The National Wage Case

Every year the Fair Work Commission undertakes an annual wage review process to ensure that the award safety net keeps pace with the rising cost of living. Australian unions make submissions to increase the award wage rates.

In recent years annual wage increases have been percentages whereas for many years they were flat rate increases to make sure low paid workers did not fall behind.

The majority of workers in Australia are covered by the award.The National Wage Case is critical to ensure all workers can keep up with the rising cost of living and receive fair compensation for their hard work.

The National Wage Case is also important for the lowest paid workers in our communities. Unions want to make sure all workers receive at least a living wage. A living wage is a wage that allows workers to support themselves and their families without stress. That means no full time worker should be below the poverty line 

What is an award?

An industrial award is like legislation decided by Industrial Tribunals, like the Fair Work Commission (FWC), to provide legally enforceable minimum terms and conditions of employment for all Australian workers.

Federal modern awards can be found on the FWC website and awards covering ASU members can be found on the ASU website. There are just over 100 modern awards in the federal system covering all private sector workers and most public sector workers. These awards can be be very specific to certain industries or much broader for occupations.

Awards provide a minimum safety net covering rates of pay, allowances, hours of work, types of employment such as full time, part time and casual arrangements, breaks, shift work and job classifications within a competency based career structure.

The role of union members

Only union members have a voice in the National Wage Case. Unions are the only group who represent workers and their interests in the process. This is how union members do it:


The Australian Minimum Wage came about because of political and community pressure from workers in their unions.

On 8 November 1907, Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration ruled in the "Harvester Case" that employers are required by law to provide all workers with, at minimum, a wage that met "the normal needs of an average employee, regarded as a human being in a civilised community". The minimum wage as a living wage was born.

Women and Indigenous people were not entitled to the same pay as white men. In 1966, unions supported strikes by Indigenous workers in the cattle industry which saw the Commission decide that all men should receive the same pay for equal work. Women in their unions fought against the unfair pay differences until 1972 when they successfully got the Commission to decide that both men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.

Union members have won lots of improvements to the industrial relations legislation. The way increases to Australia's minimum wage occur based of what is deemed to provide a living wage to a worker living in frugal comfort has remained the same.


The Australian Services Union is better known as the ASU. The ASU is one of Australia’s largest unions, representing about 135,000 members across the country. ASU members work in diverse jobs including in local government, airlines, utilities, social and community services, call centres and private sector clerical and administrative roles.

We have a proud history of defending and advancing the rights of our members through building collective power.

Find out more