in 2010 the Fair Work Commission harmonised them into its modern-awards system.

Modern awards are still industry or occupation-based, and apply to employers and employees who perform work covered by the award.

There are now 144 awards in Australia, and the AWU covers 79 – more than any other Australian union.

So while enterprise agreement are now common, modern awards mean that almost all industries are covered and all workers in them have the same minimum rate of pay.

Some of the biggest Awards covered by the AWU include:

  • Pastoral Award (which covers anyone managing, breeding, rearing or shearing of livestock and poultry, dairying work, and the growing and harvesting of grain for animals)
  • Horticulture Award (which covers fruit and vegetable picking, sorting/packing of fruit and vegetables, and the growing and harvesting of crops)
  • Amusement, Events and Recreation Award (which covers theme park workers, museum and art gallery workers, bowling, go-karting and amusement arcades, and leisure/recreation facilities)
  • Food, Beverage and Tobacco Manufacturing Award (workers who manufacture, prepare, cook and package food and drinks)
  • Poultry Award (Which covers workers who process and package chicken)
  • Seafood Processing Award (which covers workers who farm, handle, cook, and prepare fish and seafood)
  • Building and Construction Award (which covers labourers, labour-hire construction workers, traffic controllers, and workers involved in construction or demolition)
  • Mining Award (which include Mine workers, maintenance workers, and on-site catering and security workers on mine sites)
  • Manufacturing Award (including labourers and factory hands, maintenance workers, operators and technicians on manufacturing facilities)

For a full list of the awards we cover, click here!

If you are working in an industry covered by an award, then this is the minimum that you must be paid.

If you’re not sure what award covers you, talk to your AWU delegate, call your AWU state office, or join the union!

What does my award cover?

It depends on where you work, but in general Awards spell out things such as your:

  • Minimum pay rates, and how and when you are paid.
  • Level or classification, based on experience, qualifications, and your specific duties at work.
  • Working hours and overtime rates.
  • Other penalty rates, loadings and allowances.
  • Special rates such as for dangerous, dirty or piece work.
  • Working conditions.
  • Meal breaks.
  • Employment, grievance and termination procedures.
  • Career structures.

It’s important to make sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to. Recently, the AWU uncovered millions of dollars in stolen wages after it emerged that seafood giant Tassal wasn’t paying its workers correct penalty rates according to the Seafood Processing Award.

Are you getting paid according to your Award? If you’re not sure, talk to your AWU delegate, call your AWU state office, or join the union!

Am I better off under an award?

Modern awards must set standards that are higher than the minimums in the National Employment Standards.

And your employer must keep up with any changes to your award – such as pay rises – to make sure you get what they are entitled to.

Sometimes, unions and workers will argue in the Fair Work Commission for stronger conditions within an Award. Most recently, the AWU was successful in establishing a minimum wage for fruit and vegetable pickers under the Horticultural Award.

What if I my workplace has an enterprise agreement?

If you are covered by a registered enterprise agreement, the conditions of a modern award are not relevant.

However, the agreement’s conditions cannot be lower than what exists in the Award, which includes all allowances, loadings, and penalties. This is called the Better Off Overall Test, or the BOOT.

Do you think you might be underpaid? If you’re not sure, talk to your AWU delegate, call your AWU state office, or join the union!

What award I should be under?

Fair Work has a tool that determines what award applies to you. https://services.fairwork.gov.au/find-my-award

But if you’re not sure, talk to your AWU delegate, call your AWU state office, or join the union!


What if I’m not on the right award or pay level?

Pay and conditions vary between awards, so it’s important to make sure you’re being paid correctly.

Again, if you’re not sure, talk to your AWU delegate, call your AWU state office, or join the union!

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