The head of Fair Work Australia says restoring the agency’s reputation is vital following the Health Services Union scandal and advocates a name change and structural change at the FWA.
Justice Iain Ross started as president of FWA in March and then found himself at the centre of a political storm over the HSU and its former national secretary Craig Thomson, the embattled federal Labor MP.
In a statement to the Senate’s Workplace Relations Committee yesterday, Ross said the first step to restoring FWA’s reputation was a change of the agency’s “problematic” name.
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“It undermines the independence of the Tribunal,” said Ross.
“The media and the community generally do not distinguish between the Tribunal on the one hand and the Fair Work Act on the other.
“As a consequence, criticism of the Act is interpreted as criticism of the Tribunal.
“It creates confusion and is an impediment to access to justice. It is not uncommon for litigants in person to file applications with the Fair Work Ombudsman rather than with FWA.”
Ross also called for the adjudicative and administrative bodies which operate under the Fair Work Act to be separated.
“In addition to renaming the adjudicative body, there must be a clear separation between the adjudicative and administrative bodies established by the Act,” he said.
“The administrative body should be renamed the Registry and be headed by the general manager.”
Ross conceded FWA’s investigation into the HSU had taken too long.
“The inquiries and subsequent investigations have taken an unreasonably long time, raising legitimate questions,” he said.
“There are significant lessons to be learnt and improvements to be made in relation to the conduct of such inquiries.”
Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia, said Justice Ross brought a better understanding of the way small business works to Fair Work Australia.
“He is someone who wants to get the system to match reality; that approach is to be congratulated,” says Strong.
“At the moment, from a small business point of view, we have issues with how the system treats small business not as people, but just as employers.”
Strong says COSBOA expects to be consulted about any changes to FWA, but Justice Ross “is a man who does consult”.
“He does not make decisions just on the needs of one group, which is a big change on industrial relations in the last 20 years.
“We need a system that reflects the needs of the workplace, not the needs of ideology.”