Budget 2022: Fair Work Commission to get new small business unit, plus more funding for Ombudsman

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The Morrison government has pledged to ‘back small business’ by establishing a dedicated small business unit within the Fair Work Commission and providing millions in funding to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO).

According to the federal budget papers, the government intends to spend $5.6 million over four years to create the small business unit within the employment watchdog.

The unit will help small business employers “navigate their workplace obligations”, says the government, including unfair dismissal claims and general protections disputes.

The plan will likely be welcomed by many in the industry, who have long advocated for a simplified workplace relations system for small business, even going as far as suggesting Australia needs a dedicated small business award.

The budget measure forms part of a broader $61.6 million funding package for additional resourcing in the Attorney-General’s portfolio, which also includes another $2.7 million in the 2022-23 financial year to extend the Ombudsman’s support for businesses and employees on workplace issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, until September 2022.

If re-elected, the government also plans to consult on potential changes to the way redundancy payments are calculated under the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act, to make sure payments better reflect average working hours over the course of a person’s employment.

More funding for Ombudsman’s office

The ASBFEO would receive $8 million in new funding in the 2022-23 as part of what the federal government is calling its ‘Small Business Support Package’.

This represents a substantial increase from last year’s budget, in which the ASBFEO received a funding boost of $1.5 million to assist businesses with dispute resolution.

This time around, the office headed up by former Small Business Minister Bruce Billson would receive the additional funds to “work with service providers to offer business planning, capacity building and financial literacy”.

The same $25.2 million funding package also includes:

  • $10.4 million to redesign the government’s Payment Times Reporting Portal and Register;
  • $4.6 million in funding for Beyond Blue’s New Access for Small Business Owners program, which provides mental health support for small business owners; and
  • A previously announced $2.1 million to extend the Small Business Debt Helpline run by Financial Counselling Australia.

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