May Day 2023: Standing up for the rights of artists and arts workers

To celebrate May Day, NAVA shares an update of where we’re at with seeking an Award for the Visual Arts.

May Day, held each year on 1 May, is an international celebration commemorating the struggles and gains made by workers and the labour movement. It is a fitting day to share an update on NAVA’s work to establish a legislated Award for the Visual Arts, Craft and Design sector. 

In November 2022, NAVA launched its #RecogniseArtistsAsWorkers campaign with a petition on calling for a legislated Award for the visual arts, craft and design sector. This was signed by more than 7,600 artists and arts workers across Australia.

There is currently a great deal of inconsistency in the way visual artists and arts workers are paid and recognised – or not. NAVA’s newly revised national Code of Practice for Visual Arts, Craft and Design (the Code) provides important pay guidelines for employers of artists and arts workers. Yet as a voluntary tool, NAVA is unable to enforce the payment of adequate fees and wages for artists and arts workers. A legal framework to address this would have tremendous impact. Developed through extensive consultation with artists, arts workers, sector networks and advisors across the entire sector, the Code offers a useful starting point for the development of a legally enforceable Award. 

As well as endorsing NAVA’s Code of Practice, the Australian Government recently made a commitment under the new National Cultural Policy, to include Award coverage of the arts sector and minimum standards as part of the upcoming Review of Modern Awards. This is a rare opportunity for us to establish critical industrial rights for artists and arts workers.

Late last year, NAVA had a preliminary meeting to discuss the need for an Award with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR). NAVA staff met with another team at DEWR in March 2023 while visiting Parliament House, as well as a separate online meeting with the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

While neither DEWR nor FWC gave a clear response about the timing of the Modern Award Review, they advised: 

  • Having partners will strengthen the case for a new Award.
  • Presenting the result of consultation and conversations across employer and employee representatives helps to speed up the process.
  • We need to present evidence and agreed parameters as well as opposing views as part of a joint submission on behalf of multiple parties.
  • The FWC will need to be assured that no existing Award covers the employees in scope, so any assistance with this will also move the process along.
  • NAVA should start work on drafting the Award and seek legal assistance – the Arts Law Centre of Australia have agreed to assist NAVA.
  • An organisation with the authority to represent the industrial interests of those who will be covered by the Award is required to make the proposal.

Next Steps

NAVA’s focus in the coming months is to:

  • Confirm support from colleague organisations for a legislated Award.
  • Arrange meetings with existing unions, including the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to discuss and scope interest in representing the visual arts.
  • Work on drafting the Award in liaison with Arts Law.
  • Unpack overlaps with existing Awards, referring to the Live Performance Award 2020 as a case study.

We encourage those with expertise and capacity to assist NAVA with this work to email us via

In the meantime, NAVA also continues advocating for Centrelink to recognise artists as workers. As part of the National Cultural Policy, the government made a commitment to develop information about the flexibility available for artists looking for work or working in the creative arts sector, and to have this recognised as part of their mutual obligation requirements for unemployment payments.

As part of this work, NAVA directly advised and made a submission to DEWR as part of their Workplace Reforms consultation on ‘employee-like’ forms of work. There is a great deal of consultation work currently underway as part of major reforms to the Fair Work laws. Four out of eleven consultation papers have been published to date. NAVA is following these and feeding in when relevant for the visual arts.

Additionally, the Australia Council is currently working on establishing the new Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces, another National Cultural Policy initiative. NAVA has expressed interest in contributing to the process, drawing on learnings from our recent revision of the Code of Practice, with particular consideration for the safety of those making a complaint. 

For decades, NAVA has been setting payment rates and calling for greater regulation in the visual arts, craft and design sector. There has never been a more crucial opportunity for the arts community to establish a legal Award framework. Let’s ensure artists and arts workers are recognised as workers and the creators of culture.

Stronger Together

Sector-wide collaboration is essential for building a future where artists’ careers and practices are sustained and nourished. 

Image: NAVA's Fair Pay campaign, 2017. Photo by Tanja Bruckner.

ID: A person leaning over a concrete balustrade holding up a large white sign which says ARTISTS SHOULD BE PAID JUST LIKE YOU painted in large black letters. The person holding the sign has blonde hair and red fingernails. To the left is another person with dark brown hair speaking into a megaphone. In the background are parts of a heavy concrete building.