Effective July 1, the FWC increased the national minimum wage for adults working full time (38 hours per week) by 3 percent, from A$622.20 ($544) per week to A$640.90 ($560), based on a minimum hourly rate of A$16.87 ($14.74). There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage, combined with welfare payments, was intended to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Although a formal minimum wage exists, most workers received higher wages through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. Above-minimum-wage classifications apply to certain trades and professions. The law requires equal pay for equal work.
A taxpayer-funded paid parental leave program pays the minimum wage rate for up to 18 weeks to workers who have worked for at least 330 hours during at least 10 of the 13 months prior to the birth or adoption of a child.
By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours (determined according to the law, taking into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given). The law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime. Industry standards or awards mandate rest periods and overtime pay. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable” considering the aforementioned factors.
There is a national safety net of minimum employment standards. In 2013 the former government lifted the mandatory employer contributions to retirement funds from 9 percent of a worker’s income to 9.25 percent and scheduled a gradual increase in contributions to 12 percent by 2019. In September the government slowed the trajectory to reach 12 percent by 2025. These contributions are not drawn from a worker’s wage. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect these protections and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.
The Fair Work Act, which entered into force on January 1, includes an antibullying provision that enables workers who are bullied at work to apply to the FWC for an order to stop the bullying. Another change made by the act enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.
Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal sector. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.
Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain information and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns. In New South Wales, for example, an individual can be sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment and/or receive a maximum fine of A$300,000 ($262,200), and a business can be fined up to A$3 million ($2.6 million), for exposing an individual to serious injury or illness. On September 15, following an official New South Wales investigation, a company was fined A$210,000 ($183,540) in connection with two deaths and one serious injury caused by a winery vat explosion in 2008. Since 2012 New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and the federal government were part of “harmonized” occupational health and safety laws aimed at making it easier for workers and businesses to understand requirements across different states and territories.
The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsman also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. Employers can be ordered to compensate employees and are sometimes assessed fines. Between July 2013 and June, the FWO recovered more than A$23 million ($20.1 million) on behalf of 15,483 employees. Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and have recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action.
FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act. An individual may be liable for a penalty of A$10,200 ($8,915) and a corporation A$51,000 ($44,575), if they refuse an inspector’s request to review records.
During the past two decades, the percentage of the workforce regarded as temporary workers increased. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. As of August the ABS reported that approximately 3.55 million persons (31 percent of the workforce) were employed as part-time workers, of whom 70 percent were women. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers respected in practice.
There were reports some individuals “457” employer-sponsored, skilled-worker visas were underpaid and used as a less expensive substitute for citizens. In September the immigration minister stated that a government-commissioned review had found no evidence to substantiate claims made by the previous government of widespread fraud in the “457” visa program. In September the FWO initiated legal action against a marine services company for allegedly underpaying a Jamaican citizen more than A$44,000 ($38,456) over 10 months. In 2013 parliament passed legislation requiring employers to undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas. The federal government’s Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold policy prohibits positions from being nominated under the “457” program when the market rate annual salary is less than A$53,900 ($47,109).
In 2010 and 2011, the FWO investigated 4,561 cases regarding pay in the hospitality sector. The FWO subsequently launched a 2012-15 national campaign to assist employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities.
According to Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, as of October 21, a total of 140 workers died while working during the year. The majority of the fatalities were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sector (52 deaths), the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector (49), and construction (17).