The Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia has slammed the federal government’s proposed anti-discrimination legislation on the basis it does not protect small business and vilifies small business owners.
COSBOA has raised its concerns in its submission to the Senate Committee which has received almost 500 submissions from different individuals and groups in response to the legislation.
Legal experts say the legislation will make it easier for employees to bring a discrimination complaint and COSBOA believes small businesses will be targeted.
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Peter Strong, executive director of COSBOA, told SmartCompany the bill, which seeks to consolidate existing anti-discrimination legislation, is a “step in the right direction” but key elements of it are concerning for small business.
COSBOA is lobbying for small business owners to be exempt from having the onus of proof placed on them when a discrimination claim is made.
“Small business owners are just people and if there are two people in the workplace and one accuses the other of discrimination it is ludicrous to shift the onus of proof to another person,” Strong says.
COSBOA has asked the Human Rights Commission to investigate the rights of the self-employed, to confirm that small business people do have human rights and outline how those rights will be maintained.
“The language used by the Human Rights Commission continues to vilify small business people as though we are all horrible and nasty and forever breaking the law, but when you look at the figures the opposite is true, as we rarely discriminate,” Strong says.
COSBOA is concerned by what Strong describes as the “old-fashioned left wing ideological language” used by the commission.
Strong points to the commission’s submission that includes statements like “a significant number of complaints received each year by the commission are against small business”.
“That language makes it sound like the problem is out of control when the number of complaints they get against small business is minute – they took 155 small businesses to court out of two million small business people,” Strong says.
“The commission needs to say ‘a significant amount of small business people are compliant and fabulous employers’,” he says.
Strong says he is worried small business is not properly protected under the proposed legislation and is especially concerned at the attitude of the HRC, which is the regulator of the legislation.
“There is an opportunity in the legislation to remove small business from having the onus of proof placed upon them,” Strong says.
“The proposed legislation makes no sense unless the other person is Rupert Murdoch.”
However, Prue Gilbert, of Prue Gilbert Consulting – a firm that specialises in advising businesses on strategies for retaining women – says shifting the burden of proof in the proposed legislation represents an important step forward.
“The intention of the laws is to require employers to create cultures which do not promote discrimination,” she says.
“The proposed laws are welcome not just because they consolidate many laws, but because they also impose a shared burden of proof, removing sole responsibility for proving what happened from the aggrieved.”
SmartCompany contacted the Human Rights Commission for comment but no response was available prior to publication.