Employment Conditions and Law
Australia is many things – a proud democracy, a modern market economy and a society with a plurality of political views. This article looks at employment law and conditions encountered in Australian daily life.
Australian working conditions are regarded as some the best in the world. Workers rights are enshrined in legislation and there are mandatory arbitration and conciliation agencies and procedures to help in the case of disputes between employee and employer. We have a minimum wage, collective bargaining, the freedom to join or not join a union, employment standards and award conditions and rates of pay.
There is more information about working conditions on the website of the Fair Work Ombudsman, including information on National Employment Standards, how to find an award for your industry (each industry has its own relevant minimum conditions), leave entitlements, unfair dismissal, and what to do if you’re being underpaid or not receiving at least your minimum entitlements.
The average full-time income in Australia for 2010 was $64,641. If you add in bonuses and overtime, it was $67,116. The average male wage is $69,233 and the female wage is $57,704. Some of the best-paid jobs in Australia are in the mining industry. Their ordinary income averages $103,111 a year – well ahead of the professional, science and technical workers, who average $77,761 a year. Retail workers earn around $48,703 a year.
If you’re working in Australia, make sure you’re being paid at least the minimum wage, which at July 2011 was $15.51 per hour or $589.30 per week. Keep an eye on the latest updates on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Minimum Wage webpage. Also, check out that page if you’re younger than 20 years of age or taking on an apprenticeship, as the rates of pay are different.
To find out what you should be earning, have a look at the PayCheck website. This has a search engine that calculates minimum rates of pay for people on modern awards, by industry. If you don’t know which award you come under, you can check it out at the Award Finder website.
It is also possible to earn overtime, for working beyond your basic hours. These may incur penalty rates and loadings (you get paid more than your normal hourly rate). The employment system also provides for allowances if, for instance, you use your own car for work, wear a uniform that needs to be laundered, or do work that is dirty or dangerous.
Superannuation is like a pension scheme. It has a compulsory element, which must be paid by employers (by law) into a superannuation fund – commonly referred to as a ‘super’. It’s nine per cent of your income. You don’t have to see it, handle it, or do anything other than nominate the fund you want your employer to put it in. As an employee, you can elect to put more money into the superannuation account, but this comes from your take-home pay.
You can’t access the funds until your retirement. But there are also quite a few conditions that much be met – you can’t just retire at 30 and access your super.
If you earn money in Australia (and therefore make superannuation contributions) and subsequently leave Australia, you don’t lose that money. To find out how to access the funds, check out the Government’s Superannuation Departing Australia website.
Superannuation is different to an old age pension, which are funds given to retired taxpayers by the Government.
A normal Australian working week for a full-time employee usually doesn't exceed 38 hours a week (unless the hours are reasonable). Those hours include approved leave.
The “reasonable hours” clause mentioned includes the consideration of a variety of factors, including risks of the employee’s health and safety, personal circumstances (like family commitments) and usual work patterns of the industry.
There’s a full rundown on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Hours of Work webpage.
Holidays and Leave
There are many kinds of leave outlined in the Australian employment system and enshrined in Australian employment law. Before you sign an employment contract, check what the leave arrangements are and check them against your entitlements on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Leave webpage.
Between the State and Commonwealth, there are usually 10 public holidays honoured in Australia each year, including Christmas Day, Boxing Day (December 26), Good Friday and Easter Monday. Employees who work on a public holiday are entitled to a day off with pay (subject to reasonable requests to work).
Under the National Employment Standards, all employees (although not casual employees) get paid annual leave based on their normal hours of work. You accrue this progressively during the year and if you haven’t taken all the leave to which you were entitled, when you leave the company, you get the holidays paid out.
The NES annual leave is usually four weeks for each 12 months of service. It can be five weeks for some shift workers. The NES leave entitlement is the minimum requirement, so it can’t be less than four weeks.
There are rules about accruing leave, an employer insisting you take leave, offering to pay out leave, and other such matters. Check them out on the Annual Leave webpage.
The NES allows full-time employees to take up to 10 days paid personal leave (for sick and paid carer’s leave) per year. This is calculated on a pro-rata basis for part-time employees. This can accumulate year on year. Although it is cumulative it is restricted to take 10 days per calendar year in the first year of employment and 12 days thereafter.
The Australian Government has generally tried to make it easier for both mothers and fathers to juggle their parenting responsibilities with their work life. Hence, parental leave exists. It’s not like most other forms of leave in that it is not paid. It’s basically time you can get off work when they become parents (both women and men). It covers both the birth of children and adoption.
The Australian Government has a paid parental leave program allowing 18 weeks paid maternity leave which is awarded by the federal government.
The NES allows paid compassionate leave to all employees (except casuals) when an immediate family or household member gets a life-threatening injury or illness, or dies. It is possible for casual employees to take unpaid compassionate leave in these circumstances.
There is also something called “paid personal leave” or “carer’s leave”, if you’re required to look after sick or injured members of your family (spouse, partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling).
Termination by Employer
Within the bounds of your contract and the law, your employer can terminate your employment in the case of a genuine redundancy or if dismissal is fair, just or reasonable. The NES has a lot to say about termination and the basics are on a fact sheet linked on the NES website.
Basically an employer has to comply with the minimum notice period or provide you with pay in lieu (to your full rate of pay) of the notice.
There are procedures and agencies in place to help you if you feel you have been unfairly dismissed or unlawfully terminated.
Termination by Employee
An employee may terminate their contract within the bounds of their contract and the law. Generally, employees must serve out their notice period to their employer. The NES requires that you give one week’s notice if you’ve served less than a year, two week’s notice if you’ve served less than three years, three weeks service for not more than five years and four weeks for longer than five years’ service.
Check your employment contract before you sign to make sure you’re aware of what your termination conditions are, because they might be different to the standards.
Again, notice can be paid out by the employer at equal to (or in excess of) the full rate of pay equivalent to the end of the notice period.
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