This page covers some of the common issues impacting game workers, and how you can handle them.
We enforce our rights as workers by using our rights. This encourages others to use their rights as well.
Know your rights, use your rights, and stand up for the rights of your colleagues.
- Who owns the IP?
- Overtime / Crunch
- Bullying & Harassment
- Sham Contracting
- Allegations / Disciplinary Meetings
- Unfair Dismissal
Disclaimer: This advice is general in nature only and cannot possibly take into account every person’s specific circumstances. For a confidential discussion about your individual situation, join Game Workers Australia now and contact us for help.
Remember: Join your union before you have an issue, not afterwards!
You are never required to tell your employer if you are a union member. Your employer is never allowed to ask. If they do ask, you may lie.
You have the legal right to seek advice on a contract before you sign it. Join Game Workers Australia and we can provide free, confidential advice to help you make an informed decision.
Your contract is not binding until you sign it. None of the confidentiality clauses in a contract apply unless it has been signed.
You are free to discuss your income with colleagues unless your contract explicitly says that you cannot, which is referred to as a “pay secrecy clause”. Unfortunately pay secrecy clauses are legal in Australia and can be enforced.
Discussing pay is one of the strongest ways to start building a better workplace because pay transparency makes exploitation much harder.
An employer which insists on pay secrecy is a big red flag.
Who owns the IP?
Always be sure to read your contract carefully as every contract is different when it comes to assigning IP rights.
If the contract says nothing about IP, the default arrangement is that the employer owns the IP if you are an employee. If you are an independent contractor, the default arrangement is that you will own the IP.
Many modern contracts, especially for larger companies, will assign all IP ownership to the company.
It can get very tricky when you are working on your own hardware, or working on your own side project. If you are not careful, the company can end up owning your work.
We strongly recommend that you read the detailed IP guide on our downloads page for more information.
Use our income page to check the correct minimum legal wages and conditions for your work.
If you feel like you have been underpaid, join Game Workers Australia for a confidential look at your wages, and assistance calculating any underpayments.
If you are also a paying member of Professionals Australia, you can request their assistance prosecuting the matter legally.
In most cases, the statute of limitations in Australia for recovering any past underpayments is six years.
Overtime / Crunch
Australian law defines “full time” as 38 hours of work in a week. Anything over this is, by definition, overtime and you must be compensated for it. There is no such thing as overtime without compensation under Australian law.
Crunch is inherently overtime – work that is done over and above your regular work.
Crunch is not inevitable. Crunch is not a fundamental part of game work. If you are crunching regularly or constantly working overtime, something needs to change.
Employees (not contractors) have the right to refuse any work that is “unsafe, unreasonable or excessive”.
In nearly all cases, crunch will meet this definition.
Talk about it with your colleagues and co-workers. If you all refuse together, you can start the negotiation for a more reasonable production schedule.
Bullying & Harassment
Employers are required to provide a safe workplace, which includes your mental and emotional safety.
Many game workers experience bullying and harassment at work. You should not tolerate it and you should stand up for colleagues who are experiencing it.
Bullying is defined as a “pattern of behaviour over time”. A one-off, isolated incident that is not part of any pattern cannot be defined as bullying, but should not be ignored.
The best strategy for dealing with bullying and harassment at work is to keep a strong, well-documented record of any and all incidents of bullying that you experienced, and to share information with your colleagues so that any complaints can be raised collectively, not individually.
By providing a well-documented set of concerns that impact a large amount of people, you’re putting the responsibility back on the employer to take action.
If they refuse to take action despite this evidence and you are a paying member of Professionals Australia, you can then take the issue further legally with the assistance of your union.
“Sham contracting” refers to when someone hires you as a contractor or freelancer but treats you like an employee.
There is a big difference between a contractor and an employee. Sham contracting allows the person hiring you to save on taxes, entitlements and more.
Sham contracting is a big issue in the Australian games industry, and can be complicated. Read more about sham contracting on our dedicated page here.
Allegations / Disciplinary Meetings
Any allegations against you that relate to your employment (misconduct or underperformance, for example) must be made in writing and you must have a reasonable amount of time to respond.
If any meetings are held to discuss any concerns about your employment, you are entitled to bring a support person with you to those meetings (including by phone/video). You may postpone or reschedule the meeting until your support person is available.
You choose your support person. It should never be someone from management or HR. It does not need to be an employee of the same company.
If you are a paying member of Professionals Australia, contact them immediately so they can send a trained union officer to be your support person in the meeting.
A support person is a not a “silent witness”, as some employers like to claim. Your support person may speak in the meeting and be actively involved. However, they cannot answer questions or allegations on your behalf – any answers must come from you directly.
Take detailed notes during any meetings. Take breaks if you need to time to think, or time to speak privately with your support person. Your support person may also call for breaks.
If your employment ends, you may have reason to believe you were unfairly dismissed.
A dismissal is unfair when it is harsh, unjust or unreasonable. An unfair dismissal application needs to be lodged with the Fair Work Commission within 21 days of your employment ending, so don’t wait around. There are no exceptions to this rule.
The circumstances leading up to every dismissal are unique and always need to be assessed individually.
Join Game Workers Australia and we can provide advice to help you represent yourself, or if you are a paying member of Professionals Australia their lawyers can assist in representing you through the unfair dismissal process.
Unfortunately, a fixed-term contract with a defined end date does not qualify as an unfair dismissal if it expires and is not renewed. This is one of the reasons employers love fixed-term contracts and why union members should push back on them at all times.
Got an issue that’s not addressed here, or just want more information? Join us (it’s free as a Community Member!) and contact us. We’ll do everything we can to help.