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Working Under An Award | Australian Employment Lawyers

Updated on Jan 23, 2024 5 min read 448 views Copy Link

Michelle Makela

Published in May 29, 2015 Updated on Jan 23, 2024 5 min read 448 views

Working Under An Award | Australian Employment Lawyers

Most Australian employees are working under an award. An employee may be covered by either the national workplace relations system or the workplace relations system of the state or territory in which they live. Under each system, an employee may be subject to the terms of an award or modern award, which sets out the minimum conditions of their employment including the rates of pay.

For those working under an award in the national workplace relations system, the relevant law is mainly found in the Fair Work Act 2009, which applies to:

Other employees are covered by their state or territory system.

Modern Awards under the Fair Work Act

Modern awards under the national workplace relations system commenced operating on 1 January 2010. They are made by the Fair Work Commission and reviewed every four years. They set out the minimum conditions of employment and pay to which an employee is entitled if they work in a particular industry or in a particular occupation. Because of this, a particular workplace may be covered by more than one award (e.g. one award applying to office staff, and one award applying to manufacturing staff).

When constructing a modern award, the Fair Work Commission is required to ensure the award provides a safety net of employment conditions in tandem with the National Employment Standards. A full list of modern awards can be found on the Fair Work Commission website.

How will I know if a modern award applies to me?

A modern award states what employees and employers it covers. Your employer should let you know whether you are working under an award or if a modern award applies to you when you start a new job.

Your employer may advise you that an enterprise agreement applies to you. An ‘enterprise agreement’ works similarly to a modern award but only covers a certain business or businesses. If you are covered by an enterprise agreement, then the provisions of that agreement will override the provisions of the modern award. An enterprise agreement cannot, however, contain provisions that are less favourable to the employee than the award.

If you are a ‘high-income employee’, you will not be considered to be working under an award, and no enterprise agreement will apply to you. You are a ‘high-income employee’ if you earn at least $167,500 per annum.

What terms are included in a modern award?

The Fair Work Act 2009 sets out what kinds of terms can be included in a modern award. A modern award can only make certain kinds of amendments to the National Employment Standards (e.g. by including terms dealing with cashing out and taking annual leave or by providing for averaging of weekly work hours).

Certain terms must be included in a modern award, including terms dealing with minimum wage, overtime and superannuation. There must also be a flexibility term, which allows an employee to negotiate with their employer for an ‘individual flexibility arrangement’ about how the modern award applies to them. 

Certain terms cannot be included, such as discriminatory terms, or terms that differ between employees in different states and territories. Employers whose employees are working under an award and who contravene a modern award may be ordered to pay a maximum civil penalty of 60 penalty units.

A court may also order that an employee be compensated if they suffered damage due to breach of the award by an employer.

Working under an award in states and territories

Some employees are covered by an award under their state or territory workplace relations systems. The rules for making these awards are less prescriptive than under the national system, particularly in respect of the terms to be included in such an award. However, in some states and territories there are minimum standards that prevail over awards in the event of inconsistency.  

In New South Wales, the Industrial Relations Commission can make awards relating to public sector employees. The Industrial Relations Commission will also help settle industrial disputes relating to awards.

The South Australian Industrial Relations Commission plays a similar role in making awards and resolving disputes relating to public sector employees in South Australia.

Employees in the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and the Northern Territory are generally not subject to the terms of a state-based award because all employees in these jurisdictions are covered by the national workplace relations system.

In Western Australia, only employees who are employed by a constitutional corporation or the Commonwealth government will be covered by the Fair Work Act 2009. All other employees, including employees of sole traders, partnerships or trustees, will come within the WA Industrial Relations Act 1979 and may be covered by a state award. The website for the Industrial Relations Commission of WA list all awards and industrial agreements that apply to these employees.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

Published in

May 29, 2015

Michelle Makela

National Practice Manager

Michelle Makela is a Legal Practice Director at Go To Court Lawyers. She holds a Juris Doctor, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master of Criminology. She was admitted to practice in 2006. Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. 
Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela

National Practice Manager

Michelle Makela is a Legal Practice Director at Go To Court Lawyers. She holds a Juris Doctor, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master of Criminology. She was admitted to practice in 2006. Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. 

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