A guide for students: Working in Australia

Your first job will put you on the path to independence. Here's what you need to know about working in Australia.

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If you've just started work or are currently working, you don't have to rely on anyone else as much. However, this means that you need to be aware of certain things so let's look at exactly what they are.

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What you need to know about working in Australia

Getting your first job means understanding not only the types of employment available in Australia but also the benefits you are entitled to under each form of employment. The more you know about your rights, the smaller the risk is of you getting taken advantage of.

Types of employment and relevant benefits

First of all, it's important you understand the different types of employment, which are as follows:

  • Full-time employment. As a full-time employee, you will be working on average 38 hours per week and will generally have an ongoing position. A full-time position means that you are entitled to all the conditions laid out by the National Employment Standards, including a maximum number of work hours per week, paid sick leave, paid holidays, public holidays and a notice regarding the loss of your position.
  • Part-time employment. As a part-time employee, you will be on average working less than 38 hours per week. Employment is usually ongoing and you will be working the same set hours. You have the same rights as a full-time employee but these rights will be calculated based on the number of hours you work.
For example

The National Employment Standards (NES) state that full-time employees are entitled to four weeks of annual leave per year. If you work an average of 20 hours per week, you will accumulate 4 part-time weeks of annual leave, or 80 hours of leave, compared to a full-time employee who would accumulate 4 full-time weeks of leave or 152 hours.

  • Casual employment. As a casual employee, you will be paid according to the number of hours you work. While there is no guarantee regarding the number of hours you will work per week, you might work regular hours. Generally, if you are a casual employee, you will get a higher rate of pay, referred to as 'casual loading', in lieu of some of the advantages you would get as a full-time or part-time employee. For example, as a casual employee, you don't have paid sick leave or paid annual leave.
  • Apprentice/trainee. If you are an apprentice or a trainee, this means you have a formal training agreement with an employer, which is a combination of work and study so you can receive a certain qualification, certificate or diploma. If you are old enough to work, you can become an apprentice or trainee and this arrangement can be full-time, part-time or school-based. The amount you will be paid varies according to the years of school you have finished, the number of years of training you have received, the type of apprenticeship or traineeship, the industry or job and the award, agreement or contract that covers your employment. In general, you can expect to get a percentage of what a qualified tradesperson would be paid. Your wages will also be determined according to how long you've been an apprentice. For example, if you are in year two of an apprenticeship that lasts four years, you might get 70% of what a qualified tradesperson would earn.
  • Contractor. It is important to understand the difference between an employee and a contractor. You are a contractor if you are self-employed and provide a specific service to clients. For example, a plumber that gets called in to fix a blocked drain by a business will perform the work using his or her own tools and then invoice the company for the job. He or she is a contractor and not an employee.
  • Shift worker. You are a shift worker if you fit the definition in the award or agreement that is applicable to your situation. If you aren't covered by an award or agreement, you are considered a shift worker if you work in a business where shifts are continuously rostered 24/7 and are regularly rostered to work said shifts. You are also a shift worker if working on public holidays and Sundays is a regular occurrence. Note that as a shift worker, you have to right to receive shift loading for all the hours you work, which is determined according to the award or agreement that applies. You are also entitled to an additional week of annual leave every year.
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The Australian minimums: working age and wage

Australian legislation states that if you are over 18 years old, you have the right to earn at least $606.40 per week or $15.96 per hour, which means that no employer can pay you less than this amount. Note that this applies to you even if you aren't a citizen of Australia. If you are under 18 years of age, the pay rate varies according to how old you are. You can learn more about your rights in this case by visiting the Fair Work Australia website.

Remember:

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  • The general minimum age is 13 years old to start work.
    • However, if you are at least 11 years old you can perform delivery work, like delivering the newspaper or leaflets. Note that if you are 11 or 12 years old, you are not allowed to perform these tasks between 6pm and 6am.
  • If you will be working in the family business or the entertainment industry, note that there is no restriction regarding your age.
  • For anyone under the age of 16 who is obligated to be enrolled in school, the consent of the parents' or legal guardians is required. Once you are 16 or have completed year 10, whichever happens first, you can work full-time.

There are other restrictions that apply. For example, it is illegal for someone to employ you during the hours you should be in school and there are also limits in terms of how many hours you can work.

