8: Workplace rights and responsibilities

Just as your employer is responsible for providing a safe environment to work in, as an employee you have some responsibilities of your own.


During the application process and in the workplace, it is illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of certain attributes including age, race, sex, disability, or union membership (check The Fairwork Ombudsman for the full list). This means that employers can’t treat you differently because of these attributes, although there are a few commonsense exceptions. For example, if you’re fifteen years old you couldn’t get a job as a bartender, as you legally can’t serve alcohol.


  • Follow all safety procedures closely
  • Report anything unsafe to your employer
  • If you are unsure about anything, always ask


You have the right to work in a safe environment. Your employer needs to make sure this is the case. You’re also responsible for following safety procedures and reporting anything unsafe to your employer. It’s up to the employer to prevent bullying at work, if you have questions go to the health and safety representative.

Remember, if you’re unsure about anything, just ask.


Unions are organisations that represent employees and campaign for their rights at work. There are different unions for different industries.

You can choose to join a union when you start work. It is illegal for other people to pressure you or discriminate against you based on your choice.

Unions are for workers

Unions were started by workers to give them a stronger voice at work and in the community. By working together, union members have improved working conditions and safety in the workplace – for them and all other workers.

Unions have won many important changes for workers like holiday pay, equal pay for women, sick pay, superannuation, workers’ compensation and the 8-hour day.

Unions provide members with information, advice and support so that people can be fairly rewarded for their work.

Every worker, whether part-time, full-time, casual, temporary, apprentice, trainee or contract, can join a union.

At first there were different unions for each trade (hence the term trade unions). Over time these merged to form larger unions that cover a major industry or group of industries – known as ‘super unions’ or industry unions.

Now there are 46 major unions in Australia – with over 2 million members. The biggest union is the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) with over 200,000 members including employees of Coles, Woolworths, Bunnings, Hungry Jacks, Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Another big union is United Voice with over 120,000 members working in hospitality, security, childcare, cleaning and a variety of other essential jobs.

Today most Australian workers are employed with wages and conditions set by a union-negotiated collective agreement (often called employment awards).

  • Don’t accept discrimination
  • Be sure about safety
  • Unions can help

Relevant Resources

Equality, Rights
Wave Hill sources and resources
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Wave Hill walk-off – 50 years ago
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Where is Wave Hill and Wattie Creek?
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