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Improving workers' rights

Workers' organisations have improved working conditions through organising workers and by influencing law and policy makers. Unions have also taken test cases through industrial tribunals.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions' (ACTU) reasonable hours test case in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission is a positive example. This case established the right of workers to refuse to work overtime when doing so would result in the employee working unreasonable hours. In recognition of the adverse effects on employee health and their families, the Commission ruled that workers may refuse to work overtime if there is a risk to the worker's health and safety or on the basis of family responsibility.

However, such improvements are not guaranteed and can be reversed. Protection of workers' rights in line with international standards is required to prevent unfair treatment at work.

The above material is adapted from the fact sheet "Worker's Rights: Protecting Human Rights in Australia", courtesy of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

For more information on workers' rights and workplace agreements see The Law Handbook online.