What is work?

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Key points

  • work is when a person does a task or a job to meet the needs of a person or business
  • work can be paid or unpaid. Paid work is when you receive payment for doing a job. Unpaid work is when you don’t receive payment for doing a job
  • both paid and unpaid work are equally valuable and play important roles in the community.

Types of work

The types of work that people undertake can either be paid or unpaid.

What is paid work?

Paid work is when you receive payment for doing a job.

If you work for a person or a business and receive a wage, you are an employee

As an employee you are entitled to a wage and leave benefits.

You can read our article about your entitlements and conditions.

You also have superannuation and tax obligations.

Read our article about tax and superannuation to learn more. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide more information about types of employees.

Types of paid work:

Full-time – when you work 38 hours or more a week and have an employment contract.

Part-time – when you work less than 38 hours a week and have an employment contract.

Casual – when you have no fixed workdays or hours.

Fixed term/contract – when you are hired to work for a period of time. Your employment contract has start and end dates.

Commission – when you are hired to perform a task. There are no set hours or days, and you receive payment when you complete the task.

Apprenticeship and traineeship – when you undertake on the job training, while also doing formal study, to get a qualification. For example, doing an apprenticeship to be a qualified mechanic.

What is unpaid work?

Unpaid work is when you don’t receive payment for doing a job.

A person may do unpaid work for various reasons. These include working as part of a training course, doing a trial for a new job, completing an internship or as a volunteer.

Types of unpaid work:

Volunteering – when you provide a service or give time to a person or business, but don’t get paid

Vocational placement – when you are a student, and you spend time in a workplace that is related to what you are studying 

Internship or work experience - when you spend time in a workplace to get work experience and observe a professional working environment

The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide more information about unpaid work.

What is self-employment?

You are self-employed if you own a business, are in a business partnership or work as an independent contractor. 

Being self-employed means that you are responsible for paying your own wage and leave benefits, making superannuation contributions and have tax obligations.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has more information, including an easy read guide on self-employment.

Case Study

Bob works at his local cafe, as a casual employee. This means that his work hours and days vary. He usually works more hours during busier periods like school holidays or public holidays. Bob likes the flexibility of not working the same days each week. But, it worries him that there is no guarantee of ongoing work.  

Story description

Real life story 

Due to my chronic health needs, I haven’t been employed for the past 10 years. I do manage to volunteer two hours a week at our local library. I have a passion for books and love meeting new people and helping them find books or resources. 

For so long, when people have asked me what I do for a living, I have told them that I don’t work. But someone told me, that even though I don’t get paid, those two hours I spend at the library each week involve me performing tasks, which is actually a type of work!