retail award rates

Retail Award Rates: Complete Guide 2021

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The Australian retail industry turned over $350 billion in 2020, making it one of the largest sectors in the economy. There are almost 140,000 retail businesses in Australia, employing approximately 1.3 million people. This accounts for 10% of all employment nationwide. It means a large number of Australians are covered under the retail award.

About the Retail Award

Award rates were created by the Australian Government to balance the need for employees in Australia’s largest industries to be given a fair go with businesses needing to be profitable. The awards were modernised in 2010 by the Fair Work Commission.

Fair Work created the General Retail Industry Award 2020 [MA000004] as a comprehensive set of pay rules for employees in the sector. It tells businesses the minimum wages and entitlements they need to give employees. This includes pay rates, allowances and rules for all workers in the Australian retail industry.

Typically, people covered by the award are those who work in supermarkets, food retailing, grocery stores, department stores, clothing and recreational goods and other retail businesses. For a full definition of the scope of the award, look here under “3. Definitions and interpretations”.

Industrial relations award rates are legislated by the Federal Government, rather than individual states. This means the retail award is the same for all employees in New South Wales, Queensland, and Australia-wide.

Limitations of The Award System

There are 122 Modern Awards under Australia’s industrial relations framework. The average Award has between 180-200 individual rules, covering overtime hours, RDO overtime, public holidays and late-night shifts. While the award system does provide a set of instructions for employers, many are finding that the increasing complexity of entitlements is proving difficult to keep track of. 

Historically, business owners and managers have used the Fair Work Commission’s calculator to manually look up entitlements for each employee, before entering the rates into their payroll system. However, the more staff you have, the more time consuming and complex this process becomes. A 2019 study by the Australian HR Institute revealed that 33% of Aussie businesses admitted to making errors on every single monthly pay run. 

With 241 individual rules and classifications within the General Retail Award, it’s no surprise that errors are a frequent occurrence.

General retail award pay rates

Below are the minimum general retail award adult pay rates for 2021 for the various levels of employment, sourced directly from the retail award. The current rule set came into effect on the 1st of September 2021.

Keeping compliant with Fair Work legislation

Australia’s modern award system can be extremely complex. Because of this, automatic award interpretation software has become industry standard. Manually calculating entitlements under the system is complicated and error prone. Automatic software like Tanda adds the correct pay rates to rosters and timesheets, and adjusts for overtime, allowances and higher duties.

All managed awards, including the retail award, have built-in base rates that sync with payroll and update on staff birthdays or when Fair Work mandates change. This means that the retail award rates are updated in accordance with all future Fair Work changes and birthdate rollovers for employees, keeping businesses compliant without constantly monitoring Fair Work’s site for updates to complex rule sets.

Classifying employees under the Retail Award

One of the biggest reasons employers underpay staff is because they have been incorrectly classified. The rates and entitlements vary dramatically depending on what classification an employee is. For a complete guide on how to classify staff, Fair Work provides advice here. But, for a basic outline, see below:


  • Usually works, on average, 38 hours each week.
  • Can be a permanent employee or on a fixed-term contract.


  • On average work less than 38 hours per week.
  • Commonly work regular hours each week.
  • Can be a permanent employee or on a fixed-term contract.


  • Are employed with the understanding that there is no firm advance commitment to ongoing work with an agreed pattern of work.

Casual conversion

The Australian Government has recently introduced laws which allow some casuals to become permanent employees. Typically, a business needs to offer a casual permanent employment if they’ve been at the firm for at least a year and worked consistent hours in that time. For more information on casual conversion see Tanda’s complete guide on the topic.

The retail award includes casual conversion and you’ll need to take this into account when rostering employees. If casuals are eligible to become permanent it also grants them additional entitlements such as annual leave and sick leave.

Penalties and allowances 

Like most awards, retail employees are entitled to penalties and allowances under certain working conditions. Typically, penalty rates offer workers higher rates for working at inconvenient times, including weekends or at night (after 6PM). Workers are also eligible for overtime pay if they work longer than their rostered hours. Typically, overtime rates increase the more overtime an employee does in a shift.

Retail employees are also given allowances by the award. This includes allowances for laundry, clothing and meals amongst other things. The interpretation of these allowances can be complicated and depends on the situation of your business. For a full list, click here.

Leave entitlements

Staff can expect to receive the same leave entitlements under the retail award as many other modern awards, as employees are entitled to leave as set out in the National Employment Standards (NES). Leave entitlements are commonly dictated by the classification of the employee.

Typically, this means casual workers receive an extra 25% pay loading in return for not having entitlements like annual leave, with part time and full time workers receiving these benefits. But, there are many entitlements and interpreting them isn’t always straightforward. 


  • Are entitled to paid leave including annual leave and sick & carer’s leave.


  • Are entitled to paid leave including annual leave and sick & carer’s leave.


  • Are not entitled to paid leave including annual leave and sick & carer’s leave.
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