Overview

The federal IR system applies to most Australian employers and their employees. The Fair Work Act 2009 covers employers who are 'constitutional corporations' (in layman's language this means an incorporated commercial trading business) and employers which are 'referred' under federal industrial relations coverage by state legislation.

 
Overview
 
The federal IR system applies to most Australian employers and their employees. The Fair Work Act 2009 covers employers who are ‘constitutional corporations’ (in layman’s language this means an incorporated commercial trading business) and employers which are ‘referred’ under federal industrial relations coverage by state legislation.
 
All States except for Western Australia have referred their industrial relations powers relating to private industry to the Commonwealth, with the intention of  creating a national IR system. This means that employees of all private industry businesses (whether incorporated or not) are covered by the Fair Work System, except for non-incorporated businesses in Western Australia.
 
In Western Australia, those employers who are not incorporated, such as sole traders and partnerships, remain covered by the state industrial relations system.
 
A brief history of recent federal IR legislation is noted below. 
 
Fair Work Act 2009
 
The Fair Work Act 2009 commenced in most respects on 1 July 2009. The modern award provisions and National Employment Standards (NES) commenced on 1 January 2010 and apply to all private sector businesses. Existing award or agreement rates continued to apply until 1 July 2010 when a phasing in of new rates commenced — ending 1 July 2014 when the process will be complete. For those employers that were not incorporated there was a grace period of 12 months (until 1 January 2011) before the currently applicable award or agreement replaced by a federal instrument, but note that the NES overrode (from 01/01/10) any current award or agreement condition that was not better than the relevant NES condition.
 
The new national workplace tribunal, Fair Work Australia, also commenced operations from 1 July 2009, and in January 2013 Fair Work Australia was renamed as the Fair Work Commission. Also from 1 July, the good faith bargaining, multi-employer bargaining, right of entry, ‘general protections’ (ie ‘general protections’ largely replace the old freedom of association and related provisions re protections against unfair treatment at work), new unfair dismissal, new industrial action and transition of business laws apply. Some minor changes to record-keeping provisions are also in effect from 1 July 2009.
 
Anti-discrimination legislation
 
The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 aims to consolidate the federal government's legislative coverage in this area — bringing five different Acts, with different standards, definitions and rules under one statute. At March 2013 this legislation was still progressing through Parliament. The relevant federal legislation at March 2013 is:
 
Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) — protects both younger and older Australians. 
 
Areas covered: Employment; education; access to premises; provision of goods, services and facilities; renting or buying a house or flat; administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; and requests for information.
 
Disability Discrimination Act 1992 
 
Grounds of unlawful discrimination: Physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological or learning disabilities; physical disfigurement; disorders, illness or diseases that affect thought processes, perceptions of reality, emotions or judgement, or results in disturbed behaviours; presence in body of organisms causing disease or illness (eg HIV virus).
 
Areas covered: Employment; education; access to premises; accommodation; buying or selling land; activities of clubs; sport; administration of Commonwealth laws and programs; provision of goods; and services and facilities. 
 
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
 
Grounds of discrimination: Breaches of human rights by any Commonwealth body or agency and discrimination in employment on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, medical record, criminal record, marital status, impairment, disability, nationality, sexual preference, trade union activity.
 
Areas covered: Commonwealth body or agency; employment and occupation.
 
Racial Discrimination Act 1975
 
Grounds of unlawful discrimination: race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. Other unlawful conduct is racial hatred
 
Areas covered: Employment; provision of goods and services; right to join trade unions; access to places and facilities; land, housing and other accommodation.
 
Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Grounds of unlawful discrimination: Sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility (dismissal only). Other unlawful conduct is sexual harassment.
 
Areas coveredEmployment; partnerships; qualifying bodies; registered organisations; employment agencies, education; goods, services and facilities; accommodation; land; clubs; awards; superannuation and enterprise agreements.
 
Trade Practices Act 1974

The Trade Practices Act legislation is concerned with commerce generally. There are certain sections that are relevant to industrial action as it impacts on commerce — see sections:
45D. Secondary boycotts for the purpose of causing substantial loss or damage
45DA. Secondary boycotts for the purpose of causing substantial lessening of competition
45DB. Boycotts affecting trade or commerce
45DC. Involvement and liability of employee organisations
45DD. Situations in which boycotts permitted
45E. Prohibition of contracts, arrangements or understandings affecting the supply or acquisition of goods or services
 
Links to Commonwealth legislation
 
Age Discrimination Act 2004
Commonwealth Employment Legislation
 
Disability Discrimination Act 1992
Commonwealth Employment Legislation
 
Racial Discrimination Act 1975
Makes racial discrimination illegal for employees covered by Commonwealth employment legislation
 
Sex Discrimination Act 1984
Makes sex discrimination illegal for employees covered by Commonwealth employment legislation
 
Workplace Relations Act 1996
Commonwealth Employment Legislation, covering many employees in Australia before the Fair Work Act 2009 came into effect from 1 July 2009. There are still some awards and agreements that are legislatively sourced from this Act, but these are progessively being superseded.
 
Workplace Relations Regulations 1996
Commonwealth employment regulations, providing the practical application of the legislation 
 

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