Throughout the greater part of the 20th century the Australian industrial relations system had developed a complex web of industrial awards that were the primary source (and the pace setter) for determining the wages and conditions of employees. The terms of such awards were largely drafted by the parties in settlement of an interstate industrial dispute and contained substantial ambiguities consistent with the nature of compromises made in the settlement of disputes.
During the 1990s enterprise agreements developed a prominence as the preferred form of industrial instrument, so that awards had reverted to the status of providing a safety net for minimum wages and conditions in particular industries (and subsets of industries) and for an array of occupations or vocations. By 2005 there were over 2,000 federal and state industrial awards in the industrial relations system covering the minimum wages and conditions for employees in the private sector in Australia.
On 13 February 2008 the (then) Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Ms Julia Gillard, formally announced the award modernisation program. This task was to be undertaken by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (now known as Fair Work Australia) under specific directions and consultative mechanisms, with a deadline for completion by 31 December 2009.
On 1 January 2010, around 2,000 old federal and state awards were effectively conflated into 122 modern federal awards, to apply across Australia, regardless of State or Territory boundaries. From that date, State private sector awards were effectively made redundant so that their coverage (as well as old federal award coverage) has been absorbed into one or more of these 122 modern awards.
 Second Reading Speech, Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition To Forward With Fairness) Bill 2008