Employment law has historically been governed by federal and state industrial laws and by awards which have been created under these laws.
Important dates for changes to federal and state industrial laws
Over recent years there have been a number of changes to federal and state industrial laws.
As of 1 January 2010, there are only two different systems of industrial/employment laws for the private sector in Australia. All of the states and territories except Western Australia are part of the federal industrial relations system. This is because all of the states except Western Australia have handed over their powers to make industrial laws to the federal government. The employers in these states and some employers in Western Australia are called national system employers
The state systems no longer apply to industrial relations in the private sector, except for some employers in WA. Read more about Western Australia.
There is also only one federal award called the Pastoral Award 2020 which applies to all national system employers in the dairy industry who engage employees to perform work in one of the classifications under the Award.
The federal industrial laws lay down a set of 11 minimum standards called the National Employment Standards (NES) which apply to all employees, as a minimum regardless of whether they are covered by an award or a workplace agreement. The NES are:
- maximum weekly hours of work;
- requests for flexible working arrangements;
- offers and requests to convert from casual to permanent employment;
- parental leave;
- annual leave;
- personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave (includes family and domestic violence leave);
- community service leave;
- long service leave;
- public holidays;
- notice of termination and redundancy pay;
- Fair Work Information Statement;
Most of the NES were incorporated into all modern awards which apply as of 1 January 2010. The NES also apply as a minimum to all employees covered by workplace agreements, including workplace agreements entered into before 1 January 2010, and all award-free employees.
There are federal laws about termination of employment
The federal industrial laws also introduce a series of ‘general protections‘ provisions which provide a number of rights which can be exercised and enforced under the federal industrial laws. The federal industrial laws provide protections for certain rights, including:
- workplace rights;
- the right to engage in industrial activities;
- the right to be free from unlawful discrimination;
- the right to be free from undue influence or pressure in negotiating individual arrangements.
These rights are protected from certain unlawful actions, including:
- adverse action;
- undue influence or pressure in relation to: individual flexibility arrangements (IFA) under modern awards and enterprise agreements; guarantees of annual earnings; and deductions from wages.
Record keeping is an important part of the federal industrial laws which can be enforced by the Fair Work Ombudsman – read more about record keeping
As of 1 July 2009, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission was replaced by a new body called the Fair Work Commission
There is also a Fair Work Ombudsman who has published a Fair Work Handbook to assist employers to better understand the Fair Work Act and their obligations under workplace laws. The handbook provides an overview of the aspects of the Fair Work Act that employers must be familiar with, including:
- The 11 National Employment Standards (NES);
- Awards and agreements;
- Pay slips and record-keeping;
- Employing staff;
- Handling workplace disputes;
- Managing under performance; and
- General protections
The handbook can be combined with your workplace policies and procedures to provide a single source of information for employees and managers.