Career Development

Work Rights in Australia: A Comprehensive Guide

October 21, 2021

Professionals working for a business in Australia have several rights that protect them from working in poor or unfair conditions and environments. These rules cover reasons for time off and employment contract agreements, among other rights. Learning about work rights in Australia may help you understand your professional contract and working arrangements. In this article, we discuss work rights in Australia and the different types of employment you might experience during your career, and provide information about the minimum wage.

Related: What Is a Contract of Employment? (Your Ultimate Guide)

Work rights in Australia

The National Employment Standards (NES) outlines the minimum work rights in Australia for various working environments. Different employment types may offer various rights depending on your work structure and industry. In addition, an agreement or contract between you and your company may specify additional rights. Consider checking your contract and the guidelines in your industry to learn more about what you're entitled to.

Types of employment

Professionals can work in different employment types under different contracts, which can affect the rights they have under the NES guidelines. The different types of employment you might have include:

Full time

Full-time employees typically work under a fixed-term contract for one company. These professionals usually work between 38 to 40 hours a week and earn a salary. Full-time employees often work Monday to Friday or a similar structure each week.

Part time

Part-time employees also work on a contract basis. These employees work less than 38 hours per week, with regular hours each week. Part-time employees might work a few days per week or work Monday to Friday with fewer hours than full-time employees.

Casual

Casual employees typically don't have regular set hours per week. They may work when an employer requires them. Casual employees often work varying schedules. They may have a higher hourly wage than part-time employees but get fewer benefits.
Related: What Is the Difference Between Casual and Part-Time Work?

Fixed-term

Fixed-term employees work for a specific period or until the completion of tasks or projects. They differ from full-time employees who work permanently until one party ends the employment contract. Fixed-term employees might work as consultants on projects where businesses require extra services.

Shift workers

Shift workers work shifts that typically involve irregular hours or days to fulfil their tasks. Their employers compensate them with additional payments for working shift hours. Shift workers often work on projects, on mine sites or at events where operations can be ongoing.

Probation

Probation employees are usually under an agreement that provides a more relaxed commitment from an employer, typically at the start of the employment relationship. Probation periods allow employers to assess the suitability of employees in particular positions before entering a permanent position. These employees often shift to a permanent type of employment once the probation period ends.

Apprentices and trainees

Apprentices and trainees are employees working within regulated training arrangements that combine work experience with education. The appropriate state or territory training association typically arrange this employment type. Apprenticeships are common in industries where on-the-job training is critical.

Related: What is an Apprenticeship?

National Employment Standards

The NES outlines minimum entitlements for Australian employees. These requirements and the national minimum wage make up the primary work rights in Australia, which include:

Maximum weekly hours

Maximum weekly hours apply to all professionals in Australia, regardless of their agreement or contract with their employer. This means professionals may only work a particular number of hours per week without additional compensation or overtime pay. The maximum standard hours are:

  • 38 hours for full-time employees
  • less than 38 hours for non full-time employees or the agreed-upon amount

Requests for flexible working arrangements

Professionals that have worked for an employer for longer than 12 months may request flexible working arrangements. These can include changes to hours, work schedules and location of work. Employees that have the right to request flexible working include:

  • parents of young or school-aged children, or those who have the same responsibility
  • carers
  • people with a disability
  • people aged 55 or older
  • people currently experiencing family or domestic violence or caring for a member of their household or immediate family experiencing this violence
  • casual employees who have worked for the same employer regularly for over 12 months

Offers and requests to change employment type

The NES offers a pathway for casual employees to transition into permanent positions if they've worked for their employer longer than 12 months. When casual employees meet specific requirements, their employers might offer them a permanent role that they can accept or reject. This entitlement applies to most organisations, excluding small business employers.

Parental leave

Parental leave refers to the time off that professionals can earn when:

  • they give birth to a baby
  • their spouse or partner gives birth
  • they adopt a child 15 years old or younger

Parental leave applies to all professionals who have worked for a company longer than 12 months before the expected birth date for pregnancies or before the date of adoption. Professionals can claim this leave if they're responsible for caring for the child. They can take up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave and have the right to request an additional 12 months of unpaid leave if they're in this situation. Casual employees may also have parental leave when they have been working regularly for their employer for at least 12 months.

Annual leave

Annual leave, commonly referred to as holiday pay, entitles individuals to their regular wage or salary while taking a specific amount of time off work. The NES outlines a minimum amount of annual leave days that professionals may have, and employers can offer more annual leave but not less. Full-time and part-time employees have four weeks of annual leave per year based on their work hours, and shift workers may receive up to five weeks annually. Casual workers are the only employees not entitled to paid annual leave.

Personal leave or sick and carer's leave

Personal leave or sick and carer's leave allows individuals to take time off work to help them overcome personal illness, carry out caring requirements and tend to emergencies, including experiencing domestic violence. Professionals can take sick leave when they're ill or injured, taking paid time off to recover. If an individual cares for immediate family or household members, they can also claim this leave when the person they care for is ill or injured.

Community service leave

Community service leave is a right for all types of professionals performing voluntary emergency management activities or jury duty, including casual employees. Community service leave is unpaid, except for jury duty. Employees undertake a voluntary emergency management activity when:

  • the task involves working with emergencies or natural disasters
  • employees perform the activity voluntarily
  • employees are requested to partake in the activity
  • employees are a member of the organisation undertaking the emergency management

Long service leave

Professionals may qualify for long service leave after serving an employer for a long time. The amount of time before employees receive long service leave and how much leave they can take is governed by the specific laws in each state or territory. With the exception of some states, casual employees generally don't have the right to long service leave.

Public holidays

Professionals may have the right to earn benefits on public holidays, but the details differ between each state or territory. Permanent employees typically receive the day off, while casual employers may work with an increased wage. Public holiday dates can differ around the country, so researching when these days are and what rights you have in your location can help you understand what to expect.

Notice of termination and redundancy

Employers and employees may have to provide a notice period when they end their employment, with specific rules outlining an individual's final payment. Work rights in Australia mean that employees may receive additional payments when an employer terminates the relationship. Similarly, when roles become redundant and employers no longer need a certain team member, they may earn compensation. This usually includes a payment package with other benefits to support the employee while searching for a new job.

Related: The Essential Guide to Redundancy Payouts and Redundancy Notice Periods

Fair Work Information Statement

The final minimum employment entitled as outlined by the NES describes the necessity for employers to provide staff members with a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement (FWIS) before they start the job. This explains the work conditions that deliver a fair work environment for team members. Casual employees receive a copy of the Casual Employment Information Statement (CEIS) instead, which describes similar work conditions.

Minimum wage

As well as the NES minimal entitlements, the minimum wage is a work right for Australian employees. Employers pay professionals equal to or above the minimum wage to ensure they obey Australian work laws. The national minimum wage is $20,33 per hour or $772.60 per week.
Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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