Industrial action

Industrial action is taken by employers or employees to settle a workplace dispute about working conditions.

What does industrial action include?

Industrial action includes when employees:

  • don't come to work
  • fail, or refuse to perform any work at all
  • delay or put a ban or limit on the work they do
  • are locked out of a workplace by their employer.

We provide general information on industrial action only. For information on taking, suspending and stopping industrial action visit the Fair Work Commission website external-icon.png.

When is industrial action protected?

Industrial action can legally be taken when bargaining for a new registered agreement is unsuccessful. This is known as protected industrial action.

Several requirements must be met for industrial action to be protected. These are that:

  • the existing agreement has passed its nominal expiry date
  • parties have genuinely tried to reach an agreement
  • the action is authorised by a protected action ballot
  • the notice requirement for action is met
  • the action taken is in support of claims about 'permitted matters'
  • the action taken is not about unlawful terms
  • there is no 'pattern bargaining'.

What can happen when protected industrial action is taken?

Civil action (for example, being sued) can be taken where the industrial action involves or is likely to involve:

  • injuring someone
  • wilful or reckless property destruction or damage
  • unlawfully taking, keeping or using of property
  • defamation.

The Fair Work Commission (the Commission) can suspend or end protected industrial action that might:

  • cause significant economic harm to the employers or employees covered by the registered agreement
  • endanger someone's life, personal safety, health or welfare
  • cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it.

What can't happen when protected industrial action is taken?

When an employee takes part in protected industrial action, an employer must not threaten to dismiss or discriminate against the employee.

Civil action cannot be taken against employers, employees and unions who participate in protected industrial action.

When is industrial action unprotected?

All other industrial action is unlawful, and not protected.

What happens when unprotected industrial action is taken?

The Commission can make an order to stop or prevent unprotected industrial action. The Commission can make this order by itself or through an application.

Employers, employees and bargaining representatives who take unprotected industrial action can face other consequences. For example, being sued for damages for losses suffered as a result of the action, by anyone affected by the action, such as a business that lost money because it couldn't get hold of goods it needed.

Where unprotected industrial action breaches the Fair Work Act 2009, we can also investigate these matters. For example, when prohibited payments are made during industrial action.

Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.406 - 469 and 477 external-icon.png

Tools and resources

Related information

Resolving general protections issues

For employees:

Contact the Fair Work Commission (FWC) first if If you've lost your job and you think you were fired because of:

  • discrimination
  • a reason that is harsh, unjust or unreasonable
  • a protected workplace right.

You have 21 days starting from the day after you were dismissed to lodge an application with the FWC. Check the information at the FWC's website external-icon.png to find out if you can apply for:

  • unfair dismissal external-icon.png (not available if you lost your job because of a genuine Redundancy)
  • a general protections dismissal
  • unlawful termination.

For other general protections issues, consider whether the action taken against you was unlawful after reading the information on this page.

See our Fixing a workplace problem section for practical advice on:

  • talking to your employer about fixing a workplace problem
  • getting help from us if you still can’t resolve the problem.

For employers:

Take general protections issues seriously. After you’ve read the information on this page, speak with your employee to address the problem.

We have resources to help you:

Help for small business