If you are under 16 and obligated to be in school:

  • You are not allowed to work more than 12 hours during the school week and no more than four hours per day.
  • You are not allowed to work more than 38 hours during school holidays and no more than eight hours per day.
  • You are not permitted to work more than four hours without a one hour break.
  • You are not allowed to work if you've done work for the same employer within the previous 12 hours.
  • You aren't allowed to work more than one shift per day.
  • You aren't allowed to work more than one shift per day.
  • You aren't allowed to work between 10pm and 6am.

A child who is not old enough to start school may not:

  • Work in excess of 12 hours per week.
  • Work in excess of four hours per day.
  • Work if you have already performed work for the same employer within the prior 12 hours.
  • Work more than one shift per day.
  • Work between 10pm and 6am.
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Superannuation

Superannuation guarantee contributions

Superannuation is a method used to ensure you have funds for your retirement. These savings are the result of contributions your employer makes to your super fund and, in the best case scenario, additional contributions you made. In some cases, the government will also add to this fund via co-contributions and low income super contributions.

Name Product Last 1 year performance (p.a.) Last 3 year performance (p.a.) Last 5 year performance (p.a.) Last 10 year performance (p.a.) Fees on $50k balance (p.a.)

AustralianSuper - Pre-mixed, Balanced option

Finder Award
AustralianSuper - Pre-mixed, Balanced option
+20.46%
+9.6%
+10.46%
+9.74%
$476.18
AustralianSuper is an award-winning industry super fund and the largest super fund in Australia. The Balanced fund invests in a mix of different assets like shares, property and cash.

Spaceship GrowthX

Spaceship GrowthX
+23.41%
+15.25%
New Fund
New Fund
$536
This is a high-risk investment option that aims to deliver high returns over the long term.
Spaceship's GrowthX fund invests heavily in technology ETFs with high exposures to Australian and international shares. Performance figures and fees supplied by Spaceship, not Chant West.

Sunsuper Lifecycle Balanced

Finder Award
Sunsuper Lifecycle Balanced
+20.62%
+8.77%
+9.84%
+9.06%
$558
Sunsuper is an award-winning super fund with more than 1.4 million members. Its Lifecycle Balanced option invests your super in a mix of growth assets, and reduces your risk when you're near retirement.

Australian Ethical Super Balanced

Green Company
Australian Ethical Super Balanced
+17.96%
+10.33%
+9.67%
+9.01%
$622
Certified by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia.
Australian Ethical seeks to invest in companies that have a positive impact on the planet, people and animals, such as renewable energy and healthcare while avoiding investments in coal, oil, tobacco and gambling.

QSuper Lifetime - Aspire 1

QSuper Lifetime - Aspire 1
+17.11%
+9.02%
+8.61%
New Fund
$360
QSuper is one of the largest profit-for-members funds in Australia. QSuper Lifetime continually adjusts your investment mix in line with your age and your super account balance.

UniSuper Balanced

UniSuper Balanced
+17.6%
+9.23%
+9.55%
+9.55%
$326
UniSuper is an industry super fund and one of Australia's largest super funds with more than 450,000 members. Its Balanced option invests in a mix of different asset classes and has achieved consistently high returns for members.

Virgin Money Super - Lifestage Tracker

Virgin Money Super - Lifestage Tracker
+22.17%
+10.04%
New Fund
New Fund
$363
Virgin Money Super Lifestage Tracker has some of the lowest fees in the market. It invests in a range of different assets in line with your age, reducing your risk as you get older. Plus, you can earn Velocity Frequent Flyer Points when you rollover your super, and on the contributions you make (T&Cs apply).

Aware Super Growth

Aware Super Growth
+18.02%
+8.81%
+9.8%
+8.97%
$519.42
Aware Super is a not-for-profit fund with more than 750,000 members. The MySuper product invests your super in a pre-mixed Growth fund until you’re 60, then it’ll switch to Balanced.

HESTA Balanced Growth

HESTA Balanced Growth
+19.03%
+8.48%
+9.39%
+8.87%
$533.53
HESTA is an industry super fund for the health and community services sector and open to all Australians. The Balanced Growth fund invests in a mix of asset classes without taking on too much, or too little, risk.

Australian Catholic Super Lifetime - Grow

Australian Catholic Super Lifetime - Grow
+17.36%
+7.42%
New Fund
New Fund
$528
A Catholic super fund open to all Australians and designed for people working in Catholic education, healthcare or aged care.The Lifetime One fund option changes your investment mix as you get older.

