Employment contracts or employee contracts tell you about your rights and responsibilities as a worker. They can be written or verbal (spoken).
Sometimes employment contracts will be called something else like an 'agreement', or 'terms and conditions of employment' or 'workplace agreement'.
Having a contract means you are classified as an employee (casual, part-time or full-time), as opposed to a contractor. When you’re an employee, you have workplace rights set out under Australian law.
Employment contracts often contain details such as:
- how much you’ll be paid
- holiday and sick leave
- your title (for example, shop assistant)
- work duties
- hours of work
- rules of your workplace.
In addition to the conditions in your employment contract, you may be entitled to other rights and conditions.
For example, an employment contract can’t offer less pay or fewer conditions than the minimum wage, the National Employment Standards, or an award or registered agreement.
Industrial awards (also called modern awards) outline minimum legal pay rates and conditions of employment for different jobs. Conditions are things such as the holiday and sick leave you can take, and policies for breaks and hours of work.
There are 122 industry or occupation awards that cover most people who work in Australia.
Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman’s awards page for more information about awards, including finding out which award relates to your industry or type of job. You can also contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94 or use their online enquiry page to find out which award relates to your job.
Awards apply to occupations, rather than to a workplace. This means that you might be under a different award to other people who work for your employer, depending on what job you do.
For example, a building and construction business would employ carpenters under one award, and office staff under another award.
Awards don’t apply when a business has a registered agreement in place. A registered agreement is when a business or a group of businesses negotiates pay and conditions directly with its workforce, rather than using an award.
Registered agreements can’t offer lower base pay than the relevant award. The National Employment Standards also still apply.
Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman’s agreements page for more information about registered agreements.
Some workplaces are covered by older types of agreements. Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman’s page on agreements made before 1 January 2010 to find out about older agreements. These types of registered agreements can’t be made anymore.
National Employment Standards
The Fair Work National Employment Standards are 10 minimum entitlements that relate to most full-time and part-time employees in Australia.
Employment contracts, awards and registered agreements can’t exclude the National Employment Standards. They also can’t provide for conditions that are less than the National Employment Standards or the minimum wage.
The National Employment Standards include things like:
- maximum weekly hours
- requests for flexible working arrangements
- parental leave
- annual leave
- personal carers leave and compassionate leave
- community service leave
- long service leave
- public holidays
- how much notice your employer needs to give when ending your employment.
Casual workers are only covered by entitlements relating to:
- unpaid carers leave
- unpaid compassionate leave
- community service leave.
You can find out more on our:
General employment contract advice
Here is some general contract advice:
- Always get a copy of a contract you have signed.
- Never sign anything you haven't read or don't understand.
- Don’t agree to any changes without getting independent advice.
It's important to remember that your contract can't offer you anything less than what is contained in the relevant modern award or registered agreement, and the National Employment Standards.
If you think you’re being offered less than what you're entitled to, contact the following organisations:
- JobWatch – a statewide community legal centre specialising in issues for workers in Victoria that offers free and confidential advice
- The Fair Work Ombudsman – gives advice about Australia’s national workplace relations system, and helps people understand their workplace rights and responsibilities
- Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission – offers a free telephone advice service and handles complaints.