Employment standards – status, minimum rates, hours of work, holidays and workers’ rights
Minimum hourly rates in Australia
Yes, minimum rates, plural. In Australia, minimum rates depend on your industry, age, skills, hours worked and employee status.
First, even though technically there is one core minimum wage, there are different minimum rates for different job types and “awards,” an enforceable document containing minimum terms and conditions of employment in addition to any legislated minimum terms. For instance, the Horticulture Award 2010 applies to fruit pickers, the Wine Industry Award 2010 applies to grape picking employees, the Clerks—Private Sector Award 2010 applies to… well, you guessed it, clerks. If you’re not sure which award applies to you, if any, you can use the useful three-step “Find my award” tool.
If you’re under 21, a lower minimum hourly rate may apply.
Your status matters as well, for example full-time, part-time or casual employee. Since casual employees have less job security (no sick days, paid holiday, irregular schedules, no guarantee of work, etc.), their minimum wage is higher and “casual loading” (roughly +25% of a regular employee wage) applies. For instance, if a full-time employee is paid $20/hour, a casual employee gets $25/hour.
You can browse the full list of pay guides to find the one that applies to you.
Minimum wage examples for employees over 21
Here are a few examples in several industries, valid as of July 1, 2019.
|Job||Minimum hourly rate||
|National minimum wage when no award is applicable||$19.49||
|Grape picking (and jobs related to growing and processing wine grapes)||$19.78||
Wine industry award
|Grape picking (and jobs related to growing and processing wine grapes) – casual employee||$24.72||
Wine industry award
|Fruit picking (and related jobs like pruning / trimming / packing…)||$19.49||
|Fruit picking (and related jobs like pruning / trimming / packing…) – casual employee||$24.36||
General retail industry award
Restaurant industry award
|Waitress/waiter – casual||$25.07||
Restaurant industry award
Restaurant industry award
|Kitchen attendant – casual||$25.07||
Restaurant industry award
Restaurant industry award
|Sorting / preparing / packing fish / seafood and marine products||$19.49||
Seafood processing award
|Killing / processing / preparing / packing / wholesaling and distribution of uncooked poultry / poultry products||$20.15||
Poultry processing award
|Employees in meat manufacturing / processing or retail establishments||$19.49||
Meat industry award
Hair and beauty industry award
Journalists published media award
Gardening and landscaping services award
|Fast food employee||$21.41||
Fast food industry award
Minimum hourly rate for employees under 21
If you’re under 21, in some case, a lower “junior pay rate” applies. Not all awards set out that younger employees are paid a percentage rate of the adult rate (85%, 75%, etc.).
Check your award using the Fair Work Ombudsman Pay guides and do a search with the keyword “junior.”
The Pay calculator tool
The Fair Work Ombudsman offers the useful Pay calculator to find current pay rates. You have to answer a few questions regarding the award applicable to you, your exact job title, age, status, etc. and you will get the official hourly pay rate along with “penalties” (i.e. bonuses) when applicable (i.e. overtime work, public holiday shift, etc.).
Watch this short video (and enjoy the Australian accent!) for more info.
Some industries, like the wine and horticulture industries, offer a “piecework rate.” In this case, you aren’t paid by the hour but by the quantity of fruit picked, buckets or bins filled, etc.
The minimum pay rate doesn’t apply for pieceworkers. However, the Horticulture Award specifies that “The piecework rate fixed by agreement between the employer and the employee must enable the average competent employee to earn at least 15% more per hour than the minimum hourly rate.” As for the Wine industry award, “The piecework rate fixed by agreement between the employer and the employee must enable an employee of average capacity to earn at least 20% more per hour than the minimum hourly wage for ordinary hours of work.”
So, it’s not the Wild West and if you and all of your coworkers can’t get a decent pay cheque, there’s an issue with your employer—or rather the piecework rate is set too low.
For an in-depth overview of fruit picking jobs, read Fruit Picking Jobs in Australia — What, Where, How (and Why!).
When and how do I get paid?
Short answer, depends—depends on your industry, employer and awards if applicable. You could get paid every week, bi-weekly, monthly, on a specific date every XYZ, etc.
For instance, the Horticulture Award 2010 specifies that “Wages must be paid weekly or fortnightly according to the actual ordinary hours worked each week or fortnight, or according to the applicable piecework payment.”
Payment is generally made by cash or electronic fund transfer to your bank.
A word of warning—“cash in hand” means you get paid “under the table.” You’re not officially an employee and neither you nor your employer pay taxes. This is illegal and accepting such offers can lead to major issues. For instance, good luck getting paid if your employer decides they just don’t feel like it. And if you’re set on completing three months of specified work to meet the eligibility requirement for a second Working Holiday visa, cash-in-hand jobs don’t count.
Read Can my employer pay me in cash? for more info about this pay arrangement.
There are plenty of horror stories exposing terrible local employers exploiting backpackers—and sadly, such stories are not urban legends. WHV holders and foreign workers in general can be vulnerable workers. First, many of you are young and still relatively inexperienced workers. It can be difficult to tell if your boss is mean because, well, they’re your boss or whether their behaviour is just unacceptable by all standards. Second, you probably didn’t master Australian labour laws. Finally, you may be scared that if you quit or make a formal complaint, you will jeopardize your WHV.
