Over seven years ago, in 2014, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) commenced a review of the Nurses Award. The process is now complete, with the Nurses Award 2020 commencing on 9 September 2021.
While the Nurses Award 2020 looks largely the same as the Nurses Award 2010, some significant changes have been made due to the award review, together with a plain language tidy up and clause re-ordering to make the Award easier to read and understand.
In January 2019, some substantial changes were made.1
Increase to rest breaks between shifts
The FWC agreed with the ANMF that rest breaks between rostered shifts should be increased from eight to 10 hours. This change was strongly opposed by employer representatives.
The FWC agreed with the ANMF’s arguments around safety:
…It will often be impractical for an employee to leave the workplace, travel home, eat and sleep for a healthy duration and travel back to work with an eight hour break between shifts. For this reason, the employee’s agreement should be obtained to reduce from 10 hours as the employee will be in the best position to manage their own fatigue. 2
More detail and enforceable rights in meal breaks clause
Previously the meal breaks clause did not specify a time when breaks should occur, giving total discretion to employers. The new clauses from 2018 clarify that meal breaks will be taken between the fourth and the sixth hour after beginning work, where reasonably practicable.
Free from duty and on-call
Previously the Award had allowed employers to roster a worker five days per week and then have them on-call on their days off, meaning the employee never had a day where they were truly given a chance to rest and pursue personal and family activities. Changes made in late 2018 mandated that days free from work include being placed on-call.3
Telephone and other remote on-call work
The ANMF had sought that the Award clearly state that doing remote work, such as telephone advice or emails, out of hours should be compensated like all other recall work with a minimum of three hours per engagement. Employers were generally opposed to this and instead sought to insert a small allowance.
Ultimately the FWC took a different view to all parties and inserted clauses that provide if an employee is recalled to work and required to perform that work via electronic communication away from the workplace, they will be paid a minimum of one hour’s work at overtime rates. For work longer than one hour, they will be paid for the time worked rounded to the nearest 15 minutes at the appropriate overtime rate.
Rate of pay for casuals working overtime, weekends and public holidays
Another issue raised during the award review process was the result of excellent work by the ANMF’s QNMU Branch in April 2019. The QNMU Branch successfully demonstrated that the rate of pay for casual employees working overtime, weekends and public holidays were calculated on a compounding basis in the Domain Aged Care4 decision.
As the “exposure draft” of the proposed new Award did not contain the correct higher rates spelled out in Domain Aged Care, this needed to be addressed. The Australian Industry Group made an application to amend the Nurses Award 2010 that would have effectively reduced casual rates for overtime, weekends and public holidays. The application was unsuccessful, and the decision in Domain Aged Care was affirmed.
A substantially rewritten exposure draft was published in May. It clearly recognised that casuals covered by the Award are entitled to casual rates for overtime, weekends and public holidays calculated on a compounding basis. The Award includes a clear definition of the “casual hourly rate”, which is used to calculate casual pay on overtime, weekends and public holidays. Schedule B of the new Nurses Award 2020 also has wages tables for the casual hourly rates for weekends and public holidays.
The changes to the Award also form the basis of assessing whether an enterprise agreement will pass the ‘better off overall test’, so it’s important to be aware of what the Award contains when it comes to bargaining.
The Nurses Award 2020 is a contemporaneous, easy-to-read document, which has brought improvements to the minimum safety net and greater clarity of entitlements.
1  FWCFB 121
2  FWCFB 7347 at 
3 Ibid., at 
4 Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation v Domain Aged Care (QLD) Pty Ltd T/A Opal Aged Care  FWCFB 1716