Australia has a copious number of attractive industries and markets for foreign businesses and investors. Whether in FinTech, mining, agriculture, or renewable energy, there are certainly lucrative opportunities for markets of all types.

If you’ve already established yourself in one of these markets, or you’re looking in to expanding into the Australian market, one thing to be aware of is the host of employment laws in the country. While they can seem complex, a simple explanation of what to expect should put you on the path to success.

Australia’s employment law governing body

Australia’s Fair Work Act provides legislation for workplace expectations and regulations.

The Fair Work Act of 2009 (FW Act) is the general basis for all Australia’s established employment law, as well as work, health and safety, and non-discriminatory regulations. The act creates a council, the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which oversees employment regulations, awards, and enterprise agreements.

On an annual basis, the FWC reviews minimum wage requirements for the country. Most recently, the commission deemed the minimum hourly wage in Australia would be AU$18.93.

Additionally, the FW Act states that employment contracts need not be in writing to make them official. Oral contracts suffice and hold up as legitimate. Once employment at an establishment begins, businesses are required to distribute a copy of the National Employment Standards to their new employees. These standards are covered in detail below.

The basics of employment law in Australia

The basics of employment law in Australia are based on the National Employment Standards (NES). This document outlines ten minimum employee entitlements in the workforce which employers must comply with. These minimum requirements are as follows:

  • maximum 38-hour work week for full-time employees
  • employees who have worked for a company for 12 months or more may request flexible working hours if they meet one of the six categories
  • employees are entitled to 12 months of unpaid parental leave and may request an additional 12 months of leave
  • full-time employees are entitled to annual, paid leave
  • entitled to personal/carer’s leave, compassionate leave, and unpaid family and domestic violence leave
  • granted paid leave for jury duty and unpaid leave for voluntary emergency management activities
  • paid leave for public holidays
  • long service leave
  • up to 5 weeks notice of termination and up to 16 weeks redundancy pay
  • Fair Work Information Statement

If a company does not comply with these standards, monetary damages may be awarded to employees, as well as possible legal repercussions enforced upon the business.

Trade Unions in Australia

Trade unions in Australia have a host of rights and responsibilities that business owners must acknowledge. 

Much like labor culture in New Zealand, unions in Australia play a crucial role in the employment sector. The organization serves as a representative of the employee during disputes with their employer. Moreover, unions can serve as a bargaining tool during negotiations between employees and employers. Because of their vast involvement in the job market, it is important that businesses recognize and work with trade unions and their employees.

Under the FW Act, unions have a variety of rights within the workplace. These rights include, but are not limited to:

  • Representation of a member/potential member in legal proceedings
  • Entering a workplace to inspect safety standards, given they have proper permits and governmental approval
  • Investigating a suspected breach in health or safety protocol
  • Require employers to provide them with relevant documentation and/or records
  • Entering the workplace to speak with employees

Overall, unions in Australia exercise a fair share of power in the workplace and in regards to employment law. The activity levels of the unions in this country are comparatively higher than most other countries, so it is important to be aware of the rights and roles they play in employment.

Positive workplace environment

In general, these rules and regulations create a workplace environment where employees can feel safe and valued. According to Curtin University’s research report on Australia’s employee happiness in the workplace, over 40% of employees reported being very satisfied with their job. Comparatively speaking, this is a very high and favorable percentage.

Satisfied employees are typically more productive and profitable at work than unsatisfied ones. Employers stand to benefit from the implementation of these laws and the involvement of labor unions. Complying with the minimum standards is expected, but going beyond these and treating employees favorably could reap more benefits for the employer. Overall, abiding by employment law creates a safe and healthy work environment, but going above these expectations will pay off even more.

Contact us for help

Entering the Australian market presents businesses with a host of opportunities. Inevitably, growing business may need to consider hiring employees. The Australian labor market and its rules can be complicated to navigate. When starting your move to into markets ‘down under,’ contact Biz Latin Hub for all your commercial representation and back office needs

Biz Latin Hub’s award for Business Excellence by the Australian-Latin America Business Council demonstrates the support we receive from Australian institutions to connect businesses and support start-ups in the region.

Reach out to us at [email protected] for assistance in navigating Latin American and Oceanian markets.