Rivermate | Australia flag


Working Hours and Overtime Regulations

Understand the laws governing work hours and overtime in Australia

Standard working hours

The Fair Work Act 2008 (Cth) sets the framework for regulating working hours in Australia.

Maximum Weekly Hours

The standard working week for a full-time employee under the Act is a maximum of 38 hours. This translates to roughly 7.6 hours per day (or 7 hours and 36 minutes) spread across five days.

Award and Enterprise Agreements

The Fair Work Act doesn't dictate every aspect of working hours. Industry-specific awards and enterprise agreements can set different working hour standards. These agreements might establish:

  • Specific working hours for a particular industry (e.g., a 35-hour workweek for nurses).
  • The start and finish times of a workday.

In conclusion, the standard working hours in Australia are regulated by the Fair Work Act 2008, with the standard full-time workweek set at a maximum of 38 hours. However, industry-specific awards and enterprise agreements can set different standards, including specific working hours for certain industries and the start and finish times of a workday.


In Australia, the Fair Work Act 2008 acknowledges the possibility of overtime. The definition of overtime hours can vary depending on the applicable award or registered agreement. However, the National Employment Standards (NES) within the Fair Work Act provide a general guideline:

For full-time employees, any hours worked beyond 38 hours per week are considered overtime. For part-time employees, overtime applies to hours exceeding the ordinary working hours outlined in their employment contract, or 38 hours per week, whichever is less.

Employers can only request or require overtime if it's considered "reasonable" with due regard to employee's health and safety (fatigue management) and exceeding maximum weekly hours without justification is not considered reasonable.

The Fair Work Act doesn't mandate a specific method for compensating overtime work. However, awards and registered agreements typically dictate the approach:

Overtime pay involves paying employees a higher rate for overtime hours. Common overtime pay rates include time and a half for the first few hours of overtime (e.g., first 2 hours) and double time for all subsequent overtime hours.

Time in lieu (TOIL) allows employees to accrue time off in exchange for overtime worked. The terms of TOIL, including its conversion rate to paid time off, are usually outlined in the relevant award or agreement.

Employees should refer to their specific award or enterprise agreement to determine the exact rules regarding overtime compensation in their industry.

Rest periods and breaks

In Australia, workers are entitled to specific rest periods and meal breaks during their workday. These entitlements can vary based on several factors, but general guidelines exist under federal legislation.

Under the National Employment Standards (NES) within the Fair Work Act 2008 (Cth), the minimum entitlements for rest periods and meal breaks for most employees are outlined. These include:

  • Meal Breaks: Employees who work more than five consecutive hours are entitled to an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes.
  • Rest Breaks: There's no minimum entitlement for rest breaks mandated by the NES. However, employers must provide reasonable breaks throughout the workday, particularly for tasks requiring sustained concentration or physical exertion.

Employers are encouraged to consider fatigue management when structuring work schedules and breaks, as breaks are essential for maintaining worker safety and well-being.

The NES provides a baseline, but specific entitlements for rest periods and meal breaks can be more generous as outlined in industry-specific awards and enterprise agreements. These agreements might establish:

  • Frequency and duration of rest breaks: Some awards may mandate short, paid rest breaks every few hours for specific occupations.
  • Paid vs. unpaid meal breaks: While the NES allows for unpaid meal breaks, some awards might provide paid meal breaks.

Employees have the right to take their designated meal breaks and reasonable rest periods. Employers must not unreasonably deny or restrict breaks.

For comprehensive information regarding rest periods and meal breaks applicable to their specific employment situation, employees should consult their relevant award or enterprise agreement.

Night shift and weekend regulations

In Australia, regulations concerning shift work, including night shifts and weekend work, are addressed. The Fair Work Act 2008 (Cth) acknowledges the prevalence of shift work, although it doesn't specify a legal definition of "night shift." However, most awards and registered agreements recognize night shifts as work performed during specific evening and early morning hours. A common definition includes work between 11 pm and 6 am.

Working night shifts typically entitles employees to additional payments or benefits outlined in relevant awards or agreements. These might include penalty rates, which are higher hourly rates for night shift hours compared to regular daytime hours, and night shift allowances, which are flat payments in addition to the base salary to compensate for the disruption to sleep patterns. Awards set the specific penalty rates and allowances for night shifts.

Weekend work, generally involving Saturdays and Sundays, might be subject to specific regulations depending on the award or agreement. Similar to night shift penalties, some awards mandate higher pay rates for work performed on weekends. Awards might also prescribe limitations on the frequency or predictability of weekend rosters to ensure a healthy work-life balance for employees. Specific weekend penalty rates and rostering requirements are outlined in relevant awards.

Employees have the right to be informed about their shift work arrangements, including rosters and applicable penalties. Reasonable consultation should occur before implementing significant changes to shift rosters. While weekend work is not inherently prohibited, awards and agreements often aim to ensure fairness and a reasonable work-life balance for employees working weekends.

Rivermate | A 3d rendering of earth

Hire your employees globally with confidence

We're here to help you on your global hiring journey.