Award classifications

Find out how to read and apply classification descriptions in awards.

Employees covered by an award are paid according to their classification.

Tip: Who can use this information

Employers can use this information to help them classify their employees correctly.

Employees can use this information to understand how their award classification is set.

What an award classification is

Award classifications (also known as levels or grades) are descriptions of roles and types of work. They’re usually found towards the end of an award, often in Schedule A.

Classification descriptions often include information about:

  • the types of duties an employee may be expected to perform
  • whether the employee supervises other employees
  • the level of experience or qualifications an employee needs to work at that level.

An employee’s minimum pay rate is determined by their award classification. Employers need to make sure they’ve correctly identified each employee’s classification.

Award classifications and pay rates

To work out an employee’s minimum pay rate, you will need to know:

  • the award that covers the employee
  • their classification level.

An employee’s classification can change if their role changes or they get a new qualification. For example, an employee could change classification if they take on more responsibility for supervising other staff.

Employers should review their award’s classifications when an employee:

  • changes job or duties
  • takes on more responsibility, such as becoming a supervisor
  • completes relevant training, or
  • obtains a new qualification.

How to work out which award applies

To work out if an award covers an employee, you should read the coverage clause (usually clause 4) in the award.

If you’re not sure which award covers the employee:

Awards cover employers and employees depending on the:

  • industry they work in
  • type of work an employee performs.

You can’t rely on the award title to determine if the award covers the employee.

Before deciding that an award covers the employee:

  • carefully read the award’s coverage clause and check if there are any exclusions to who the award covers
  • check the employee’s duties are covered within the classification structure
  • consider whether another award could cover the employee.

To access an award in more detail, visit List of awards.

High income employees

Awards don’t apply to high income employees.

A high income employee is an employee who:

  • has accepted a written guarantee of annual earnings
  • is guaranteed to earn an annual amount that is more than the high income threshold.

Find out more about these rules at Award and agreement free wages and conditions.

Steps to work out an employee’s classification

The information below will help you to understand and apply classification definitions in an award. It’s not to replace reading the award provisions themselves.

Once you know your award, you need to:

  1. Find the classification definitions.
  2. Check the award’s instructions about classifying employees.
  3. Consider the classification definitions.
  4. Compare similar classifications.
  5. Share the information.

Step 1: Find the classification definitions

Awards contain definitions for each classification under the award. You can usually find classification definitions:

  • near the end of the award (often in Schedule A), or
  • in another section, such as the pay rates section.

Tip: Other ways to find classifications

If you can’t find the classifications, look in the table of contents of the award. You can also search ‘classification’ in the award itself.

You can find all awards on our List of awards page.

Step 2: Check the award’s instructions about classifying employees

Awards may contain an explanation or instructions about how to classify employees. These are usually found at the start of the classification definitions.

There are several factors that need to be considered when classifying an employee. Steps 3-5 below should be considered together alongside any explanation or instructions in an award.

Step 3: Consider the classification definitions

To find the right classification, make sure you read the definitions in full and consider all the factors together. These often include:

An employee’s classification is determined by:

  • the main purpose of their role and duties
  • how these both make up the major and substantial part of the employee’s employment.

These factors consider the:

  • nature of the work performed by the employee
  • circumstances in which the employee performs the work
  • time spent performing each of the employee’s duties.

Tasks or duties and job titles

Tasks or duties

Consider the tasks or duties an employee is expected to do.

Classification definitions usually include lists of ‘indicative tasks’ that someone would normally do at each level. The award will often say if the employee has to do most, some or any of the tasks on the list to be classified at a particular level.

Example: Indicative tasks

Ling works as a waiter at a Thai restaurant. She’s responsible for training and supervising junior staff as well as undertaking general waiting duties. Ling has undertaken formal supervisory training.

The classifications at grades 1 to 3 in the food and beverage stream of the Restaurant Award include lists of indicative tasks that an employee at each grade may perform. Some duties of a grade 3 employee are also listed at grades 1 and 2. These include receiving money and general waiting duties.

Grade 3 is the only grade that:

  • includes training and supervision of lower classified employees
  • requires an employee to have an appropriate level of training to perform work at that level.

When Ling’s employer, Steve, is considering Ling’s classification, he decides that she should be classified at grade 3. This is even though Ling is also undertaking duties of a grade 1 or 2 employee. Ling should be classified as a grade 3 because she undertakes supervisory duties and has an appropriate level of training.

Job titles

Classification definitions sometimes also include indicative job titles.

Lists of indicative job titles in awards aren’t exhaustive. This means that they’re not the only jobs an employee could be doing to be classified at a particular level. For more information, go to Indicative job titles in awards in our Library.

Tip: Consider duties actually performed

When classifying someone under an award, it’s important not to just rely on job titles or job descriptions. They can be misleading as they’re not always exactly the same as the work performed by the employee.

Consider what duties the person actually performs. Then, compare them to the classification definitions in the relevant award.

Remember that lists of duties or tasks in classification definitions can be indicative rather than comprehensive. This means the employee may not need to do everything that is listed. Also, an employee may perform duties or tasks that aren’t listed.

Skills and competence

An employee’s level of competency (or ability) when performing different tasks is also key in some awards to determine an employee’s classification. Some awards say which skills and levels of ability employees need to be able to demonstrate to be classified at a certain level.

Even if employees are performing the same type of tasks, some employees who are working at a higher classification level may:

  • do work of a higher quality, or
  • require less direct supervision.
Example: Skills and competence

John works in a restaurant in a large hotel. The hotel is covered by the Hospitality Award.

