Costello wants protection for small business on unfair dismissal

Former treasurer Peter Costello has called on the Federal Opposition to step up its attack on the Rudd Government’s Fair Work bill, hitting out at changes that would see the threshold for exemption from unfair dismissal drop from 100 employees to just 15. Costello has reportedly told Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull the threshold should be lifted to 20 employees, a position supported by the Shadow Cabinet. 


Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is pushing for an amendment to make the threshold the equivalent of 15 full-time staff.


“I’m worried that a corner shop, a cafe, a snack bar, can be too easily burdened with these provisions, which can be a disincentive to employing people,” he says.


Family First Senator Stephen Fielding has also expressed concerns about the bill. 


“Why would you give so much power to the unions?” he said on ABC Radio this morning. “WorkChoices was too hard; the question is, is the Fair Work bill too soft.”


Costello’s call was part of an impassioned speech delivered yesterday to the Liberal party room, which appears divided about whether on not the Opposition should push harder to fight the Rudd Government’s new IR regime.


Costello’s push has also heightening speculation about whether he could eventually challenge Turnbull for the top job. Turnbull again invited Costello to move from the back benches to the Shadow Cabinet, but he has again refused.


The Opposition has failed to confirm whether it will vote against the Fair Work bill following the meeting, but Turnbull has released six key amendments the Opposition wants to see.


These include:


Unfair dismissal. Turnbull says the threshold of 15 employees is too low and creates anomalies, such as businesses that may have more than 15 employees including casual staff who only work a few hours a week. The Shadow Cabinet appears to agree with Costello’s position that the threshold should be 20. Turnbull says he will work with independent senators Fielding and Xenophon, who have also expressed concern about the unfair dismissal laws, to press the Government for changes.


Union access to non-union member records. Turnbull says Labor “expressly promised” that it would not change the existing right of entry laws. It wants the existing law retained, whereby unions can only access the records of union members, except where an employee gives consent or by order of the relevant tribunal.


 Expanded union right of entry for discussion/recruitment purposes. Turnbull says a union should not be allowed to enter a workplace where it does not have members, unless employees have voted to allow the union in.


Compulsory arbitration where enterprise bargaining fails. Turnbull says Labor has back-flipped on a promise not to have compulsory arbitration in the Fair Work bill, but the bill allows the new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, to arbitrate where parties negotiating a collective agreement cannot reach agreement. Turnbull wants the ability to arbitrate if negotiations fail only to be available where the parties genuinely consent to arbitration.


Greenfield agreements. Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard has announced changes to the original greenfield provisions, which would have forced employers setting up a new project to meet with every union involved. Under Gillard’s amendments, Fair Work Australia can specify the main unions an employer must deal with. Turnbull wants to go further by removing the requirement for the maker of a greenfield agreement to notify unions.


– Transmission of business. Turnbull says proposed changes regarding what happens to a workplace agreement is anti-jobs. Gillard says she has recognised employer concerns on this issue and the Opposition says it will look closely at Gillard’s amendments.


Turnbull will need the support of Fielding and Xenophon if he wants to get these amendments through.


Gillard is expected to release her amendments to the bill early next week.



Is the unfair dismissal threshold too low? Post a comment below. 


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