Australia Working Time and 4-day Workweek

April 12th 2024

The “Fair Work System” in Australia, established under the Fair Work Act 2009, governs employment relations, minimum employment laws, and agency bodies. It aims to ensure fairness, flexibility, and certainty for both employers and employees. Key elements include workplace health and safety laws, protection against unfair dismissal, flexible work arrangements, and superannuation payments. The system applies to most employers and employees, with specific entitlements outlined in the National Employment Standards (NES).

This article covers:

Laws and Regulations that Govern Employee Working Time in Australia

Employee working time in Australia is subject to various laws and regulations.

As of July 1, 2023, the National Minimum Wage in Australia stands at $23.23 per hour or $882.80 per week for a 38-hour work week.

Overtime refers to working beyond the normal hours for full-time or part-time employees, which includes surpassing daily or weekly maximum hours, exceeding agreed-upon part-time hours, or working outside designated ordinary hours outlined in awards, enterprise agreements, registered agreements, or employment contracts.

Overtime is typically compensated at higher rates, often an hourly rate of time and a half for the first 2 hours and double time for subsequent hours, depending on the industry.

Agreements like awards and enterprise agreements also specify provisions for paid and unpaid rest breaks, along with meal breaks, for Australian employees.

These agreements may also establish a minimum duration of time off required between the completion of one work shift and the commencement of another.

Furthermore, the Child Employment Act 2003 imposes limitations on the hours and times at which children can be employed.

Overtime in Australia

According to Australian regulations, full-time employees usually work a maximum of 38 hours per week, equivalent to 7.6 hours (or 7 hours and 36 minutes) per day, considered as regular work hours. Any hours worked beyond this threshold may be classified as overtime.

It’s essential to address health and safety concerns, such as fatigue, when requiring employees to work overtime. Additionally, employees have the right to refuse unreasonable overtime work that exceeds the maximum weekly hours.

Employment contracts typically determine whether employees are obligated to work overtime. According to the law, employees cannot be compelled to work more than an average of 48 hours per week.

They may agree to work additional hours, but such an agreement must be documented in writing and signed by the employee. If the employment contract does not guarantee overtime, employers have the authority to restrict their employees from working it.

It’s important to note that employers cannot discriminate by permitting some employees to work overtime while prohibiting others from doing so.

Overtime Exceptions and Exemptions in Australia

Employers in Australia can only ask or expect employees to work more than their maximum weekly hours if it is considered reasonable. The conditions for requiring overtime and the corresponding overtime rates are usually specified in awards, enterprise agreements, registered agreements, or employment contracts. For instance, some awards might allow employers to mandate overtime within reasonable limits.

Furthermore, specific awards and registered agreements may offer employees the choice to take paid time off instead of receiving overtime pay. This is commonly known as ‘time in lieu’ (TOIL) or ‘time off in lieu.’

Australia 4-day Workweek

In March 2023, the Australian Select Committee on Work and Care, chaired by Greens Senator Barbara Pocock, looking at how peoples’ jobs and care responsibilities could be better combined, made a recommendation for a four-day week in Australia. The committee called on the Albanese federal government to launch the four-day week trial, with employers in diverse sectors and locations to offer employees their full salary for 80% of their ordinary hours, while maintaining their full productivity and output. According to recommendations backed by Labour and Greens senators, the pilot would be spread across the workforce and conducted in partnership with an Australian university.

Another key recommendation from the report was restricting employers from contacting employees outside of work hours unless it’s an emergency. The unanimous report received support from the Labour and Coalition senators, although its recommendations go much further than official government policy and both major parties warned of the cost implications of its measures. 

In August 2022, a six-month pilot program for a 4-day workweek was conducted in Australasia by 4 Day Work Week Global. A total of 26 companies participated, with 10 from Australia and 16 from overseas. The trial’s findings showed that 95 percent of organizations supported the reduced schedule. The Australasia 4-day week pilot results report indicated that companies rated the overall pilot 8.2 out of 10, expressing satisfaction with business productivity and performance throughout the trial.

Oxfam Australia, having 97 full-time and 37 part-time employees, is preparing for a six-month pilot program, transitioning its full-time staff to a 30-hour workweek, as the Australian Services Union (ASU) succeeded in Match 2023, in negotiating a four-day workweek at full-time pay under the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

Although Oxfam Australia may be the first to formally adopt the four-day workweek, this concept has been gaining momentum in the country. Unilever, the multinational company famous for products such as Dove soap, Magnum ice cream, and Lynx, has already completed an 18-month trial of the four-day workweek in its New Zealand operations. Impressed by the positive results, Unilever extended the same arrangement to its Australian operations, initiating a 12-month trial in November of the previous year.

Australia’s working hours have undergone changes throughout its history. In the 19th century, Australian workers had to endure grueling 14-hour workdays for six days a week. In 1856, change transpired after the stonemasons advocacy in Melbourne for an eight-hour workday was successful, capitalizing on skill shortages and harsher climate and setting a global precedent.

Further, before the implementation of a two-day weekend in Australia, people typically worked half of Saturday, with Sunday being the only full day off. This began to shift after the war and was formally established with the adjustment of all awards to 40-hour workweeks in Australia on New Year’s Day in 1948. Subsequently, in 1981, metalworkers initiated a strike to advocate for a 35-hour workweek, but eventually settled for today’s standard of 38 hours, as other sectors followed suit with similar demands, provided they could demonstrate cost offsets to support reduced working hours.

Laws on Working Hours for Minors in Australia

The Child Employment Act 2003 establishes restrictions on the hours and times when children can be employed. 

During school terms, children are allowed to work a maximum of 3 hours per day and 12 hours per week, including rest breaks. However, during school holidays, this limit is extended to 6 hours per day and 30 hours per week.

For street trading jobs, children cannot begin work before 6 a.m. or sunrise, whichever is later, and must finish by 6 p.m. or sunset, whichever is earlier. For other types of employment, children are not allowed to start before 6 a.m. and must finish by 9 p.m.

Children working in industries other than entertainment are entitled to a minimum rest break of 30 minutes for every 3 hours worked and must have at least 12 hours off between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next. Additionally, they are prohibited from working during school hours on a school day.

Learn more about Australia Labour Laws through our detailed guide.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide we have tried to make it accurate but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for use of this guide.