· Features

A postcard from... Australia

Our 'postcard from' series keeps you updated on key HR areas in different countries

Economic briefing

Australia’s economy is continuing its post-resources industry boom recalibration after expanding rapidly, primarily on the back of Asian demand for iron ore and coal from the early 2000s to around mid-2012. The property market, particularly the residential apartment market, continues to grow. The economy is highly dependent on trade with Asia (particularly China) and historical ties with the US. Overall growth remains steady, if not spectacular.

Legal lowdown

Part of the British Commonwealth, Australia’s legal system is similar to the UK’s in many ways reports Michael Moy, partner at McCullough Robertson. “Workplace laws are primarily governed by a single federal statute – the Fair Work Act. State laws and common law also have significant roles,” he says. “The Fair Work Act mandates 10 minimum employment standards… providing safety net standards for matters such as annual leave, sick leave, parental leave, notice of termination and redundancy pay.”

In addition, many industries and occupations are regulated by ‘awards’, he adds. These are minimum obligations governing matters such as hours of work, rostering, overtime, penalty rates and minimum wage rates. “Employers and their employees can agree (on a collective basis) to enter into ‘enterprise agreements’ that… must leave employees better off overall when compared with the award that may otherwise apply,” says Moy.

Transfer of business

Regulation of business acquisitions and sales is significantly different to the UK’s TUPE laws, Moy adds. He explains that unlike TUPE, Australia’s transfer of business rules do not require purchasers to offer employment to the employees of the organisation they are buying.

The union/business divide

Lost time due to industrial disputes is historically a feature of the Australian workplace. But it continues to decline, as does union membership in the private sector. However, the ‘industrial divide’ between organised labour and business continues to drive much political debate, despite workplace laws being relatively stable since 2010.

From the HR frontline

“Australia has some interesting and sometimes complex aspects around IR [what we refer to as ER], with regards to enterprise agreements and awards dependent on the sector an individual works in, which will determine some of their terms and conditions of employment as well as their employment contract,” reports head of HR at Specsavers Laura Sharrott, regarding her experiences working in Australia. “Things like managing absence you have to think differently about as Australian employees are entitled to 10 days’ personal leave on top of any sick pay and annual leave,” she adds.