The primary legislation regulating the employment relationship in Australia is the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Fair Work Act).  This legislation sets minimum terms and conditions of employment (as set out in the 10 National Employment Standards), provides statutory protection for job security and other employee protections, regulates unions and the collective bargaining process, provides for the setting of minimum terms and conditions for specific industries via the making of specific industrial instruments, sets out the role of the independent employment tribunal (Fair Work Commission) and deals with a range of other matters.

There are also State employment laws, which affect employers in relation to some issues (for example, long service leave, work health and safety and workers compensation). There are also laws covering superannuation, unlawful discrimination and other issues.

In this article, we will look at the main features of the Fair Work Act and also examine some particular issues for small and medium businesses.


The Fair Work Act applies to all businesses which are ‘national system employers’. A business will be a national system employer if it is an incorporated entity, such as a ‘Pty Ltd’ which is actually trading or if engaged in interstate trade of commerce.

As a result of legislation referring power to the Commonwealth, all private sector employers (including non-incorporated employers such as partnerships and sole traders) in all States and Territories except Western Australia are also covered.

It is critical that all businesses with employees understand the requirements under the Fair Work Act. If you have any questions about compliance, or need assistance to understand the application of the new system to your business, please contact us.


A day in the life of a shift worker – the Federal Court clarifies entitlements to paid Personal and Carer’s Leave:  Mondelez v AMWU [2019] FCAFC 138

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