Employment Law In The Northern Territory
Employment in Australia is regulated by both federal legislation and state or territory legislation. However, in the Northern Territory, all employees are covered by the national workplace relations system. The Northern Territory also has its own legislation that relates to workplaces. The Public Sector Employment and Management Act regulates the NT public service, and the NT Ant-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of various attributes in an employment context as well as in other areas of life. This article deals with employment law in the Northern Territory.
Employment law in the Northern Territory: state or federal?
The national Fair Work workplace relations system is administered by two bodies: the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman. The main piece of legislation is the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). This act applies to all NT employees.
NT legislation relating to employment also applies to all NT employees. The Public Sector Employment and Management Act sets out the procedures for employment, promotion, redeployment and redundancy within the NT public sector. It also sets out the processes for disciplinary action and grievances. The NT Return To Work Act 1986 governs workers compensation matters and the Long Service Leave Act sets out long service leave entitlements.
NT employees also have recourse to both federal and territory anti-discrimination laws, which offer overlapping protections. Complaints about unlawful discrimination can be made to the federal Human Rights Commission or to the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission.
The national employment standards
The national employment standards apply to all national system employees, which includes all employees in the Northern Territory. They are a set of ten minimum employment standards, covering issues such as the maximum number of hours employees can be expected to work per week, parental leave, annual leave, community service leave, paid public holidays, and termination and redundancy pay rights.
Employers are also required to give new employees a copy of the ‘Fair Work Information Statement‘. A modern award or an enterprise agreement can make certain amendments to the National Employment Standards. Some of these amendments are discussed below.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), national system employees are protected against their employer taking adverse action against them for exercising a workplace right. Workplace rights include the right to join a trade union or other employer association and the right to participate in protected industrial action.
Under the Anti-Discrimination Act, employees are also protected from adverse action on the basis of certain attributes, including their age, race, sexual orientation or religion.
Adverse action can include dismissing an employee, changing their job description to their detriment, or refusing to employ them.
It is illegal for an NT employer to coerce, unduly influence, bully, or pressure an employee into doing certain things, such as make an enterprise agreement or agree to certain terms under a modern award, or agree to accept deductions in their pay based on their performance.
NT employees can complain about these matters to the Fair Work Commission.
Making modern awards
In addition to the National Employment Standards, employees in the Northern Territory may be covered by a modern award. These are made by the Fair Work Commission and reviewed every four years. The Fair Work Commission can only make fair and reasonable modern awards, having regards to matters such as relative living standards.
Terms of modern awards
Modern awards set the minimum working conditions for employees in particular industries. Only certain matters can be covered by the terms of a modern award, including:
- overtime rates
- minimum wages
- penalty rates
- superannuation, and
It may also set out certain ‘coverage terms’, such as which organisations are covered by the modern award.
Modern awards can also make amendments to the National Employment Standards. For example, a modern award can include information relating to taking or cashing out annual leave. It can also specify the period of notice to be given for terminating employment. An employee will not be subject to the terms of a modern award if their annual income is greater than a “high income threshold”. Currently, the threshold is $158,500 per annum.
If the modern award that applies to an employee is contravened by their employer, they can complain to the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Fair Work Commission. A comprehensive list of modern awards can be found here.
Employees can also be subject to the terms of an enterprise agreement. An enterprise agreement sets out the minimum working conditions for a business or group of businesses. The employees who are subject to an enterprise agreement can usually appoint a bargaining representative to negotiate its terms.
If an employee is subject to a modern award as well as to an enterprise agreement, the enterprise agreement will prevail over the terms of the modern award. The enterprise agreement can make similar amendments to the National Employment Standards as those that can be made in modern awards.
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