Australia: Is there a Cap on Working Hours?

Last Updated: 19 February 2013
Article by Nicole Dunn

Historically award employees working hours have been regulated by the relevant award. Awards have specified ordinary hours of work and the applicable penalty rates if an employee works outside those hours. Awards have also regulated how work can be scheduled or rostered.

Non-award employees have not been subjected to such stringent regulation.

The Working Hours Case (2002) 114 IR 390 was a test case brought by the ACTU to revise federal award provisions. The AIRC [as it then was] acknowledged problems surrounding long hours but were not willing to do more than adopt a standard provision that permitted employees to refuse overtime where this would mean working "unreasonable" hours.

The National Employment Standards (NES) set by the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act), gives all employees, including managers and other professionals the right to object to working unreasonable hours.

Section 20 of the Act sets ordinary hours for a full time employee who is award/agreement free as 38 per week where there has been no agreement reached between the employer and employee on the subject of ordinary hours of work.

Section 20(1) of the Act provides that where an award/agreement free employee has agreed with the employer on ordinary hours of work, the ordinary hours of work will be as agreed. (This must be read subject to the provisions of section 62 of the Act and section 12 of the NES which sets the maximum hours of work for a full-time employee at 38 hours per week plus reasonable additional hours). An employee may refuse to work additional hours if they are unreasonable (section 12(3) NES and section 62(2) of the Act).

Section 12(4) of the NES (section 62(3) of the Act) sets out what is to be considered in determining whether additional hours or refusal to work additional hours are reasonable.

The considerations are:

  • Any risk to employee health and safety.
  • The employee's personal circumstances.
  • The needs of the employer.
  • The employee's entitlement to overtime payments, penalty rates or other compensation.
  • Whether the employee's level of remuneration reflects an expectation of working additional hours.
  • The notice given by the employer to the employee of any request or requirement to work additional hours;
  • The notice given by an employee to an employer that they refuse to work additional hours.
  • The industry work patters.
  • The nature of the employee's role and level of responsibility.
  • Whether the additional hours are in accordance with the averaging provision of any applicable award.
  • Any other relevant matter.

Section 62 of the Act provides that an employer must not require an employee to work more than 38 hours per week unless the additional hours are reasonable. Award and agreement free employees may agree to average their ordinary hours over a six month period (section 64 of the Act), however hours must not be unreasonable in any given week.

Section 147 of the Act requires that all modern awards set out ordinary hours. Unsurprisingly, modern awards provide for ordinary hours of work as 38 hours for a full time employee.

There is no requirement in the Act for ordinary hours to be set out in an enterprise agreement. Given that ordinary hours is an entitlement under the NES, any enterprise agreement which does not contain an ordinary hours clause is unlikely to be given approval by the Fair Work Commission.

A part-time employee is generally someone who works less than 38 hours per week or whatever the "standard" is for that type of work.

The Federal Magistrates Court in the matter of MacPherson v Coal & Allied Mining Services Pty Ltd (No.2) [2009] FMCA 881 held that an increase in a mining workers rostered hours from 40 to 44 per week was not unreasonable on the facts.

In this matter an Mr MacPherson, an electrical fitter working at Rio Tinto's subsidiary Coal & Allied Mount Thorley/Warkworth open cut mine in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, commenced proceedings claiming the change in his roster from a rotating three week Monday to Friday roster which averaged 40 hours per week to a 44 hour two week roster made up of four shifts (three 12 hour shifts and one of 8 hour shift) Monday to Friday was unreasonable additional hours.

Mr Macpherson argued that the additional hours were unreasonable as they disrupted his family life including;

  • his ability to take his sons to sports training;
  • his ability to coach his sons soccer team; and
  • his family meal time.

Magistrate Kenneth Raphael accepted the evidence presented on behalf of the employer that the new roster was accepted by the majority of workers and that a 44 hour roster was popular in the mining industry.

Magistrate Raphael noted there are a number of factors to be taken into account in determining whether additional hours are reasonable. Those factors are:

  • The total number of hours worked on a particular shift.
  • Extent of any night work.
  • Number of hours worked without a break.
  • Time off in between shifts.
  • Risks to health and safety.
  • Personal circumstances of the employee(s).
  • Operational requirements of the employer.
  • Notice given by the employer to the employee(s) of the requirement to work additional hours.
  • Remuneration received for the additional hours.
  • Work patters permitted under an enterprise agreement [this would also apply to any applicable award].
  • Total working hours
  • Length of shifts.
  • Industry working patterns.
  • Applicable OH&S legislation and guidelines.

Magistrate Kenneth Raphael held [at 63]:

"... In my view the benefits to the employer of the new rosters outweighs the detriment to Mr McPherson which I believe is adequately compensated for by the work pattern allowance and by the extra rostered days off arising out of the new shifts. I am satisfied that the extra rostered hours over the statutory 38 hours are, as they affect Mr McPherson, reasonable."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.