In world terms, Australian working conditions are of a high standard. Australian industrial relations are characterized by fairly high union membership and a federally driven, but state determined, compulsory arbitration and conciliation system. Industrial relations practices are specified in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act (1904), which encouraged employer associations to recognize unions and empowered these unions to make working condition claims on behalf of employees. In Australia there are 7 distinct systems of industrial regulation and relations: the national system is supplemented by those of the 6 states, each having its own distinct industrial relations legislation and arbitration processes. As a result, there has long been a high degree of state intervention in the labor market. There is now only 1 main central union confederation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). "Awards" are the legal decisions made by independent industrial organizations, and they specify minimum standards of pay and working conditions that an employer must meet or otherwise face legal penalties. Working conditions are regulated by legislation and industrial awards.
While Australia carries no social restrictions on employment opportunities for women, the percentage of women in the formal workforce has traditionally been smaller than that of men. Female participation in the workforce has been increasing steadily since the early 1960s, when women comprised 25 percent of the work-force. In 1993, women's participation in the workforce was still increasing at 42 percent. The national Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act (1986) obliges employers to take steps specifically designed to remove discrimination towards women and promote equality in employment. Despite this act and award conditions for equal pay for equal work being well established, women's earnings on average remain slightly less their male counterparts. This inequity is partially due to the fact that women remain concentrated in industries where pay and working conditions remain relatively less favorable than other occupations and professions. More recent trends in equal opportunity employment address factors such as childcare, maternity and paternity leave, affirmative action, and sexual harassment, and sees them as significant industrial relations issues rather than exclusively women's issues.
Unemployment in Australia has been between 6 and 8 percent since the early 1980s and continues to remain in this range. Many Australian employers have readily employed immigrant workers, especially in times of labor shortages.