A Guide to the Minimum Hours for Shift Work

Jul 21, 2022
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Written by Zoe Spanos

In Australia, there are so many different ways to work that aren’t your typical 9 to 5. 

Shift work is just one way for people to make money. But, you may ask, are there minimum hours for shift work?

If you have found yourself asking this question, well, you are in the right place because this post will give you a clear guide which covers what you need to know in relation to shit work in Australia

Read along, as we share in more details what shift works means and how the minimum hours may apply to you.

What is Shift Work?

Shift work involves rostering on employees to work set blocks of time and can be on a  full time, part time or casual basis. 

 It’s always important to remember that shift work often requires employers to pay penalty rates

In addition, scheduling how many hours employees work is critical. When it comes to the minimum number of hours an employee can work there are specific legal requirements that need to be followed. 

Employee’s of all types can work on a shift schedule and do the hours of work that is required. However, all employees who do shift work are entitled to work a minimum and maximum number of hours per shift.

Advantages and disadvantages of Shift Work 

The minimum number of hours requirement exists to ensure that employees are not disadvantaged by working a short shift, with a maximum number of hours also applying to ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees.

Below are a few advantages and advantages of shift work 




For the employee, they have the convenience to choose work as they please and working hours tend to be lower when completing shift work. 

For the employee, there may be an abnormal routine that can be hard to manage.

For the company, there may be less absenteeism, as the flexibility shift work provides means that workers can be more reliable. 

For the company, scheduling may be difficult for shift work. Certain periods of time may be more popular with employees than others. 


Types of Employment

Before we jump into the ins and outs of shift work, let’s have a quick run through of the various employment types and how they tie in with shift work in general. 


A full-time employee is someone who works at least 38 hours a week on a permanent basis. Shifts for a full time employee will usually add up to 38 hours in a week. If an employee works over their weekly hours or outside usual times of work, they will receive extra pay or overtime rates.


A part-time employee is a person working on a permanent basis for less than 38 hours per week, the terms of the employment contract will determine their working arrangements and the conditions of employment. Part time employees are entitled to paid leave on a pro-rata basis and must receive adequate notice upon termination.


Casual employees are employed on an irregular basis. Casual employees earn a higher rate of hourly pay (casual loading) compared to full or part time workers, but do not have the same entitlements for their hours of work. For example, they would not be entitled to parental leave, carer’s leave, community service leave, domestic violence leave or long service leave, just an hourly rate of pay. For example, full time employees are entitled to paid annual leave and notice upon termination.

Get your Casual Employment Agreement now for free.

Hire casual employees in any industry. This Employment Agreement (Casual) is essential when hiring new employees for your business.

What are the Minimum hours per shift, afterall?

The minimum number of hours an employee can work varies depending on different Awards. For most industries, the minimum hours for shift work are 3-4 hours. This means that even if you roster an employee on for a 2 hour shift, you have to pay them for at least 3 hours’ work. 

A more specific breakdown is listed below:

  • Retail – 3 hours
  • Fast Food – 3 hours
  • Cleaning Services – 2 hours
  • Clerks – 3 hours
  • Building and construction – 3 hours

You can  find the specific number of minimum hours for shift work by searching your industry’s applicable Award. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the shortest shift you can legally work? 

For most Australian industries, the minimum hours for shift work are 2-3 hours and are dependent on the initial employment contract. It may be the case that even if you roster an employee on for a 2 hour shift, you have to pay them for at least 3 hours of work. The industry award will be the same whether the working day or shift it is a public holiday or not.

What is the minimum number of hours for a casual per shift?

The minimum number of hours that a casual worker will have to work per shift can vary between 2-3 hours depending on the type of work that you are doing and your age. 

How many hours are required for a shift?

The hours required for a shift will vary depending on your employment contract. But shift work usually requires more than 2 hours per shift.  

What does the “casual” designation mean?

After the amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) in late 2020, the definition of what is an Australian casual employee is changed. A person is classified as a casual employee if they accept an offer for a job from an employer knowing that there is no firm advance commitment to ongoing work with an agreed pattern of work.

The Fair Work Act provides national employment standards to specify the ordinary hours of work. In addition, the Fair Work Ombudsman sets out minimum wage.

What are the maximum hours for a shift?

In Australia, the maximum number of ordinary hours a casual employee can work is 12 hours in a day or shift. A casual employee must have time off after this and there must be time for meal breaks. This averages about 38 hours over a 4-week roster cycle or a 9.5 hour week. This is relevant for all types of work.

What is the minimum time between shifts in Australia?

As per Australian maximum working hours and overtime laws employees are also entitled to a minimum break of 12 hours between shifts. 

What are the benefits of a shorter shift?

Shorter shifts can boost productivity and employee morale as they have more time to deal with non-work related issues. Similarly, it provides employees with greater flexibility which can be considered an incentive to be a better employee. 

Key Takeaways

Shift work, whilst a common schedule of work for many employees can also be highly demanding, especially if there is additional hours of work necessary. When employing shift workers, it’s crucial to pay your employees the minimum amount they are entitled as per modern awards to and provide adequate shift times, as well as times between shifts.

If you have further questions about employing shift workers, it may be worth contacting an employment lawyer for further advice.

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