Working in a foreign country can be a confusing obstacle course of unscrupulous bosses, unfamiliar law and no fall back plan.

If you are paying tax and earning your living working for Australian employers, your boss might be relying on the idea that you don’t know exactly what you are entitled to.

You may be here as a skilled worker or as a backpacker looking for entry level employment, but no matter your knowledge of your particular area of expertise, you are still in a country with unfamiliar laws that some employers may try to ignore for their own reasons.

Any strictures placed on you specifically by your visa aside, when you enter into a contract of employment (which may be written or oral, and is considered complete when you begin to work for your new employer) you are entitled to the same rights and entitlements that any Australian employee is entitled to.

The Unpaid Trial

Many employers will request that a prospective employee undertake an unpaid trial, to demonstrate suitability for a job.

This is perfectly ok, as long as the trial, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman website

“involves no more than a demonstration of the person’s skills, where they are directly relevant to a vacant position….[i]s only for as long as needed to demonstrate the skills required for the job. This will be dependent on the nature and complexity of the work, but could range from an hour to one shift, [and] the person is under direct supervision for the entire trial.’

Demonstrating that you can use a coffee machine and know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino is one thing. Working all day carrying bricks with no monetary compensation is another.

Rates of Pay

It is a good idea to reach an agreement with your employer regarding rates of pay before starting your new job.

Payment for work in Australia is subject to ‘award wages’.

These are the federally decided minimum amount that you can be paid for your work, according to the amount of time you are working (Are you working overtime? Are you doing split shifts?) and the time of day and day of week that your work takes place.

It is wise to find out how much you are entitled to before you enter into negotiations with your prospective employer, so that you can be sure that what you are being offered is both fair and legal.

There is information available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website to help you find out which award covers you, and any further information regarding rates of pay that might be specific to you, we can also help you if you think you are being treated unfairly.

If you have any trouble accessing or understanding this or any other information on the FWO website you can call them during business hours on 13 13 94.

Working conditions – the National Employment Standards (NES)

As a worker are entitled to the NES. These standards are not negotiable by your employer and set guidelines for the following:

  • Maximum working hours for full time employees.
  • A right to request flexible working arrangements relating to the care of children.
  • Unpaid parental/adoption leave with the right to request further leave.
  • Paid annual leave entitlements depending on your employment agreement.
  • Personal (“sick leave”)/carer’s/compassionate leave entitlements.
  • Jury/emergency leave entitlements.
  • Long service leave.
  • Public holiday paid leave.
  • Termination/redundancy requirements.
  • The right for new employees to receive the Fair Work Information Statement.

Safety at work

You are entitled to a workplace that is safe and allows you to do your job with safety.

Unlike award wages and the NES, workplace safety in Australia is both federal and state specific, so if you have any concerns regarding specific safety issues it is advisable to contact the body responsible for regulating the state in which you are working.

No matter where you are working in Australia you are entitled to a physically safe workplace (for example one where you are not going to get electrocuted or hurt by machinery) and you are also entitled to be free of discrimination and bullying by co-workers and/or employers.

You cannot be singled out or discriminated against because of your sex, disability, race, age, sexual preference, criminal record, trade union activity or political opinion.

Information about making a complaint regarding discrimination (which can also include bullying) can be found on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

Positive Steps

The legislation and case law covering the rights and entitlements of all workers in Australia is complex and far-reaching, a combination of Federal and State regulated bodies and organisations.

There is much to be gained by reading information on the Fair Work Ombudsman, Fair Work Commission, Safe Work Australia and related state based employment websites, but for help on a case by case basis, it is always best to contact an expert who can make sure you are on the right track to ensuring that you are being treated the way that you are legally obligated to be treated.

A conversation with a lawyer might seem like an unnecessary escalation, but it might save you many hours of unnecessary headache later.

Knowing your entitlements puts you on equal footing with your co-workers, who may be much more used to the complexities of Australian employment rights and entitlements.

Here at TK Legal we’re experts in immigration law and visas, so reach out to us today if you require help or assistance in understanding your legal rights when working on a visa.