Contracts of employment

An employment relationship is a contractual one, freely entered into between the employer and the employee.

Of course it is generally the case that the employer is in a far stronger bargaining position than the employee, and there may often be no genuine sense of bargaining. Rather, a prospective employee will often be presented with a set of terms and conditions with little room to discuss, let alone negotiate. 

In addition to, and sometimes instead, of a written contract, the employment relationship will often be regulated by either an industrial award or a collective or enterprise agreement.

There are also extra obligations for employees that are generally not written down. These include the obligation to:

  • maintain confidentiality
  • act in good faith
  • exercise due care and skill in performing your duties
  • act within the parameters of your employment contract
  • follow reasonable and lawful instructions of your employer.

For apprentices your employment will also be regulated by the terms of the training contract.

Modern awards 

Modern awards form the basis of a safety net for all employees, particularly lowly paid employees, together with 10 National Employment Standards. Sometimes an enterprise agreement may apply rather than an award.

You can find out if an award or enterprise agreement applies to your employment on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

National Employment Standards 

The 10 National Employment Standards are an integral part of the federal system of industrial relations and relate to:

  • maximum hours of work
  • parental leave
  • flexible working arrangements
  • annual leave entitlements
  • personal, carers and compassionate leave entitlements
  • community service leave entitlements
  • public holidays
  • provision of an information statement
  • termination of employment and redundancy
  • long service leave.

Unlike award terms and conditions, National Employment Standards apply to all employees no matter how well paid, how senior or how junior they are.

There is more information available about the National Employment Standards on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.