Legislating the right to work – an overview of ACT's Human Rights (Workers Rights) Amendment Act 2020

Employment & Safety

In brief 3 min read

The ACT has introduced specific 'right to work' and work-related rights in its Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) (HRA). These changes take effect from 14 May 2020.

The changes will mean that every Bill to come through ACT's Legislative Assembly will have to consider the right to work, and ACT laws must be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the right to work.

The ACT is the first state or territory to introduce a right to work. As the first state or territory in Australia to enact legislation protecting human rights, the ACT has a reputation for setting trends in this area.


On 7 May 2020, the Human Rights (Workers Rights) Amendment Act 2020 (ACT) was passed by the Legislative Assembly.

The legislation implements a new provision in the HRA that explicitly recognises all individuals' right to work, including the right to:

  • choose their occupation or profession freely;
  • enjoy just and favourable conditions of work;
  • enjoy these rights without discrimination;
  • form or join a work-related organisation with the objective of promoting or protecting their economic or social interests; and
  • be protected against acts of anti-union discrimination in relation to their employment.

The right to work protections reflect Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, which provides that States Parties:

[R]ecognise the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.

How does this affect you?

  • The new right to work protections mean that ACT legislatures, government agencies and the Legislative Assembly will need to consider these additional HRA rights when developing and implementing legislation and policy. Public authorities must interpret and apply legislation in a way that is compatible with the right to work protections.
  • While there is unlikely to be any significant practical implication for businesses in the day-to-day management of their employment relationships, the new protections reinforce and complement the broader human rights framework in the ACT.