By Lolita Farmer

A taxi driver picks up a passenger from the airport, a friend of mine who is among many others recruited to work here. Trying to break the ice and be friendly, he asks, “ So, did you come today ( pronounced as ‘to-die’ )?”

My friend answered politely, “No, No, No. I came to work”.

So it is, many of us came to work here in Australia. But have you ever given a thought to working here not only in dollars and cents but also in terms of your rights, duties and responsibilities?

Whether you are looking for work or are currently employed, it is essential to know and understand information about your visa, job employment, contracts, unions and workplace conditions.

If you hold a tourist visa, working here is against the law as it doesn’t entitle you to work.

For those sponsored as temporary workers and whose visa falls under Subclass 457-Business (Long Stay) the question most often asked is ‘Can my sponsor cancel my work visa?’

The answer is no. Only the Department of Immigration and Australian Citizenship (DIAC) can cancel the visa. However, your employer can terminate the job offer although they must do so in accordance with relevant Australian laws and notify the DIAC. Once your employment is terminated, the DIAC gives you 28 days to look for another sponsor and you must apply for a new Subclass 457 visa. Failing to do this may result in the cancellation of your existing Subclass 457 visa from your last employer and you will have to leave the country.

Some queried about their contracts signed before coming to Australia.The contract you signed overseas is valid and remains enforceable here as long as it complies with Australian laws.

Feeling unsafe and being treated unfairly in the workplace?

You should contact the workplace safety agency if you think that your work environment is unsafe and you were not given training in workplace safety issues.

As for being treated unfairly at work because of race, religion, nationality, disability, age, sex, sexual preferences or trade union activity, contact the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) toll-free on 1300 656 419 or visit their website at .

Every state in Australia has their own Equal Employment Opportunity and you can also ask them for help. You can look them up online or in the telephone directory.

In New South Wales, the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) which regulates NSW industrial awards, conciliates and arbitrates to resolve industrial disputes. They also set conditions of employment and fix wages and salaries by making industrial awards, as well as approve enterprise agreements and decide claims of unfair dismissal.

From 1 July 2009, Fair Work Australia (FWA) is the new national workplace relations tribunal. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission will continue its work till the end of 2009.

Complaints on pay, conditions, annual leave or sick leave, workplace rights (e.g. someone tried to force you to sign an agreement) are referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).

The most popular way to resolve industrial disputes is by mediation. It can be started quickly with both complainant and party complained involved. It is confidential and informal while being potentially cost-effective compared with legal action and doesn’t prejudice your rights in any way. In short, mediation is affordable, efficient and effective. However, not all matters can be resolved by mediation.

Lastly, know that everyone has the right to join a union under Australia’s freedom of association laws. No one can force or stop you from joining a union.

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