Australian Corporations & Worker Rights

A brief summary on where things are, laws related to it, non-whites on senior board and management of companies etc

Companies in Australia are making a commitment to improve work situations for workers in Australia. In the backdrop, Human Rights plays a huge part in ensuring these rights can be met.

In Australia, by governmental law, there is a right for everyone to work in a place where they want to work and refuse to work where they do not want to work.

For contract of employment, the common law system applies in Australia and serves as the foundation for all employment relationships. Contractual obligation must be exercised subject to the requirements of any relevant legislation.


The National Employment Standards (NES) sets out the minimum requirements that must be met at all corporations in Australia, regardless of salary or position of the employee. In general, it covers the following rights:

  1. Maximum weekly hours (38 hours per people plus any reasonable additional hours for full time workers)
  2. Requests for flexible working arrangements (only to be refused on reasonable business grounds)
  3. Parental leave and any related entitlements
  4. Annual leave (4 weeks per year for full-time employee)
  5. Personal/Carer’s leave (1o days paid leave per year for full time employee)
  6. Community service leave (paid or unpaid depending on reason it is taken)
  7. Long service leave (paid) – usually applied through state legislation
  8. Public holidays leave
  9. Notice of termination and redundancy of pay
  10. Fair work information statement to be give n to all new employees as soon as practical.

Keeping this in as a basis for employee rights, Australia is also party to seven core International Human Rights treaties. These treaties have provisions regarding worker rights for specific groups. Not all the treaties are mentioned here, but here are a few rights under the treaties;

  • The Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEPAW) requires measures to be taken to eliminate discrimination against women in employment. This has helped to reduce the difference between jobs given to women and men in the workplace.
  • The Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) requires countries to recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation
  • The Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD) requires countries to recognise the rights of people with disabilities to work on an equal basis as others and to provide reasonable adjustments/accommodation in the workplace for people with disabilities.

The UN committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated in Article 6(1) in international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that:

  • There must be specialised services to assist and support individuals in order to enable them identify and access employment
  • Labour marker must be open to everyone. There should be no discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social views, property, birth or other status, which has the intention of impairing or nullifying the exercise of rights to work (Article 2 ICESCR).
  • Age should be considered to be a status on which discrimination under article 2 of ICESCR is prohibited. Limiting the work entitlements of non-citizens would not constitute unlawful discrimination under article 2 of ICESCR.
  • People with disabilities should have physical accessibility to employment
  • The right of work should be protected, workers should be provided with good conditions of work, they should be free to join or form trade unions and be free to choose or refuse work.

Non-Whites at Senior level

  • In 2019, less that 10% of executives in Australis top corporate boards were from non-ethnic backgrounds. Although corporate companies in Australis have done well in increasing gender diversity the same cannot be said of ethnic minority and cultural minorities accessing the workplace. The top senior members still remain mostly ‘white’.
  • Interestingly, 35% of Australia’s top 100 board seats are held by women but only 7% are held by ethnic and cultural minorities.
  • Most people from ethnic and minorities background enter relevant professions at similar rates to the Anglo-Caucasian people are not promoted at the same speed as their white counter parts (Colic Peisker & Tilbury 2007).