Verve Super Balanced

Verve Super Balanced
+12.85%
New Fund
New Fund
New Fund
$691.10
Verve Super is an ethical super fund tailored for women. It seeks to invest in companies making a positive impact, such as renewable energy and women in leadership, while avoiding those that cause harm, such as fossil fuels, tobacco and guns.

Superhero Super Autopilot

Superhero Super Autopilot
+14.52%
+8.39%
New Fund
New Fund
$429.30
Superhero Super Autopilot allows you to invest up to 30% of your super in different themed ASX shares and ETFs, with at least 70% of your balance invested in the Vanguard Global Diversified Index Portfolio. Performance and fees are based on having 100% of your balance in the index portfolio.

AustralianSuper - Socially Aware

AustralianSuper - Socially Aware
+19.4%
+7.89%
+9.25%
+9.2%
$501.18
The AustralianSuper Socially Aware option doesn't invest in Australian or international companies that directly own coal and fossil fuel reserves, produce tobacco or those which have single-gender boards. Investment performance as of 30 June 2020.

Aware Super - Diversified Socially Responsible Investment

Aware Super - Diversified Socially Responsible Investment
+15.23%
+8.1%
+8.28%
+8.12%
$406.18
The Aware Super Diversified Socially Responsible Investment is a pre-mixed investment option that excludes companies operating in the tobacco, ammunition, gambling, alcohol, forest logging and pornography industries, as well as companies that attribute 20% or more of their revenue to coal, oil and gas.

Sunsuper - Socially Conscious Balanced

Sunsuper - Socially Conscious Balanced
+19.6%
+8.76%
+8.83%
+8.25%
$463
Certified by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia.
The Sunsuper Socially Conscious Balanced option avoids investment in companies that have significant exposure (more than 5% of revenue) to alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography, coal and nuclear power manufacturing. Investment performance as of 30 June 2020.

HESTA - Sustainable Growth

HESTA - Sustainable Growth
+23.03%
+11.93%
+11.78%
+11.28%
$780.29
HESTA Sustainable Growth is a pre-mixed, diversified investment option with a high to very high risk level. The investment managers take into account the social and environmental impact of the companies in which it invests, and excludes investment in tobacco, fossil fuels, uranium and weapon manufacturing. Investment performance as of 30 June 2020.
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The information in the table is based on data provided by Chant West Pty Ltd (AFSL 255320) which is itself supplied by third parties. While such information is believed to be accurate, Chant West does not accept responsibility for any inaccuracy in such information. Chant West’s Financial Services Guide is available at https://www.chantwest.com.au/financial-services-guide . Finder offers no guarantees or warranties about the data and we recommend that users make their own enquiries before relying on this information. Performance, fees and insurance data is based on each fund's default MySuper product. Where the performance, fees and insurance data for the MySuper fund vary according to the member's age, results for individuals between 40-49 years of age have been shown. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

*Past performance data is for the period ending June 2021.

Disclaimer: Performance, fees and insurance data is based on each fund's default MySuper product. Where the performance, fees and insurance data for the MySuper fund vary according to the member's age, results for individuals between 40-49 years of age have been shown. This article is general advice. You should consider your own personal circumstances before deciding if a superannuation product is right for you. Superannuation is a long term investment and past performance is not indicative of future performance.


Remember:

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Note that your employer is obligated by law to pay nine per cent of your salary into a super fund. This percentage is referred to as the Super Guarantee. This percentage will increase on 1 July, 2013 and on 1 July, 2014 with 0.25 percentage points each and will continue to grow by 0.5 percentage points after that every year until 2019, when this rate will be 12%.

Throughout your working life, these contributions made by your employer as well as yourself and the government, if applicable, add up. The money is also invested by the super fund, which means it increases over time. This means that when you retire, you will have some money to live off.

Your first job and superannuation

When you are over 18 years old and get a job, as long as you are earning at least $450 before tax, you have the right to superannuation guarantee contributions from your employer. It doesn't matter whether you are a full-time or part-time employee - if you are working, you have the right to receive superannuation guarantee payments because these amounts were derived from prior pay rises that were offered as superannuation payments.

First job and looking after your superannuation

However, there are certain eligibility conditions. You must be working a minimum of 30 hours per week and this also covers contractors who are mainly paid for the labour they perform for an employer. Your employer is obligated to pay the superannuation guarantee, which is nine per cent of your income before tax, every three months into your super fund. These contributions are over the salary or wages you earn. You can pick your own super fund or you can let your employer send the contributions to any fund they choose. You will have to fill out a 'Standard Choice Form' your employer will provide you with if you want to redirect your superannuation contributions to a fund of your choosing.