John hasn’t worked in hospitality before. When he started at the hotel, he was classified at the Introductory level, the lowest level in the award.

The Hospitality Award provides that an Introductory level employee moves to level 1 after 3 months. This applies unless the employee and employer agree that further training is required for an employee to achieve the necessary competency to progress.

Simin is John’s manager and has been training him in his duties. She believes that John has learnt his duties very quickly.

After 3 months, Simin assesses John's competency. She determines that he has the skills to progress to the next level. John’s new classification is level 1. This means he is working as a Food and beverage attendant grade 1.

Qualifications and training

Some awards will require an employee to hold certain qualifications or training to be classified at a particular level.

Example: Qualifications and training

Janet manages a hair salon. She hires a new hairdresser and requires them to have a Certificate III in Hairdressing.

When considering qualifications, the Hair and Beauty Award says employees with this qualification are classified as at least a Hair and beauty employee level 3.

Some awards also recognise relevant industry experience or occupational experience. This is as an alternative to a qualification when classifying employees at a particular level.

Example: Prior industry experience or qualification

Mike’s business makes packaged snacks for cafés. He is covered by the Food and Beverage Manufacturing Award.

Mike hires a new employee, Elizabeth. She has worked in the industry for many years but doesn’t have any formal qualifications.

Under the award, the Level 5 classification requires either:

  • a Certificate 3 qualification, or
  • equivalent recognised workplace or industry experience, training or prior learning experience or skills.

An employee at Level 5 also performs work to the competencies listed in A.2.5(b) of the award.

Once he has considered Elizabeth’s work and industry experience, Mike classifies Elizabeth at Level 5 under the Food and Beverage Manufacturing Award.

Qualifications may not need to be considered if someone isn’t using their qualification (for example, the qualification is not relevant to the job).

Amount of experience

Some awards say that an employee moves to a higher classification once they’ve:

  • worked in a job or industry for a certain period
  • gained relevant experience.

Time in the industry can include an employee’s experience with a previous employer in the same industry.

Example: Time in the industry

Sakib starts work in a construction company as a labourer. It’s his first job, so he has no previous experience in the industry.

When he starts work, he’s classified as a Construction Worker 1 (level a) under the Building and Construction Award.

The award says that Sakib will move to the Construction Worker 1 (level b) classification after he’s had 3 months’ experience in the industry.

Example: Time worked at a particular classification level

Sara is a teacher at a primary school. For the past 2 years, she’s been employed at Level 2 under the Education Services (Teachers) Award.

Sara won’t be eligible to progress to Level 3 until she completes 3 years of satisfactory teaching service at Level 2. This is because that’s one of the requirements of the classification.

Amount of supervision required or performed

Some award classifications are based in part on:

  • the amount of supervision needed for the job, or
  • whether the employee supervises other people.

At higher classifications, employees can work more independently and may supervise others.

In some cases, employees performing similar tasks may be under different classifications based on whether employees do them under direct supervision or independently.

Example: Reduced supervision

Layla is a customer contact officer for a manufacturing company. She is covered by the Clerks Award.

When Layla started, she was classified as a Level 1 employee. Her manager, Claire, needed to supervise her closely and give her a lot of direction about what tasks to work on.

Now that Layla has been in the role for a few months, Claire only needs to give her general supervision and instructions. Generally, Layla is allowed to:

  • work independently
  • use her own judgement when helping customers with some problems
  • manage her own time, following the company’s internal processes.

As Layla is working independently and on more complex tasks than when she started, Claire considers if Layla should still be classified as a Level 1. Claire thinks that Layla now demonstrates the competencies of a higher level, including by helping less experienced employees at the same level.

Claire determines that Layla is more appropriately classified as a Level 2 employee under the Clerks Award.

Step 4: Compare similar classifications

When you’ve found the right classification, it’s always a good idea to read the classification descriptions of the levels above and below the classification you’ve decided on.

Doing this helps you check that you’ve found the right one.

Employers need to make sure that the main purpose of the employee’s role aligns with the award classification level. They also need to be clear about why they selected it.

Step 5: Share the information

When an employer is sure they’ve selected the right classification, they should tell their employee.

Sharing the information helps:

  • an employee understand what’s expected of them at work
  • both employers and employees to feel confident that the classification and pay rate reflect the work the employee does.

Tip: Award notification requirements

Some awards also require an employer to tell an employee their classification.

Make sure you check your award to see if it sets out this requirement.

Working temporarily at a higher classification

Some awards may contain provisions that allow an employee to work at a higher classification for a limited amount of time. For example, an employee might do the work of a higher-level employee while that employee is on leave. This is also known as working at ‘higher duties’.

If an employee is temporarily performing higher duties, they may be:

  • performing tasks they wouldn’t normally perform
  • taking on extra responsibility.

When this happens, the employee may be entitled to a higher award pay rate for the time they work at the higher level.

Under some awards, an employee has to work at the higher classification for a minimum period before being entitled to payment at the higher pay rate.

Resolving classification issues

If you think you might have been classified incorrectly, or classified an employee incorrectly, you should:

  • talk about it – many workplace issues can be resolved quickly and easily if the employer and employee discuss them
  • contact us for help with award classification
  • check if your award has a dispute resolution process related to your classification issue.

Tip: Access a free guide

If you need help raising a problem in the workplace, access our free guide: Raising your problem in the workplace.

The guide includes:

  • step-by-step instructions
  • example situations to help better understand how to resolve work issues
  • free tools and resources you can use, including templates
  • other tips and handy hints.

Find other guidance and tips in our Workplace problems section.

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