Employment Law Changes

This article provides a comprehensive overview of Australian employment legislation, unpacking significant laws, employer rights, and recent reforms shaping workplace dynamics and relationships.

Employment law is a wide-ranging field of legislation that outlines the legal relationship between employers and their employees. It establishes the rules and standards that govern various aspects of employment, ensuring fair and ethical treatment of workers.

In Australia, the primary sources of employment law include:

  1. Legislation: This encompasses a variety of laws at the federal, state, and territory levels. These laws cover essential aspects of employment such as wages, working hours, health and safety standards, anti-discrimination policies, and much more. Understanding these laws is crucial for employers to ensure they are compliant with the diverse legal requirements across different jurisdictions.
  2. Industrial Instruments: These are formal legal documents that include Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements. Modern Awards provide minimum terms and conditions for employees in specific industries or occupations. Enterprise Agreements are negotiated agreements between employers and employees at the enterprise level, setting out terms and conditions of employment.
  3. Common Law: This refers to the body of law created by judicial decisions, where court rulings help interpret and apply the legislation. Common law particularly influences employment contracts, where individual agreements between employers and employees must align with statutory requirements and regulations.

The Fair Work Act 2009 holds a central position in Australian employment law. It establishes the minimum terms and conditions for a majority of employees who fall under the national workplace relations system. A crucial element of this Act is the National Employment Standards (NES), which delineate 11 fundamental entitlements applicable to most employees in the private sector.

These standards serve as the baseline for employment conditions and rights across Australia, ensuring that all workers are granted a certain level of protection and fairness in their employment. Understanding and implementing the provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 is vital for employers to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations and maintaining a fair and compliant workplace.

While the Fair Work Act 2009 is a pivotal piece of employment legislation in Australia, it isn't the sole governing law for workplace relations. It works in conjunction with other federal, state, and territory laws. Notably, it doesn't apply universally across all workplaces in Australia. For instance, Western Australia has its own state-based workplace relations system that applies to parts of the private sector within the state.

Employment law encompasses matters important to the employer-employee relationship. This includes regulations on wages, working conditions, and the processes surrounding dismissal. It also addresses discrimination in the workplace, ensuring protection against unfair treatment based on age, race, sexuality, and other personal attributes.

Why Does Employment Law Exist?

Employment law exists primarily to regulate the relationship between employers and employees, ensuring this relationship is fair and legally sound. In some instances, it also extends its protective measures to job applicants and former employees.

This body of law is applicable to all national system employers across Australia, making it relevant to a vast majority of employers irrespective of their location, business model, or industry. The universality of these laws underscores their role in creating a standardised, equitable employment landscape throughout the country.

The objective of employment legislation is to assign responsibility to employers for ensuring fair treatment of their employees. This includes providing the minimum employment rights and entitlements appropriate for their industry and specific job roles. Key aspects covered by this legislation include minimum pay, leave entitlements, terms of redundancy, and notice periods required for termination, among others.

This legislation plays a crucial role in guaranteeing consistently fair and equitable treatment for all employees. It extends its reach to potential employees as well, influencing aspects like the recruitment process, every day workplace interactions all the way through to ending the employment relationship.

Benefits of Employment Law

Employment law offers significant benefits, ensuring clarity and fairness in the workplace for both employers and employees.

For Employees:

  • Ensures fair and equal treatment, including in pay, working hours, conditions, safety, rest and meal breaks, leave, notice periods, and dismissal processes.
  • Keeps employees informed about their rights and responsibilities.
  • Enhances job security and motivation, contributing to overall job satisfaction.
  • Reduces the risk of exposure to unsafe working conditions, promoting a healthier work environment.

For Employers:

  • Provides clear guidelines on fair treatment of employees across all employment aspects.
  • Encourages ethical business practices, fostering a positive corporate image.
  • Enhances workplace culture, leading to a more harmonious and productive work environment.
  • Boosts employee morale and productivity, as employees who feel valued and safe are more likely to be engaged and effective in their roles.

Recently Changed Laws in Australia

Australia's employment law landscape is dynamic, with both minor and major changes occurring annually. These changes can be industry-specific or apply universally across all workplaces in the country.

