Confusion grows over unfair dismissal

The timeframe for the introduction of Labor’s unfair dismissal law changes has been put into doubt after Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard said they could be delayed until early 2010 yesterday.

In a Sydney radio interview Gillard said that “every bit” of the new industrial relations system will be in operation by January 2010, “including unfair dismissals”, leaving the door open for businesses with fewer 100 employees to remain exempt from unfair dismissal claims for another two years.

But this morning Gillard moved to clarify her position, telling the ABC that legislation to remove the unfair dismissal exemption would be in Parliament by the end of next year.

“Things like the unfair dismissal provisions can come into operation next year unless the Liberal Party decides that it wants to continue to support industrial relations extremism and it stops our bill going through the Parliament,” Gillard said.

VECCI head of workplace relations David Gregory says the timing of the unfair dismissal changes was one thing Labor never made clear in its pre-election policies.

“Labor never made explicit when its unfair dismissal changes would come into force, and certainly from our perspective it’s still not clear,” Gregory says.

Meanwhile, the head of one of Australia’s major retailer groups says the industry needs to look at how to shift from the current system of awards and junior pay rates to a competency-based regime.

Richard Evans, the new executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says while he supports junior rates of pay in the context of the current industrial system, a move to paying people according to their ability rather than their age would ultimately benefit retailers.

“There needs to be a debate about moving to a competency-based system that would allow 50 plus [aged] people with a lower level of competency to re-enter the market and at the same time enable younger people to get a career out of retail.

“If they’ve got a retail diploma and certificate IV and are managing stores there is no reason why they shouldn’t be paid more to reflect that,” Evans says.

Evan’s comments follow Gillard’s announcement yesterday that she has terminated a Fair Pay Commission inquiry into junior and training pay rates.

But John Hart, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, says any move to competency-based pay would make human resources more complicated for small business owners.

“It sounds good in theory but we’ve been trying to address the issue of competency-based wages for a long time. It’s incredibly complex to do and my preference at the moment is to keep things as simple as possible,” Hart says.


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