Australia's industrial relations timeline

Important information for the building and construction industry

From 10 November 2022, there are changes to who regulates the commercial building and construction industry. Find out more at Important information for the building and construction industry.

Secure Jobs, Better Pay: changes to Australian workplace laws

The Fair Work Act has been amended to include a range of new workplace laws. This may affect the information on this page.

Find out more at Secure Jobs, Better Pay: Changes to Australian workplace laws.

This timeline outlines a brief history of workplace relations law in Australia.

Current – 2009

2022 – Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Act 2022

  • Amends the FW Act to replace the entitlement in the National Employment Standards of 5 days unpaid family and domestic violence leave with an entitlement to 10 days paid leave for full-time, part-time and casual employees. The leave entitlement takes effect for employees of non-small businesses from 1 February 2023, and for employees of small businesses from 1 August 2023. The amendment also extends the definition of family and domestic violence to include conduct of a current or former intimate partner of an employee, or a member of an employee’s household.

2021 – Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021

  • Amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which took effect in September 2021, defined sexual harassment, introduced orders to stop it, and clarified that it can be a valid reason for dismissal. They also extended compassionate leave to include miscarriage.

2021 – Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Act 2021

  • Amendments to the FW Act, which took effect from March 2021, changed workplace entitlements and obligations for casual employees. The amendments included a new definition of casual employment and a requirement for every casual employee to be given the Casual Employee Information Statement. It also included a pathway for casual employees to become full-time or part-time in some circumstances.

2020 – Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Act 2020

  • Amendments to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, which took effect in December 2020, to enable constituent parts of amalgamated registered organisations to withdraw from the amalgamated registered organisation outside of the time-limited period of five years post-amalgamation, in specified circumstances.

2020 – Fair Work Amendment (Improving Unpaid Parental Leave for Parents of Stillborn Babies and Other Measures) Act 2020

  • Amendments to the FW Act, which took effect in November 2020, improved unpaid parental leave entitlements for employees who experience traumatic events, such as stillbirth, premature birth or death of a child in the first 24 months of life.

2020 – Coronavirus Economic Response Package (JobKeeper Payments) Amendment Act 2020

  • Amendments to the FW Act, which took effect in September 2020, extending most of the FW Act JobKeeper provisions until 28 March 2021. The amendments also enabled ‘legacy employers’ (who ceased to receive JobKeeper payments) to continue using certain temporary workplace provisions (with changes) in limited circumstances.

2020 – Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020

  • Amendments to the FW Act, which took effect in April 2020, adding temporary workplace provisions to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to support the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.

2018 – Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Act 2018

  • Amendments to the FW Act, which took effect in December 2018, and removed the requirement for the Fair Work Commission to conduct 4-yearly reviews of modern awards from 1 January 2018. The Fair Work Commission will complete its current review, which began in February 2014.

2018 – Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Act 2018

  • Amendment to the FW Act, which took effect in December 2018, adding an entitlement to unpaid family and domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards (NES).

2018 – Fair Work Ombudsman appointed

  • Sandra Parker appointed as the Fair Work Ombudsman on 15 July 2018.

2017 – Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 and Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Act 2017

  • Amendments to the FW Act, which came into force in September 2017, with provisions aimed at protecting vulnerable workers and promoting better governance of registered organisations.

2017 – Registered Organisations Commission established

2017 – Australian Building and Construction Commission established

2016 – Norfolk Island reform

  • Commonwealth laws (including the FW Act) extended to Norfolk Island by the Territories Legislation Amendment Act 2016. Norfolk Island to transition to the FW Act in 3 stages, from 1 July 2016 until 1 July 2018.

2016 – Road Safety Remuneration System repealed

  • Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (including Orders made under the Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012) repealed by Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Act 2016.

2014 – The end of transitional arrangements in modern awards (see Transitional arrangements created to introduce modern awards below)

2013 – Fair Work Ombudsman appointed

  • Natalie James appointed as the Fair Work Ombudsman on 15 July 2013.