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Tax in Australia

When you start working, you will have to get a tax file number. Income tax is the main tax you will pay, which is calculated according to the income you earn. This means that you need to file a tax return every year to inform the Australian Taxation Office of how much you earned that financial year and the level of tax you've paid.

Remember:

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Tax is essentially a fee you pay to the government so they can provide services and benefits to the community.

Generally, tax is payable during the year you earned the income. In the case of employees, the employer will deduct the tax from your paycheque. The amount you pay depends on how much you earn and if you can claim deductions such as costs related to work.

Getting your Tax File Number (TFN)

If you want to enjoy taxation advantages, you will be required to register with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to get a tax file number (TFN). You will have the same TFN for your entire working life but if you don't have this number, you will have to pay 45% tax on everything you earn.

Once you get your TFN, though, you won't have to pay any taxes at all on the first $18,200 of your income, which is referred to as a tax-free threshold. For every dollar you earn over this threshold, up to $37,000, you will have to pay 32.5 cents tax per dollar. The level of tax you will have to pay over $37,000 can be determined by visiting the ATO website.

If you still attend high school, you can apply for a Tax File Number through your careers advisor. If you don't attend high school, you can apply for one through the ATO website.

Your taxation obligations

On 30 June, which is the end of the financial year, you will get a summary of the amounts you have earned throughout the year as well as the level of tax your employer has withheld from your wages, also referred to as Pay As You Go (PAYG) withholding and paid to the ATO.

Subsequently, you will need to fill out a taxation return and file it with the ATO by the 31 of October, along with the certificate your employer issues, which is referred to as a group certificate. If the PAYG withholding has been too high and too much was paid to the ATO, you will have the right to receive a refund. However, if the amount deducted is too low, you will have to make up the difference and pay it to the ATO.

Knowing your tax obligations

You will have to include all the money you have earned throughout the year and not solely the amounts your employer paid you. You will also have the chance to claim some deductions that will lower the amount of your earnings that is subject to tax, which means you will have to pay less in taxes.

The following table shows some of the income sources you need to declare as well as a few of the deductions you can claim.

Income sources you need to declare

Deductions you can claim

Employment incomeCar expenses if you use your car to earn your income
Investment incomeAccount-keeping fees for accounts you hold for investment purposes
Capital gains incomeTravel fares, meals, accommodation and other travel expenses for work
Foreign incomePurchasing and cleaning clothing for work such as uniforms and protective work clothes
PensionExpenses for the management of your tax affairs, including paying tax advisers, the expense of purchasing tax reference materials and the cost of travelling to get tax advice

A lot of people choose to fill out their taxation return every financial year but others opt to resort to a specialist tax accountant. This depends mainly on how complicated your income has become over the financial year and how many deductions you can claim.

If you are self-employed and have done a lot of jobs throughout the year, you might find it more complicated to fill out your return than someone who has a single income stream, like a full-time job. In a simpler situation like the latter, you can get a 'Tax Pack' form the post office or a newsagent. All you have to do is read the instructions and fill out the form accordingly. Return it to the ATO along with any relevant evidence of your claims and you're done. Tax returns can also now be submitted online via a system known as MyTax. This can be done via the ATO website. Go to the website and then click on the MyTax link and follow the instructions onscreen.

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4 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    KatherineJune 29, 2015

    I am in the hospitality industry as a barrister. I work and get paid as a full timer employer but have worked on a couple of public holidays, am I supposed to not be working on public holidays?

      Default Gravatar
      BelindaJuly 7, 2015

      Hi Katherine,

      Thanks for your enquiry.

      Please note that finder.com.au is an online comparison and general information service.

      Generally if you’re a shift worker you may be required to work on some public holidays. If you’re also an employee, you should get paid at least your base rate for all hours worked on a public holiday. In addition, you may also receive additional entitlements for working on public holidays such as extra pay, additional leave, or a minimum shift length on the public holiday.

      You’ll need to speak directly with your employer regarding whether or not you should be working on public holidays, and the compensation you should receive.

      Thanks,
      Belinda

    Default Gravatar
    AngelaMarch 30, 2015

    Hi there,My son his 16 and he born in Australia needs a TFN what is the easy way to do it?

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ShirleyMarch 30, 2015Staff

      Hi Angela,

      Thanks for your question.

      You son should be able to apply for one through his school. He can approach the school office to do this.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

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