Federal employment minister Eric Abetz has acknowledged the frustration felt by many small business owners when it comes to employee wages and entitlements, saying employers and employees are currently getting “different answers” when seeking information from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).
Abetz made the comments in Melbourne on Wednesday during the launch of the FWO’s new Pay and Conditions Tool (PACT), a mobile website that aims to give employees and employers access to more reliable, plain English advice on wages and entitlements while on the go.
Abetz called PACT “a very exciting development”.
“If there is one thing that we cannot afford in our Australian workplaces, it is mistrust where there need be no mistrust,” Abetz said.
“And what I have often said is that when there is a misunderstanding, usually it’s just a misunderstanding, not because the worker is trying to gouge too much or an employer is trying to cheat the employee. This PACT will hopefully overcome that.”
However, Abetz placed blame for the differing advice for employers and employees on the transitional arrangements put in place by the Fair Work Commission, calling the arrangements “absolutely and utterly confusing”.
“There has been criticism of the FWO from time to time and I heard stories that a small business owner would ring up and what should I pay Joe; Joe rings up and says what should I be paid; (and getting) different answers,” Abetz said.
“A genuine Fair Work Ombudsman employee, depending on the nuance of the small business owner’s request or worker’s request, may quite appropriately give different answers. I do not blame the Fair Work Ombudsman.”
“With this (PACT) facility, one hopes they might be able to sit at a desk and work out what the rate of pay should be.”
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James spoke to those at the PACT launch about the “many judgments” businesses needed to make in order to land on the right rate of pay for employees.
The PACT tool is able to locate the correct award and rate for an employee’s position from 122 awards, more than 3000 classifications and “literally hundreds of thousands of individual pay rates”, James said.
James gave the example of how the tool could help employers and employees in the retail industry, where there are 2000 individual rates of pay alone.
“It’s so hard to be confident when you have to remember all these structures and when you’re not an expert to get access to reliable, accurate advice about pay rates,” she said.
“Today we’re putting confidence into the hands of workers and employers; today the FWO is making a pact with you.”
She says the tool enables businesses that might not operate from an office to determine pay rates from mobile devices, and meant both parties had information about the right rate of pay “available at the slide of a finger”.
James also said Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors and info line advisers will be using the same tool.
“In unlocking the confidence that the rates are the right ones, we hope you and your constituents can divert that time and energy and worry into more important things, like growing your business,” she said.
“If we can help business who want to do the right thing get minimum rates and entitlements right, then we can help all businesses focus on getting it right.”
“We can build a culture of compliance throughout Australian workplaces.”