The evolution of Australian industrial relations spans over a century, reflecting continuous reforms and adaptations. These changes range from significant overhauls to smaller, yet crucial annual updates. A notable example is the annual review of the national minimum wage by the Fair Work Commission, impacting employees under the national workplace relations system. For employers, staying informed and adaptive to these changes is essential for legal compliance and maintaining fair employment practices.

Over recent decades, Australian employers have witnessed significant changes in employment law. The introduction of WorkChoices in 2005 was a notable shift, which was later replaced by the Fair Work Act in 2009. This Act brought about the National Employment Standards and the inception of Modern Awards in 2010, establishing a new framework for workplace conditions and entitlements.

In 2014, the employment landscape saw further evolution with the introduction of new anti-bullying provisions, empowering the Fair Work Commission with extended capabilities to address workplace bullying.

More recently, there have been updates to the modern awards, as indicated by the 2020 in their titles. These updates, along with temporary provisions, were added to offer greater flexibility to businesses, helping them navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. These ongoing changes highlight the need for employers to stay continually informed and adapt to the evolving employment law environment.

Recent changes in Australian employment legislation have been significant, impacting various aspects of the employer-employee relationship:

Minimum Wage Rates

Annually, the Fair Work Commission reviews Award Minimum Wages and sets the National Minimum Wage for award-free employees. In 2021, the national minimum wage saw a 2.5% increase, implemented in staggered phases for different industries.

Updates on Sexual Harassment Legislation

Following the ‘Roadmap for Respect’ report, amendments were proposed to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act in 2021. These amendments aim to enhance protections against sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace.

Casual Employment

The Fair Work Act 2009 was amended to clearly define 'casual employment,' addressing ambiguities from past court decisions. This definition focuses on the lack of a firm advance commitment to ongoing work. The Act also introduced casual conversion rights, allowing certain casual employees to transition to permanent roles under specified conditions.


Ensuring employees are paid their minimum entitlements is critical. Underpayments, which can occur unintentionally, cover aspects like overtime, penalty rates, and leave allowances. Recent legislation in Victoria specifically targets deliberate underpayments.

Employers must stay informed and adapt to these changes to ensure compliance and maintain fair workplace practices. Regularly reviewing wages against industrial instruments and keeping abreast of legislative updates are key steps in this process.

Staying Up To Date With Employment Law

Staying current with employment law is an important responsibility for you as an employer. Keeping informed about your employment obligations is essential, and it's advisable to regularly review and update workplace policies and procedures in your employee handbook to reflect any changes in the law.

For assistance in understanding and meeting your obligations regarding evolving workplace entitlements, you can reach out to Employment Compass. We offer guidance and can help ensure your business remains compliant with the latest legal requirements. For initial advice, you can contact Employment Compass at 1300 144 002.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Employment Legislation?

Employment legislation governs the relationship between employers and employees, offering a framework for resolving disputes.

What Are The Five Major Employment Laws In Australia?

Key laws include the Fair Work Act 2009, National Employment Standards (NES), Work Health and Safety Standards (WHS), state and federal anti-discrimination laws, and the Privacy Act 1988.

What Are Employer Rights In Australia?

Employers have the right to expect reasonable performance and adherence to policies by employees, but also have obligations under laws like the Fair Work Act.

When Do You Need To Think About Employment Law?

Employment law should be a constant consideration for employers to ensure compliance and updates with changing legislations, especially under the Fair Work Act.

What Is The Main Purpose Of Employment Law?

Its purpose is to regulate the employer-employee relationship, ensuring fair treatment and minimum rights for employees in their respective industries and roles.

What Are Some Changes In The Workplace In The Last 20 Years?

Significant changes include the introduction of Work Choices 2005, the Fair Work Act 2009 with the NES, and recent updates following the Respect@Work report.

How To Keep Up To Date With Legislation Changes In Australia?

Employment Compass offers assistance in keeping up with legislative changes. Contact us at 1300 144 002 for advice.

How Does Legislation Affect Business Operations And Workplace Relationships?

Legislation shapes the employer-employee relationship, setting rights, responsibilities, and standards for a fair, safe, and equitable workplace.

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