The terms and conditions which govern the relationship between an employee and employer are regulated by various statutes in Australia.

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Fair Work Act) is the primary source of federal legislation regulating the employment relationship, with this setting out the minimum terms and conditions for the vast majority of employees within Australia. The Fair Work Act sets out minimum entitlements that apply to all national system employees, known as the National Employment Standards (NES), as well as allowing for the creation of Modern Award and Enterprise Agreements to build upon these minimum entitlements with industry, occupation or workplace specific terms and conditions.

The primary regulatory bodies in the national system are the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Fair Work Commission sets the National Minimum Wage, creates and amends Modern Awards, approves Enterprise Agreements and any related protected industrial action, and resolves or arbitrates disputes pertaining to unfair dismissal, general protections and other matters. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s key function is to promote compliance through educating businesses on legislation, as well as auditing and investigating businesses for potential contraventions of relevant legislation. The Fair Work Ombudsman can mediate underpayment disputes, issue fines to employers for non-compliance, and initiate prosecution of employers for contraventions of legislation, regulations, awards, and agreements.

This report will focus on employees in the federal system who are covered by the Fair Work Act, as this applies to most employees within Australia. Note that employees of non-constitutional corporations in Western Australia are not covered by the Fair Work Act, and accordingly this report should not be relied upon for employees in this category. Limited other groups of employees in various states and territories are likewise not covered by the Fair Work Act. For these employees, advice on the applicable state system should be sought.

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