Employment and workplace relations

Australia’s workplace relations system focuses on safety, flexibility and productivity in the workplace. The aim is to have a fair and equitable industrial relations system and a clear and enforceable set of minimum national employment standards. 

The national workplace relations system is established by the Fair Work Act 2009 and other laws. It covers the majority of private sector employees and employers in Australia.

The key elements of the workplace relations framework are:

  • a safety net of minimum terms and conditions of employment
  • a system of enterprise-level collective bargaining underpinned by bargaining obligations and rules governing industrial action
  • provision for individual flexibility arrangements as a way to allow an individual worker and an employer to make flexible work arrangements that meet their genuine needs, provided that the employee is better off overall
  • protection against unfair termination of employment 
  • protection against adverse action taken by the employer when the employee is exercising a workplace right such as making a complaint relating to WHS, and
  • protection of the freedom of both employers and employees to choose whether or not to be represented by a third party in workplace matters and the provision of rules governing the rights and responsibilities of employer and employee representatives.

Australia’s principal workplace relations laws are enacted by the Commonwealth parliament. Key aspects of the Fair Work Act include the National Employment Standards and the regulation of enterprise bargaining and industrial disputes. Individual grievances against employers and general protection provisions are covered by the Fair Work Act, which also deals with termination of employment, discrimination and diversity. Employee privacy, superannuation, taxation and some aspects of work health and safety are also included in the range of matters regulated under this legislation. 

The practical application of the Fair Work Act in workplaces is overseen by the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Fair Work Commission  is the independent national workplace relations tribunal. It has the power to carry out a range of functions in relation to workplace matters such as the safety net of minimum conditions, enterprise bargaining, industrial action, dispute resolution, workplace bullying complaints and the termination of employment.

The Fair Work Ombudsman  helps employees, employers, contractors and the wider community to understand their workplace rights and responsibilities and compliance with Australia’s workplace laws. Matters about which the Fair Work Ombudsman provides advice and information include pay, leave, employee entitlements, awards and agreements, ending employment and small business issues such as flexible working arrangements and managing underperformance.

In addition to Commonwealth legislation such as the Fair Work Act 2009, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, numerous Acts of parliament in each state and territory also provide protections relevant to employment and workplace relations. These include Industrial Relations Acts and Acts covering minimum conditions of employment, workplace agreements, long service leave, and discrimination.

[Last updated 31 July 2015]


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