Gillard’s unfair dismissal fix

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard will create a mobile team of industrial relations problem solvers to help resolve unfair dismissal claims launched before Labor’s new workplace umpire commences in 2010.

Under the plan, reported by The Australian today, Australian Industrial Relations Commission members will be relocated to suburban and regional offices to act as mediators in an attempt to provide a low cost and informal way of dealing with unfair dismissal claims.

Gillard’s move to create an interim mechanism for resolving claims follows her comments yesterday that Labor’s new unfair dismissal laws are likely to be introduced before the institution it has proposed to deal with claims, Fair Work Australia, starts operating in early 2010.

Key questions about the introduction of the new regime remain, however, including whether Labor’s proposed fair dismissal code will be ready to go when the exemption on unfair dismissal for small business is removed.

Australian Business Lawyers managing partner Tim Capelin says it is also unclear precisely what powers the commissioners will exercise in dealing with the claims.

“If they are going to be involved in conciliation and then making a final decision, the question will be whether the things you’ve told them in conciliation could become evidence against you in the final hearing,” Capelin says. “If that happens, there may be a risk that the good outcomes won’t be achieved because parties will be reticent to speak freely.”

Question marks also remain over whether individuals and employers will be able to be represented by a lawyer or other representative, Capelin says.

“It would be an amazing situation if an employee can’t be represented by a union, but then of course it would be unfair not to let an employer be represented,” Capelin says.

VECCI head of workplace relations David Gregory says business owners will be watching to see whether the mobile squad is effective in resolving dismissal disputes.

“We’re a bit wary at this stage – we don’t want external third parties interfering in processes employers are legitimately going about, they sometimes have to discipline or, if ultimately necessary terminate employees, and we don’t always want third parties coming in where they shouldn’t be involved,” Gregory says.


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