Employment Law vs Industrial Relations

By Stephen Arulogun

As an employer, you are required to comply with all aspects of Australian employment law and ensure your employees have a good work environment which is safe and secure. Your workplace must be free from bullying, discrimination, and harassment.

The three main sources of employment law in Australia are:

statute (Federal, State and Territory Acts and Regulations);
industrial instruments; and
common law.
The Fair Work Act 2009 is the statutory foundation of employment law in Australia. The minimum terms and conditions for most employees in Australia covered by the national workplace relations system are provided for in the Fair Work Act 2009. The 10 minimum entitlements which apply to most employees in the private sector and form the cornerstone of the national workplace relations system comprise the National Employment Standards (NES), contained in the Fair Work Act 2009.

It is crucial to know what workplace relations system covers your business and your employees, as this determines which legislation applies. Your business may be covered by an industrial instrument such as a modern award, enterprise agreement or other registered agreement which sets out additional minimum employment conditions that apply to a particular industry or occupation above and beyond the National Employment Standards.

Employment law is the State and Federal laws that protects worker rights, prevents discrimination, and promotes safe work environments. Employment law governs the relationship between employers and employees and addresses a range of workplace legal issues.

Employer Responsibilities

  • Provide a safe working environment
  • Protect all employees from harassment, bullying and discrimination
  • Pay employees correctly and on time, keeping accurate records
  • Provide hazard and safety risk training
  • Report workplace incidents and injuries where appropriate
  • Supply protective clothing and equipment for employees (where appropriate) and train employees on correct usage

Industrial relations

Employment law is a broad term encompassing industrial relations. Industrial relations is the management of work-related obligations and entitlements between employers and their employees. Industrial relations include:

  • Unfair dismissal
  • General protections
  • Employment dispute resolution
  • Performance review management
  • Underpayment of wages
  • Harassment and sexual harassment
  • Workplace bullying and victimisation

In 2020-21, unfair dismissal applications accounted for 45 percent of industrial relations or employment law disputes before the Fair Work Commission, followed by general protections involving dismissal.

Employees and independent contractors have different rights under Australian employment law. If you are not sure if you are an employee or an independent contractor, please read our “Am I an employee or contractor?” article.

Workplace rights

Employees have workplace rights including:

  • To be paid in full for the work they have performed at least monthly
  • To make an inquiry or complaint into their employment
  • To enter into or end an individual flexibility arrangement
  • To have safe working conditions.

Fair Work Ombudsman and Office of Industrial Relations

The Fair Work Ombudsman deals with rights and obligations under Commonwealth employment law. The Office of Industrial Relations – Queensland deals with rights and obligations under Queensland employment law. IR Advocates can help you resolve disputes in both jurisdictions. We help employees, employers and government workers.

The majority of employees in Queensland are covered by the Commonwealth Fair Work laws. State and local government employees are covered by Queensland employment laws.


If you are an employer, employee or government worker who requires assistance, please make sure you contact an Employment Lawyer or an Industrial Advocate.

IR Advocates can help with industrial relations matters, please contact us on 1300 415 464.