Visa holders and migrant workers – workplace rights and entitlements
Read our fact sheet on workplace rights and entitlements for visa holders and migrant workers.
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Workplace laws in Australia generally apply equally to all workers employed in Australia. Employers engaging foreign workers must ensure that they comply with both Australian workplace laws and immigration laws.
Australian immigration laws - including applying for and understanding the rules of valid work visas, as well as the obligation to pay market salary rates for Subclass 482 and 457 visa holders - are enforced by the Department of Home Affairs. For information on all visa requirements, contact the Department of Home Affairs on 13 18 81 or visit the Department of Home Affairs website.
The Fair Work system, including minimum rates of pay and conditions under awards and agreements, are enforced by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
All employees in the national workplace relations system receive basic minimum entitlements known as the National Employment Standards (NES).
The NES includes:
- maximum weekly hours of work
- requests for flexible working arrangements
- parental leave and related entitlements
- annual leave
- sick (personal)/carer's leave, compassionate leave and family and domestic violence leave
- community service leave
- long service leave
- public holidays
- notice of termination and redundancy pay
- the Fair Work Information Statement and Casual Employment Information Statement
- the right for casual employees to become permanent employees in some circumstances.
For more information on the NES, see National Employment Standards.
Your minimum rights and conditions at work may be set by a legal document like an award, an agreement, or a contract of employment. Ask your employer which one applies to you to find out how you are affected.
If an award or agreement does not apply, all employees in the national workplace relations system are entitled to minimum pay, conditions and protections under Commonwealth workplace laws.
If you are asked to sign any type of document agreeing to specific work conditions, make sure you read it very carefully and understand it before signing. Keep a copy for your records. You should not feel undue pressure to sign any agreement with your employer. If you do, contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.
Employees work for another person under a contract of employment in return for regular pay. They will usually also be subject to an award or agreement.
Independent contracting is where one business works for another business. Generally, independent contractors will use their own equipment, choose the hours they work, and decide how the work is done.
Some employers disguise employment relationships as an independent contracting arrangement to avoid paying legal minimum rates of pay, tax, and entitlements like annual leave and sick leave. This is called 'sham contracting' and it is against the law.
For more information on independent contractors, please see the Fair Work Ombudsman Fact Sheet - Independent Contractors.
Under Commonwealth workplace laws, no employee over the age of 21 in the national workplace relations system can be paid less than the minimum wage. The national minimum wage order is determined by the Minimum Wages Panel within the Fair Work Commission, and is intended as a safety net.
An employee's minimum wage will generally be contained within an award or agreement, establishing a basic rate of pay for ordinary hours. It may also contain additional rates for overtime hours, or penalty rates for certain shifts outside ordinary working hours.
Employers must pay the correct rate of pay (according to the appropriate award or agreement) for all hours that the worker is required to attend work, including for work meetings and training.
Find out more information about awards and agreements.
If you are a primary Subclass 482 or 457 visa holder, your sponsor must ensure that the terms and conditions of employment provided to you are no less favourable than those they provide to Australian citizens/permanent residents performing equivalent work in your workplace. This means that all primary Subclass 482 and 457 visa holders should be paid market salary rates by their sponsors.
For more information about market salary rates, contact the Department of Home Affairs on 13 18 81 or visit the Department of Home Affairs website.
Disclosing pay and workplace conditions
Employees have the right to talk about (or not talk about) their current or past pay, and the terms and conditions of employment that would be needed to work out their pay (such as hours of work). They can also ask other employees the same thing (about their pay and terms and conditions of employment) but employees can’t be forced to share this information if they don’t want to.
For more information about these rights, including when these rights started applying and who they apply to, see Prohibiting pay secrecy.
An employer can only deduct money if:
- the employee agrees in writing and it’s principally for their benefit
- it’s allowed by law, a court order, or by the Fair Work Commission, or
- it’s allowed under the employee’s award, or
- it’s allowed under the employee’s registered agreement and the employee agrees to it.
For example, if you accidentally break something, your employer cannot deduct money from your wages. Further, an employer can’t force you to agree to a deduction.
Even if the deduction is authorised under a term in an award, registered agreement or contract of employment, the term has no effect if:
- the deduction is directly, or indirectly, for the employer's benefit, and is unreasonable, or
- the employee is under the age of 18 and the parent or guardian has not authorised the deduction in writing.
If you are concerned about deductions from your wages, contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.
Your employer may choose to pay you using cash, cheque, money or postal order, or through electronic funds transfer into your bank account.
It is acceptable for your employer to pay you in cash as long as tax has been taken from your earnings and sent to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Generally, you should also be receiving superannuation. You should check your pay slip each time you are paid to make sure this is being done.
'Cash in hand' is a term used to describe cash payments where tax has not been taken out - this is against the law.
Employers and employees can enter into individual flexibility arrangements (IFAs) which alter the way a modern award or enterprise agreement applies to an employee. This can change the way some entitlements, such as penalty rates or allowances, apply in your employment.
An employer cannot force you to enter into an IFA. If you feel that you are being pressured to do so, you should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.
In order to create an IFA, the employer is required to ensure that you are better off overall than you would be normally under the award or agreement. This may mean that you receive additional benefits in one area to compensate for those changed in another area. If you believe that you are not better off overall, you should not enter into the IFA.
The Fair Work Act 2009 protects employees against unlawful workplace discrimination. Unlawful workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of the following attributes of the person:
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- intersex status
- physical or mental disability
- marital status
- family or carer's responsibilities
- political opinion
- national extraction
- social origin.
Where an investigation finds that the employer has (or had) discriminatory practices that are linked to adverse actions for employees or prospective employees, the Fair Work Ombudsman may take enforcement action.
Adverse action taken by an employer includes doing, threatening or organising any of the following:
- dismissing an employee
- injuring an employee in their employment
- altering an employee's position to their detriment
- discriminating between one employee and other employees
- refusing to employ a prospective employee
- discriminating against a prospective employee on the terms and conditions in the offer of employment.
For more information on unlawful workplace discrimination, see Protections at work.
Bullying and harassment – including sexual harassment – are serious concerns for any workplace.
If the bullying or harassment is linked to one of the attributes listed above (for example, race, sex, or religion), then it may be unlawful discrimination. The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has the power to deal with discrimination complaints.
Sexual harassment at work can be a form of serious misconduct and can also be a valid reason for dismissal under the FW Act. The Fair Work Commission (FWC) also has the power to issue orders to stop sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace. Visit the Fair Work Commission for more information.
The Respect@Work website provides comprehensive resources to help businesses and individuals understand, prevent, and respond to workplace sexual harassment. Visit respectatwork.gov.au
Under Commonwealth workplace laws, all employers, workers and independent contractors are free to take part in certain industrial activities. This includes the right to become, or not to become, members of an industrial association (such as a union), or the right to participate in lawful activities organised by a union.
It is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee because they are engaging in lawful industrial activities. For example, an employer cannot alter an employee's position because they are not a member of a union.
For more information on adverse action and other rights protected from certain unlawful action, see Protections at work.
For information on all visa requirements or market salary rates, contact the Department of Home Affairs on 13 18 81 or visit the Department of Home Affairs website.
Fair Work Online: www.fairwork.gov.au
Fair Work Infoline: 13 13 94
Need language help?
Contact the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50
Hearing and speech assistance
Call through the National Relay Service (NRS):
- For TTY: 13 36 77. Ask for the Fair Work Infoline 13 13 94
- Speak and Listen: 1300 555 727. Ask for the Fair Work Infoline 13 13 94