New FWC funding would be better spent helping SMEs avoid the tribunal

Published October 14, 2020 (last updated February 23, 2022) -
FWC IR Reform

Additional funding to help the Fair Work Commission respond to an increase in the tribunal’s workload is further proof Australia’s workplace relations system is inherently flawed.

The Federal Government hopes the $5.1m injection, which will be made available over two financial years, will help resolve workplace disputes during the COVID-19 pandemic at a more efficient rate.

Ed Mallett, Managing Director of Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor, believes the money could be better spent in other ways to help small businesses avoid ending up at the tribunal in the first place.

 “Rather than throw money at the problem and hope it will simply help clear a backlog of businesses already before the FWC, we need a proper simplification of the Awards system and greater protection for SMEs.

 “The money would be better spent in simplifying Modern Awards, as well as educating and supporting small businesses owners, rather than spending it at the end of the line to deal with disputes,” Said Mr Mallett.

 There are more than 120 Modern Awards in the Australian workplace relations system, often with many businesses having to comply with more than one Award.

 “There also needs to be more support around general disputes in the workplace. One way to approach this is to focus on encouraging employees to work with their employer in resolving any issues they have before heading to a commission,” continued Mr Mallett.

 IR policy changes will be unveiled by Attorney-General Christian Porter by the end of the year. Changes to the legislation will reportedly make it easier to approve enterprise agreements.

Mr Mallett is calling for the creation of a Small Business Award so that SMEs who employ 15 or less full-time equivalent employees have a simple set of rules to follow. Currently, small businesses can end up with multiple awards and pay rates, which is the core confusion behind problems such as underpayment.

 The scope of the IR reform program should identify any overlap in Modern Awards and consolidate where necessary. This will reduce red tape, as well as minimise the types of oversights, errors and honest mistakes that often land employers in front of the Fair Work Commission.

 “From committees the Government has created to talk about IR reform, I’m not aware of a single person who has reached out to small businesses themselves. Instead, what they’ve done is employed people to these committees who have very little in common with those small businesses, to then go and represent the views of those employers,” continued Mr Mallett.

 “Businesses who are trying to restructure their operations to survive the COVID-19 crisis are also vulnerable to frustrating unfair dismissal claims. Small businesses need greater protection from the risks of these claims in a time when they may be trying to restructure to save their businesses,” concluded Mr Mallett.


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