Coalition to relax IR laws for small businesses; industry wants more

Business has given a mixed response to the Coalition’s industrial relations policy released yesterday, with praise for its proposed relaxation of penalties for awards rates misdemeanours but concern about no action on penalty rates.

The plan was launched by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday and is designed to be implemented across two government terms.

Executive director of the Council of Small Businesses of Australia, Peter Strong, told SmartCompany he wanted the Coalition to address penalty rates and the small business industrial award.

“Penalty rates are a big issue, but we understand why they didn’t change them given the current political situation,” he says.

Strong says Abbott’s proposal offers some practical initiatives which will benefit small business.

“There is going to be a dedicated help line for small business to the ombudsman and it’s nice to hear of some practicality for us.”

“There is also going to be an app developed for small businesses on award rates. If you want to know what a wage is, it’s currently a very convoluted process to find out, but the app will let you find out automatically, and being an app it will be much more user-friendly than the website,” he says.

Abbott also said that under the Coalition, small businesses would not be penalised if they pay staff under the wrong award, on the condition they’d sought advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Other initiatives introduced by Abbott yesterday included the flagging of a possible independent appeal division for Fair Work Commission cases, the reintroduction of the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission and changes to union bargaining conditions.

The Liberal policy says strikes would only be allowed after “genuine and meaningful” discussions on “realistic and sensible claims”.

There will also be tighter rules on unions’ right to workplace entry and a registered Organisations Commission to police unions and employer groups.

A greater role for individual flexibility arrangements in collective deals will also be on the agenda, with employees able to sign up to individual agreements as long as they are no worse off overall.

Strong says there is also going to be help for small businesses when it comes to hiring their first employee.

“The Coalition is going to put together a guide. We’ve been asking for this for 20 years now. Most small businesses hire their first person in a hurry without enough consideration,” he says.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said in a statement the opposition proposal was “sensible” but “overly cautious”.

“There are many other key issues that need to be addressed without delay.

“The changes proposed to the laws dealing with right of entry, enterprise bargaining, and greenfields agreements are most welcome and should be supported by all sides of politics.”

“Also welcome is the announcement that the Coalition intends to implement many worthwhile recommendations of the Fair Work Act Review which have not yet been addressed,” he says.

Despite some positives, Willox was concerned with the policy’s failure to implement changes proposed by the Productivity Commission inquiry into the Fair Work Act until after another election.

The policy did not go “far enough” to address areas such as bargaining agreements and flexibility arrangements, he said.


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