Social security refers to welfare payments provided by the Australian Federal Government. These payments generally fall under one of four pieces of legislation as noted below. The responsibility for these payments falls on the Commonwealth Government rather than an employer.
Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) (“the SSA”) provides for payment, to eligible people, certain pensions, benefits and allowances, such as the age pension, unemployment, carer allowance and payment, and disability pension.
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) provides for family tax benefits, maternity allowances and child care benefits.
Student Assistance Act 1973 (Cth) provides for allowances and benefits for eligible groups of students and apprentices.
Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 (Cth) provides financial support to eligible working parents of newborn or recently adopted children.
Healthcare and Insurances
Employers are not obliged to provide health insurance for employees in Australia.
The NES entitles employees to be absent on certain public holidays. The NES preserves the right of an employer to make a reasonable request that an employee work on a holiday, as well as the employee’s right to refuse upon reasonable grounds.
Under the NES, full-time employees are entitled to four weeks of paid annual leave (calculated by reference to the employee’s base rate of pay) and part-time employees to a pro-rata amount. Certain shift workers are entitled to five weeks of paid annual leave. Annual leave accrues over a year according to the employee’s ordinary hours of work (i.e. the hours set out in the relevant modern award or enterprise agreement).
The NES also clarifies that if the period during which an employee takes annual leave includes a public holiday, a period of another kind of leave (including sick leave, personal leave or community service leave, but not unpaid parental leave), that holiday or period of other leave is not counted as annual leave. This means that if an employee falls ill during a period of annual leave, for the period that the employee qualifies for sick leave, the employee will have that amount of annual leave credited, and sick leave debited.
Maternity / Paternity Leave
The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) provides for unpaid leave for parents who are giving birth to, or are adopting, a child. In essence, the Act provides for up to 12 months’ unpaid leave (or 24 months with the employer’s consent) for employees with a minimum of 12 months continuous service.
An employee is not entitled to parental leave under the NES unless they have 12 months of continuous service or are a “long term casual employee” (being a casual employee who has been employed on a regular and systematic basis during a period of at least 12 months). The NES allows both parents to take separate periods of 12 months’ parental leave, including up to eight weeks of leave taken concurrently. The NES extends the parental leave provisions to apply to same-sex couples.
The NES entitles permanent employees to accrue 10 days of paid personal/carer’s leave per year, and to two days of compassionate leave per year. The term ‘personal/carer’s leave’ effectively covers both sick leave and carer’s leave.
Employees are entitled to two days of compassionate leave to spend time with a member of their immediate family or household who has sustained a life-threatening illness or injury, or after a death of a member of the employee’s immediate family or household.
As with parental leave, paid personal and carer’s leave provisions stipulate that awards and agreements may include terms relating to the cashing out of such leave. In this instance, any cashing out terms in an award or agreement must require that the employee be left with a balance of at least 15 days’ accrued leave after the cashing out. As with annual leave, the cashing out arrangement must be included in a separate written agreement. The NES also confers an entitlement on casual employees to two days unpaid carer’s leave and two days unpaid compassionate leave, but not personal or sick leave.
Not applicable in Australia.
Other Required or Typically Provided Leave
Community Service Leave
Employees are entitled to be absent from work for three main reasons (termed “eligible community service activities”): 1) jury service; 2) a “voluntary emergency management activity”; and 3) any other activity in the nature of community service that the regulations prescribe.
Long Service Leave
The NES does not specifically provide for a long service leave entitlement. The NES merely provides that an employee is entitled to long service leave as stipulated in the applicable, pre-modernised award. In cases where there is no such applicable award, an employee’s entitlement will be derived from state and territory legislation, except where an industrial instrument modifies or excludes the legislative provisions. Each state and territory in Australia provides an entitlement for employees to have long service leave.
Domestic Violence Leave
All employees, including part-time and casual, who are experiencing family domestic violence, or providing care or support to another member of their family/household who are experiencing domestic family violence are now entitled to domestic violence leave under the NES. This includes 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave in a 12-month period. Note that an employer may agree to an employee taking more than 5 days of unpaid leave.
Pensions: Mandatory and Typically Provided
Under the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) a pension is paid to residents of Australia who have reached pension age and are assessed as not having adequate levels of income or assets that can be used to support themselves. From 1 July 2017 the qualifying age increased to 65 years and 6 months, to continue increasing by six months every two years for the following six years, reaching 67 years by 1 July 2023. The maximum rate paid for an individual $916.30 per fortnight and $690.70 for a couple. Unlike pension payments of many other countries, workers do not contribute to a pension or insurance within Australia, and the payment is available subject to means testing.