2013 – Fair Work Commission

  • Fair Work Australia renamed the Fair Work Commission on 1 January 2013.

2012 – Road Safety Remuneration System created

  • The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal established by the Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012.

2009 – Fair Work Act 2009

  • The FW Act commenced on 1 July 2009.

2009 – The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman

  • The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman created from the former agency, the Workplace Ombudsman.
  • Nicholas Wilson appointed as the Fair Work Ombudsman from 1 July 2009 until April 2013.

2009 – Fair Work Building and Construction

  • Fair Work Building and Construction formed and replaced the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

2009 – Australian states handed industrial relations powers to the Australian Government

  • The majority of the Australian states, with the exception of Western Australia, handed over their industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth Government. Most states kept their industrial relations powers over their own public service and agencies.

2009 – Fair Work Australia

  • Fair Work Australia was formed and replaced the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

2009 – Transitional arrangements for modern awards

  • The Australian Industrial Relations Commission added transitional arrangements to the majority of modern awards that would cover most workplaces from 1 January 2010.
  • New pay rates, penalties and loadings phased over 4 years until the full modern award rates applied from 1 July 2014.

2008 – 1996

2008 – Award modernisation

  • The Australian Industrial Relations Commission started updating and modernising awards. It replaced 1560 state and federal awards with 122 modern awards. The process was completed by December 2009.

2006 – Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005

  • The federal industrial relations system expanded.
  • Many employers and employees previously covered by state industrial relations systems were covered by the federal system.

1996 – Workplace Relations Act 1996

  • Workplace Relations Act 1996 started on 25 November 1996.
  • Victoria moved into the national workplace relations system.

1995 – 1945

1993 – Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993

  • The Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993 allowed workplace disputes to be settled by enterprise bargaining between employers and unions in the workplace. If the dispute was not settled, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission could settle it.

1988 – Australian Industrial Relations Commission

  • The Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was renamed the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

1979 – Unpaid maternity leave was introduced

  • 12 months of unpaid maternity leave was introduced into federal awards.

1973 – Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission

  • The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was renamed the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

1972 – Equal pay decision

  • The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’s equal pay decision established the right for equal pay for work of equal value. The separate minimum wage for women was removed and from then on any decisions set the same basic rate for men and women.

1966-68 – Equal pay for Aboriginal pastoral workers

  • The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decided that Aboriginal pastoral workers were to be paid the same minimum wage as white pastoral workers. 

1956 – New Arbitration Commission and Industrial Relations Court

  • The High Court ruled the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was unconstitutional.
  • The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration became the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and was only responsible for making or changing awards. The new and separate court was named the Industrial Relations Court.

WWII – Women’s wages were increased to 75% of men’s basic wage

  • Regulations set during World War II increased the female minimum wage to 75% of a male’s wage. This was adopted by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration as the new standard in 1949-50.

1935 – 1890

1935 – One weeks paid leave introduced into awards

  • From 1935 to the 1970’s, paid sick leave and annual leave were gradually introduced into federal awards until 10 days sick leave and 4 weeks annual leave became standard.

1927 – 44 hour standard week

  • The standard week was reduced to 40 hours in 1947. The 38 hour working week was introduced in 1983.

1908 – First minimum wage set

  • The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration set the first minimum wage.
  • The minimum wage was based on the Harvester Case. This landmark decision of 1907 set a basic living wage for workers The basic wage was an amount to allow a man to support a family of 5.

1906 – First entitlement to annual leave

  • The federal maritime award gave 10 days paid annual leave.

1907 – First entitlement to sick leave

  • Under the Shearers’ Award a worker could only be absent from work if he was unwell.

1904 – Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

  • Australian industrial relations system begins
  • Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration created to settle disputes between employees, unions and employers. This is the first body of its kind in the world. When it ruled to settle a dispute, the decision was known as an award.

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