Keep this in mind:
- As a WHV holder, you have the same rights as any born-and-bred Aussie. WHV holders are not second-class workers. You can (and should!) stand up for yourself.
- Your employer can’t “have your WHV cancelled” or “have you deported.”
- Always read the paperwork you have to sign (work contract, etc.). Ask for the employee copy or take a picture of it with your phone.
- Some employers may try to get you to sign an individual flexibility arrangement (IFA) clause. This written agreement is used by an employer and employee to change the effect of certain clauses in their award or registered agreement. The alternative arrangements should benefit the employer and employee. Don’t sign it if it’s not beneficial to you.
For more info about your right as a WHV worker, read 482 and 457 visa holders — workplace rights & entitlements.
Standard working hours
The standard working week is 38 hours for full-time employees.
You may be asked to work overtime, defined as “reasonable” additional hours. You could also be offered to work more hours on week 1 and fewer hours on week 2 so that the average is 38 hours per week. In both cases, you can refuse.
Overtime is usually paid at a higher rate. Details about when overtime applies are different under each award and registered agreement. For instance, the Horticulture Award 2010 applicable to fruit pickers states that for casual employees, “each hour worked in excess of 12 hours per engagement, 12 hours in a single day or 304 ordinary hours over an eight-week period will be paid at a rate of 175% of the employee’s minimum hourly wage.” As for restaurant employees, the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 states that full-time employees are paid overtime if they work more than 11.5 hours in the day, more than 10 hours a day for three days in a row or more than 38 hours per week. Casual employees are paid overtime if they work more than 12 hours per shift or more than 38 hours per week.
You may also be offered time off instead of being paid for your overtime hours worked. For instance, if you worked for six hours on Saturday morning, you can get six (paid!) hours off on Monday.
Bottom line is, check your award (section “Overtime”) to see when overtime applies.
Some WHV holders have the opposite problem, they need a full-time job but aren’t offered enough hours. Many combine several casual positions to make ends meet. Don’t lose track of hours worked, write them down and check your pay slip carefully to make sure no time is missing.
Full-time and part-time employees are entitled to four weeks paid annual leave each year (prorated for part-time employees). If you only work for a few months, your accumulated annual leave will be paid when you leave the company.
Casual employees (typically fruit pickers, restaurant workers, etc.) aren’t entitled to paid annual leave. It’s up to you to save money for your holidays.
School holiday periods, a potential hiring season
Even if you’re not a student or a parent of a school-aged kid, Australia’s traditional school break may affect your job search. In popular destinations, business is booming and employers need extra hands. On the downside, plenty of Australian students are also looking for work during their holiday.
If you’re from the Northern hemisphere, get used to the fact that:
- Summer holidays are in December and January
- Fall holidays are in April
- Winter holidays are in June/July (depending on the state/territory)
- Spring holidays are in September/October
Each state or territory has a different holiday break schedule (watch out, some of the websites below highlight “terms,” i.e. school periods rather than holidays!):
- New South Wales
- Northern Territory
- Western Australia
- South Australia
- Australian Capital Territory
Sick days and personal leave
All full-time and part-time employees get ten days paid leave in each twelve-month period (prorated for part-time employees). Sick days and personal leave fall under the same entitlement (i.e. regardless of whether you have a stomach bug or want to attend a sports game, it comes out of the same “bank” of days).
Casual employees aren’t entitled to paid time off, regardless of the reason of absence.
For more information, read Sick and carer’s leave.
Employees who have completed at least 12 months of continuous service with their employer and who are the primary carer of a newborn get up to 18 weeks’ leave paid at the national minimum wage.
For more info, read Parental leave and related entitlements.
National and state/territory public holidays
Public holidays can be different depending on the state or territory you work in. There are also a number of national public holidays.
Full-time or part-time employees who should have been working on the day the public holiday falls on must be paid. If the public holiday is on a day when you normally don’t work, your employer doesn’t have to pay you. For instance, if you’re a full-time employee and Christmas is on a Monday this year, your employer must pay you. But if you’re a part-time employee working Fridays only, you won’t get paid.
If you work on a public holiday, you may be eligible to a public holiday entitlement, for instance a higher rate or an alternative day off in lieu of the public holiday.
- The Horticulture Award 2010 states that full-time and part-time employees “will be paid for at the rate of 200% of the ordinary rate” (i.e. $40/hour instead of $20/hour). Casual employees are “paid for at the rate of 225% of the ordinary rate.”
- The Restaurant Industry Award 2010 state that full-time employees required to work on a public holiday must “be paid an extra day’s pay; be provided with an alternative day off within 28 days; or receive an additional day’s annual leave.”
National public holidays are:
- January 1: New Year’s Day
- January 26: Australia Day
- March or April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
- April 25: Anzac Day
- December 25: Christmas Day
- December 26: Boxing Day
Other public holidays such as Queen’s Birthday and Labour Day are individually declared by the state and territory governments. You will find the complete list here.